Deuteronomy 22:6-7 – The Least Important Commandment


Deuteronomy 22:6-7


A law on protecting the emotions of birds is given the same reward as the first of the Ten Commandments with a promise.


The rules for harvesting eggs from a wild bird nest may seem trivial and unimportant, but a repeated phrase from earlier commandments prompts a startling interpretation. Scripture commands that if one comes across a mother bird sitting on eggs or her young, you shall not take the mother bird off the eggs to take them. And indeed, if you want to harvest eggs, you must first send (the verb is emphasized here: “sending you shall send” or “you shall certainly send”) the mother away. The intention here is that the mother bird be spared feelings of loss at having to see her eggs taken. 

Why would this matter? Rabbinic thought holds that this is one of the least important of all the commandments. Jesus, when asked what the greatest commandments are, listed Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 (Matthew 22:36-40). One wonders if he would have listed Deuteronomy 22:6-7 as the least important, while ranking the laws. At any rate, the commandment to be conscious of, and safeguard, the emotional wellbeing of a mother bird carries the same promise as honoring one’s human parents: that it may go well with you (Deuteronomy 5:16, Deuteronomy 22:7). The reward for honoring one of the least important commandments is the same as fulfilling one of the most important. The commandments, from the least to the greatest, exist to help humans love God and neighbor, including animal neighbors.