Parashas Ki Seitzei

Among the many mitzvos the Torah presents in this week’s parashah is the mitzvah of sending away a mother bird before taking the eggs or chicks from its nest. The Torah says that if we fulfill this mitzvah “it will be good for you and you will gain length of days.” In the Fifth Commandment, the Torah promises the same reward to a person who honors his father and mother. The Gemara in Chullin 142a relates a story of a man who fulfilled both mitzvos at the same time but died immediately afterward. The man’s father asked him to climb to the top of a building and bring him some young doves. He went ahead and climbed to the top of the building, found a dove’s nest, sent away the mother bird, and took the young doves. On his way back down he fell and was killed. The Gemara asks: “Where is this man’s length of days, and where is the good that he was due?” The Gemara answers: “Length of days – in the world that is completely long. It will be good for you – in the world that is completely good.” Both of the expressions that the Gemara uses here refer to the World to Come.
The Maggid sets out to elucidate this Gemara passage. His starting point is a plea by David HaMelech (Tehillim 39:5, rendered in accordance with the Maggid’s commentary): “Inform me, Hashem, of my end and of what is the measure of my days, so that I will know what my cessation will be.” Many commentators regard the two phrases “my end” and “the measure of my days” as poetic repetition, expressing the same concept in two different ways. The Maggid offers an explanation that associates a distinct concept with each of the phrases.
When a person follows the path of righteousness and molds his conduct in accordance with Torah wisdom, he experiences the days of his life in this world as very good and pleasant. In this connection, the Sages teach (Avos 4:22): “Better one hour of repentance and good deeds in this world than the entire life of the World to Come.” But a person mired in evil pursuits would rather be dead than alive. The Maggid likens a person’s sojourn in this world to a merchant’s trip to a merchant’s fair. If the merchant’s dealings at the fair are going well, his days at the fair pass quickly for him, even if the fair lasts a long time. Conversely, if the merchant’s dealings at the fair are unsuccessful, and he doesn’t even cover his travel expenses, his stay at the fair seems exceedingly long, even if the fair lasts only a few days. This idea is expressed in a Midrash in Vaykira Rabbah 19:5, commenting on the use in various Biblical verses of the phrase “many days” in connection with periods of short or moderate length. The Midrash says that the reason for this type of use is that the period being discussed is one of suffering (so that the people involved experienced the period as being long).
Now, it is the way of the righteous not to feel confident in their righteousness. Indeed, the Gemara warns the righteous to avoid such a feeling of confidence, deliberately expressing this idea in extreme terms (Niddah 30b): “Even if the entire world calls you righteous, you should view yourself as wicked.” Accordingly, as the Gemara reports (Berachos 4a, expounding on Tehillim 27:13), David HaMelech felt unsure about whether he would have a share in the World to Come. In the plea quoted above from Tehillim 39:5, David is asking Hashem to inform him of his destiny. The plea includes two distinct requests. David’s request that Hashem inform him of “my end” is a request for Him to tell him the number of days he will be spending in this world, whereas his request that Hashem inform him of “measure of my days” is a request for Him to tell him the nature of these days, whether they will be good days or bad.
David concludes by expressing a wish to know what his cessation will be – that is, what he will be ceasing from when he departs from this world. If his days will be successful and good, he will be taking leave of a precious realm of accomplishment. And if his days will be bad, his departure will result in a cessation of trying experiences and spiritual hazards. In a similar vein, speaking about the grave, Iyov says (verse 3:16): “There the wicked cease from agitation and there the weary ones are at rest.” [In Bereishis Rabbah 9:5, the Midrash says that “the weary ones” refers to the righteous, who spend their lives struggling against the evil inclination.] Correspondingly, by knowing the measure of his days, David will know whether he will be ceasing from what the wicked cease from or ceasing from what the righteous cease from.
The Maggid now returns to the Torah’s promise that a person who fulfills the mitzvah of sending away the mother bird will be granted good and length of days. He interprets the promise as meaning that the person will be granted length of days that will be for his good. If the person is spiritually successful in this world, so that added life in this world will enable him to acquire added spiritual gains, then Hashem will extend the length of his life in this world, for such an extension will be to his benefit. But if added days of life in this world will not be to the person’s benefit, and he will be better off with a shorter stay in this world, then Hashem will wait and grant him his reward in the World to Come, the world that is completely long and completely good.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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