Remember The Sabbath Day
‘Both in the Times of the Temple and After’
The Torah (Devarim 22:6) states that a person may not take a bird if she is resting on her eggs or young chicks. If he wants to take the young, he must first send away the mother bird. Doing so is called shiluach haken. The Mishnah (Chullin 138) says this mitzvah applies at all times, both in the era of the Beis HaMikdash and afterwards. The Gemara comments that this statement seems superfluous because there is no reason to assume the mitzvah would not apply after the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed.
A Query to the Chasam Sofer
The Chasam Sofer (Responsa, Orach Chayim 100) was once asked if a person could perform shiluach haken on Shabbos. In answering this query, he first analyzed the mitzvah at great length. Among others, he cites the Chacham Tzvi who maintains that a person is only required to send away the mother bird; he is not required to take the chicks. In his view, the Torah’s words, “vehabanim tikach lach – and take the children for you,” are a segula: In the merit of this mitzvah, one will be blessed with children.
The Chasam Sofer also cites the Zohar (Tikunei Zohar, Tikuna 6, as cited by Chavos Yair 67), which offers the following kabbalistic reason for performing this mitzvah: Taking the young chicks evokes feelings of compassion in the mother bird, causing her to cry. This cry then arouses Hashem’s compassion for his young, Bnei Yisrael, causing Him to take pity on us.
According to the Zohar, one is prohibited from performing this mitzvah on Shabbos because doing so is a form of beseeching G-d for mercy, which is forbidden on Shabbos.
Nigleh or Nistar
The Chasam Sofer points out that apparently our Gemara does’t accept the Zohar’s explanation. If it did, it wouldn’t say that the Mishnah’s statement – that the mitzvah applies both in eras with a Beis HaMikdash and eras without one – is superfluous. If the mitzvah was about arousing G-d’s mercy, one might think the mitzvah only applies when we need an extra does of mercy – during exile. Since the Gemara considers the Mishnah’s statement superfluous, it evidently doesn’t believe that the mitzvah’s purpose is to arouse mercy.
The Chasam Sofer then notes that whenever there is a dispute between “nigleh” and “nistar” (i.e., the Talmud and Kabbalah), we follow “nigleh.”
Tzeidah or Muktzeh
The Chasam Sofer offers another reason why the mitzvah shouldn’t be fulfilled on Shabbos. According to the Rambam (Hilchos Shechitah 13:5), the mitzvah entails grabbing the mother bird’s wing with one’s hand and causing it to fly away. Doing this deed on Shabbos, though, is forbidden due to the prohibition of tzeidah (trapping). Even if one argues that this deed doesn’t violate the prohibition of tzeidah, the bird is muktzeh and the mitzvah of shiluach haken does not override the prohibition of muktzeh.