The Torah commands us, if we wish to take for ourselves some eggs or young chicks, to first send away the mother bird. In this command to send away the mother bird, what the Torah is acknowledging is the deep pain a parent experiences in witnessing the suffering of her children. The pain the children will experience is one thing and the Torah allows it, but the pain of the parent in witnessing that pain, that is of a wholly different order.
We parents know what this pain is. Someone once said to me that being a parent is like having your heart walk around in someone else’s body. Indeed, that is often what it feels like. We cannot stop our children from suffering. They will come to some harm or difficulty in this world and we cannot prevent it. So it is that we are often left merely to witness it, to bear the sadness in our hearts and carry that sadness with us as we once carried their tiny bodies.
Perhaps that is our role, a sacred essential role – to learn to suffer with another human being. A parent is the face of God on earth. Last night as I sat holding one of my children, who was crying over a sad lonely day in a new school, I was keenly aware once again that all I could do was be present to this suffering. And I thought to myself – I want him to know that at least no matter what happens, he is not alone in this sadness, but that others are always with him, all those many who care about him, including God. How will he know, I thought, that God, too, cares? Perhaps one learns about God, feels the care and protection and empathy of God, through one’s parents. That is our job – to be God’s ears and heart on earth.
In commanding us to send away the mother bird so that she does not witness her children’s suffering, the Torah has, in a way, defined the role of parent for us as a witness to suffering, as the very divine act of simple Presence.