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The Mishnah in Chullin 141a says

הנוטל אם על הבנים ר' יהודה אומר לוקה ואינו משלח וחכמים אומרים לוקה משלח ואינו לוקה

Someone who takes the mother bird with the children, R' Yehudah says they're lashed and don't need to send away the mother bird. The Sages say send the bird away and they're not lashed.

The discussion there makes it clear the dispute is what's the status of this mitzvah: לאו שקדמו עשה, a negative mitzvah which was preceded by a positive mitzvah (so there's lashes, as per Makkos 14b), or a לאו הניתק לעשה, a negative mitzvah which was given over for positive rectification (so there's no lashes, see Makkos 14b-16b).

Now, I'm basing my understanding of these two types of mitzvos on how Rashi in Makkos loc cit. explains it (I am aware there are other explanations, I'm just not familiar with them). If I understand him correctly, לאו שקדמו עשה is that the positive mitzvah is possible before the negative mitzvah (ex: a rapist has to marry his victim, and can never divorce her). Whereas לאו הניתק לעשה is the positive mitzvah is only possible after breaking the negative *mitzvah (returning stolen property for example). Therefore, the explanation of the dispute in sending away the mother bird based on the that gemarra in Chullin is that R' Yehudah understands "שלח תשלח" is מעיקרא משמע, at the onset, so it's possible before the negative mitzvah. The Sages seem to hold the mitzvah is after transgressing the negative mitzvah.

Therefore it would seem to me that there's no mitzvah at the onset to send away the mother bird according to the Sages, unless the person transgressed the mitzvah of taking them all. Only R' Yehudah says there's a mitzvah to first send her away. Now, I would guess practically it makes no difference, if you want the eggs and don't want to even momentarily break the Torah, send away the mother. But it seems there's no mitzvah lechatchila (at the onset) according to the Sages.

However, it sounds like from various sources that there is a mitzvah lechatchila. I found in Rambam's Sefer HaMitzvos Shoresh 6 that he writes explicitly that sending away the mother bird is a לאו הניתק לעשה, yet is a positive mitzvah since Chazal call it a mitzvah (I'm guessing an example is Kiddushin 39b). He seems to learn לאו הניתק לעשה differently than Rashi. Does he mean it's a mitzvah lechatchila, at the onset? He lists the mitzvah in Mitzvas Aseh 148 as to send away the mother bird; no prerequisites. How does Rashi understand things? Would he say the gemarra in Kiddushin that says it's a mitzvah is like R' Yehudah? Or am I misunderstanding the principles at work.

I'd like an explanation which summarizes the various opinions.

Edit: it should be noted I saw the Tiferes Yisroel addresses this issue and writes (Makkos 3:4 in Yachin)

וחכמים אומרים משלח ואינו לוקה דס"ל שלח גם אחר לקיחה משמע, והו"ל ניתק לעשה:

The Sages say send away the mother bird and you won't get lashes, since they hold the verse implies also to send her away after you take, therefore it's nitak le'aseh.

He seems to hold the Sages agree to Rabbi Yehudah it's a לאו שקדמו עשה, but the way I explained things I feel like that makes it mutually exclusive to being a לאו הניתק לעשה, so I don't understand.

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There are various sources which sound like there is no mitzvah at the onset; only once transgressing the negative mitzvah.

Teshuvos HaRashba I § 18 says there's no beracha on sending away the mother bird, as its a mitzvah haba'ah baveira, a mitzvah that only occurs through a transgression. The Ritva to Makkos 16a sounds like there's no mitzvah except after transgressing. The Rambam at the beginning of Hilchos Shechitah, when he specifies the mitzvos included in the section, writes לשלח האם, אם לקחה על הבנים, which is pretty clear that the mitzvah is only once transgressing.

This is also how the Kesef Mishnah understands (and thus asks a question on the Rambam, see there). The Sha'agas Aryeh § 33 and Rav Yerucham Fishel Perlow (Sefer HaMitzvos LeRasag II Lo Sa'aseh § 137) concur.

However, I found some Achronim who learn like the Tiferes Yisroel, that there is also a mitzvah at the onset. Namely, The Rashash to Chullin 141b, and Penei Yehoshua to Makkos 14b.

The Penei Yehoshua asks a question similar to the one posted here. He says that according to Rashi, who holds when its a לאו הניתק לעשה the positive mitzvah is only possible after transgressing, how can sending away the mother bird be a לאו הניתק לעשה? The mitzvah is also possible before transgressing (ie: send her away)!

The Rashash also asks a question on Rashi. The gemarra asks how far must a person send away the mother bird? Rashi explains the gemarra to be asking in the case when a person transgressed and took them. The Rashash asks on Rashi why not make the case even when a person didn't transgress, and they simply want to fulfill the mitzvah to send it away? You see both the Rashash and Penei Yehoshua understand there's a mitzvah at the onset.

In Teshuvos Maharam Shik Yoreh Deah § 289 he answers the Rashash's question on Rashi that Rashi holds there is no mitzvah at the onset. This would also answer the Penei Yehoshua's question on Rashi. Thus, the whole question posted here doesn't get started. Rashi, who holds it's impossible to fulfill the mitzvah of a לאו הניתק לעשה until transgressing, is consistent and holds the same by sending away the mother bird. Anyone who says there's a mitzvah at the onset, must understand לאו הניתק לעשה differently than Rashi.

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