If the nest of a bird chances to be in front of you: Also this commandment is explained by "it and its son do not slaughter on one day" (Leviticus 22:28); since the reason in both of them is that we should not have a cruel heart and [then] not have mercy, or that the verse should not permit us to be destructive to destroy the species, even though it allowed slaughter within that species. And behold, one who kills the mother and the children on one day or takes them when they are 'free to fly' is as if he cuts off that species.
And the teacher (Rambam) in the Guide for the Perplexed 3:48 wrote that the reason of sending [the mother away from] the nest and the reason of "it and its son do not slaughter on one day" is to prohibit killing the child in the eyes of the mother, as animals have great concern about this. And there is no difference between the concern of a person and the concern of animals for their children, since the love of a mother and 'the appeal of the children of its belly' does not stem from the intellect and the [faculty of] speech, but rather it is from the effects of the faculty of thought that is found in animals just as it is found in man.
And if [it is as Rambam claims], the main prohibition of 'it and its son' is only [in the sequence] of its son and it, but [in other circumstances] it is all a distancing [from that main prohibition]. And more correct is [that the reason for the commandment is] so that we will not become cruel.
And the teacher said: And don't answer me from the statement of the sages [that comes to explain] (Berakhot 33b), "We silence the one who says, 'Your mercy reaches the nest of the bird.' [is because this commandment is a decree that has nothing to do with mercy]," as this is one of two explanations - the explanation of the one to whom it appears that there is no reason for the commandments except for the will of the Creator - but we hold of the second explanation, [according to which] there should be an explanation for all of the commandments.
And a further challenge to him is that which he found in Bereshit Rabbah 44:1, "And so what does the Holy One, blessed be He, care whether he slaughters from [the front of] the neck or slaughters from the back - behold, the commandments were only given to purify the creations through them, as it is stated (Proverbs 30:5), 'Every word of the Lord is purified.'" And this matter that the teacher asserted is very lucid regarding commandments that have a reason, as there is in each one a reason and a purpose and a refinement for the person, besides their reward from their Commander, may He be blessed.
And the rabbis, may their memory be blessed, have already said (Sanhedrin 21b), "For what were the reasons of the Torah not revealed, etc." and they expounded (Pesachim 119a), "'Ancient covering' (Isaiah 23:18) - this is the one who reveals things that were covered by the One of ancient days; and what are they? The reasons of the Torah." And they already expounded about the red heifer (Bemidbar Rabbah 19:3-4), that Shlomo said, "I have mastered it all, but about the topic of the red heifer, I have investigated, I have asked, I have searched - 'I said I will become wise, but it is far from me' (Ecclesiastes 7:23)." And Rabbi Yose beRebbe Chanina said, "The Holy One, blessed be He said to Moshe, 'To you do I reveal the reason of the red heifer, but to others it is a statute (without explanation),' as it is written (Zechariah 14:6), 'And it shall be on that day there will be no light, but heaviness and solidity' - it is written 'will solidify' (even though it is read 'and solidity,' such that the verse expresses a secondary meaning which is now elucidated): That which is covered from you in this world, will be visible in the world to come, like that blind man that [finally] sees, as it is written (Isaiah 42:16), 'And I will guide the blind ones in the path they did not know.' And it is written (there), 'I have done these things and not forsaken them' - as I have already done them for Rabbi Akiva." Behold, they elucidated that the impediment to the reasons for the commandments is not from Him abut rather [from] the blindness of our intellects and that the reason of the most difficult one was already reveled to the sages of Israel.
And there are many [statements] like this and many things in Torah and Scripture that indicate [it]. [And] those homiletical statements that were challenging to [Rambam], are about a different matter, according to my opinion. As they wanted to say that there is no gain in the commandment for the Holy One, blessed be He, Himself, may He be elevated; but [rather] the gain is for man himself - to prevent him from damage or a bad belief or a disgusting character trait, or to remember the miracles and wonders of the Creator, may He be blessed, and to know God. And this is [the meaning of] "to purify them" - that they should be like purified silver; as the action of a smelter is not without a reason, but [rather] to extract all the dross from it. And so [too] are the commandments to extract from our hearts every bad belief and to inform us of the truth and to always remind us of it.
And this [idea] is mentioned by the homiletical statement itself in [Midrash] 'Yilamdenu' (Midrash Tanchuma, Shmini 8 on Parshat Shmini) on the section, 'This is the animal,' "And so what does it matter to the Holy One, blessed be He, whether one slaughters an animal and eats or stabs [it] and eats - do you benefit Him at all or damage Him at all; or what does He care whether one eats pure things or eats impure things. 'If you have become wise, you have become wise for yourself' (Proverbs 9:12) - behold, the commandments were only given to purify the creations through them, as it is stated (Psalms 12:7), 'The words of the Lord are pure words' and it is stated (Proverbs 30:5), 'Every word of the Lord is purified.' Why? So that it protect you" Behold, it is explicit in here that they only came to say that the gain is not for Him, may He be elevated; that He should require the light - as might be thought - from the menorah (the candelabra in the Temple) or that he should require the sacrifices for food and the smell of the incense as it would appear from the simple meaning of [the verses]; and even the memory of His wonders that He did, that He commanded to do [things] in commemoration of the exodus from Egypt and the story of Creation, there is no gain for Him - just that we know the truth and merit through it, until we become fit that He should protect us. As our speech and memory of His wonders are considered nothing and void for Him.
And he brought a proof from one that slaughters from the [front] of the neck and [its] back, to say that they are all for us and not for the Holy One, blessed be He, as it is not likely to say about slaughter that there should be gain and honor to the Creator, may He be blessed, from the neck more than from the back or [from] stabbing; but rather they are for us to guide us in the paths of mercy, even at the time of slaughtering. And they brought another proof, "Or what does He care whether one eats pure things" - and these are the permitted foods - "or eats impure things" - and these are forbidden foods, that the Torah stated about them (Leviticus 11:28), "they are impure for you." And through this, he hinted that it is so that we be of clean souls, wise ones, that contemplate the truth. And their saying, "If you have become wise, you have become wise for yourself," they mentioned, because the active commandments - for example, slaughtering of the neck - are to teach us good character traits; and the commandments that are decrees that differentiate species are to purify our souls, as the Torah stated (Leviticus 20:25), "and you shall not make your souls disgusting with the animal and with the bird and with all that crawls on the ground, which I have separated for you as impure." If so, all of them are for our benefit alone. And this is like Elihu said (Job 35:6), "If you sin, how will you effect Him; and your transgressions are numerous, what will you do to Him?" and said (verse 7), "or what will He take from your hand?" And this is something that is unanimous in all of the words of our teachers.
And they asked in the Yerushalmi Nedarim 9:1, whether we can open [an avenue of regret] for [vows] that are between him and the Omnipresent, with the [damage done to the] honor of the Omnipresent; and they responded to this question, "which is [the damage done] to the honor of the Omnipresent - for example, the sukkah that I am not doing, the lulav that I am not holding, the tefillin that I am not laying?" And it is implied that it is [only the person] that [a commandment] helps, like the [verses], "If you are righteous, what do you give to Him, or what will He take from your hand?" [and] "If you sin, how will you effect Him; and your transgressions are numerous, what will you do to Him?"
Behold, they elucidated that even the lulav and the sukkah and the tefillin - that He commanded that they be 'a sign upon your arm and a memory device between your eyes, that the Lord took you out of Egypt with a strong hand' - are not for the honor of the Lord, may He be blessed, but [rather] to have mercy on our souls. And they already set this into the prayer of Yom Kippur, "You have separated man from the start and recognized him to stand in front of You, as who will say to You what to do, and if he is righteous, what will he give to You?" And so [too], it stated in the Torah (Deuteronomy 10:13), "for your good," as I have explained (Ramban on Deuteronomy 10:13); and so [too] (Deuteronomy 6:24), "And He commanded us to do all of these statutes to fear the Lord, our God, for our good all of the days."
And the intention in all of them is that it be good for us and not for Him, may He blessed and elevated; but all that we are commanded is [so that] His creatures be purified and cleansed without the dross of evil thoughts and disgusting character traits. And so that which they said (Berakhot 33a), "[It is because] he makes the traits of the Holy One, blessed be He into mercy and they are only decrees," is to say that God did not worry about the nest of the bird and His 'mercy did not reach' it and its child; as His mercy does not extend to creatures with an animal soul, to prevent us from doing what we need to them. As were it so, slaughtering would be forbidden. But [rather], the reason for the proscription is to teach us the trait of mercy and that we not become cruel.
Since cruelty spreads in the soul of a man, as it is known with butchers that slaughter large oxen and donkeys, that they are 'people of blood,' 'slaughterers of men' [and] very cruel. And because of this they said (Kiddushin 82a), "The best of butchers are the partners of Amalek." And behold, these commandments with animals and birds are not mercy upon them, but [rather] decrees upon us, to guide us and to teach us the good character traits.
And so [too] all of the commandments - positive and negative - are called decrees; as they said (Mekhilta, Bechodesh 6) about a parable of a king that entered into a country: "His servants said to him, 'Make decrees upon them.' He said [back] to them, 'When they accept My kingship, I will make decrees upon them.' So did the Holy One, blessed be He, say; 'You accepted My Kingship - "I am the Lord, your God" (Exodus 20:2) - [now,] accept My decrees - "there shall be for you no, etc."' (Exodus 20:3)."
But in the Midrash of Rabbi Nechunia ben HaKaneh, there is a midrash [that explains] that there is a secret in the commandment: "Rabbi Rechumai said, 'Why is it written, "Surely send away the mother" and it did not say, "the father?" But rather, "Surely send the mother" is in honor of that Discernment (Binah), the Mother of the world, as it is written (Proverbs 2:3), "But you will call discernment, Mother."' What is 'and the children take for yourself?' Rabbi Rechumai said, 'Those children that she grew.' And what are they? The seven days of the sukkah and the laws of the seven days of the week, etc." And behold, this commandment hints to a great matter, and therefore its reward is very large - "so that it will be good for you and you will lengthen your days."