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The whole world has a song… The universe according to Perek Shira

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By: Kohenet Yael Tischler

 

Have you ever been plagued by the question, “What does the fox say?”

Perek Shira, an ancient Jewish text, has the answer. In fact, it has the answer about many different creatures, as well as plants and other wonders of nature. Perek Shira imagines that every element of our ecosystem has its own song, from the Skies to the Seas, from the Sun to the Moon, from the Fig Tree to the Pomegranate tree, from the Spiders to the Ducks, from the Rooster to the Songbird, from the Lion to the Mouse, and yes, even the Fox. Each of Nature’s songs is a quote from Biblical texts (mostly), mainly from Psalms, but there also quotes from other works of Jewish literature, including Rabbinic and Kabbalistic texts. It was probably intended for liturgical use, but it doesn’t universally appear in Jewish prayer books. Some internet archaeology also turned up suggestions that reciting Perek Shira can be used as a segulah – a Jewish liturgical or ritual charm – to bring miracles, from healing to true love.  I can’t confess I’ve ever tried these things (let me know if you do), but I can certainly appreciate how spending time with Perek Shira might help us feel closer to the magic inherent in nature and the interconnectedness of all living things.

To give you a taste of the Song of the Universe, here’s a few quotes:

מִדְבַּר אוֹמֵר. יְשֻׂשׂוּם מִדְבָּר וְצִיָּה וְתָגֵל עֲרָבָה וְתִפְרַח כַּחֲבַצָּלֶת

The Wilderness is saying: “The wilderness and the desert shall rejoice, and the arid region shall exult, and blossom like the rose.” – Perek Shira 1

יָמִים אוֹמְרִים. מִקֹּלוֹת מַיִם רַבִּים אַדִּירִים מִשְׁבְּרֵי יָם אַדִּיר בַּמָּרוֹם יי

The Seas are saying: “More than the voices of many waters, than the mighty waves of the sea, YHVH on high is mighty.” – Perek Shira 1

יְרָקוֹת שֶׁבַּשָּׂדֶה אוֹמְרִים. תְּלָמֶיהָ רַוֵּה נַחֵת גְּדוּדֶהָ בִּרְבִיבִים תְּמֹגְגֶנָּה צִמְחָהּ תְּבָרֵךְ

The Vegetables of the Field are saying, “You water its furrows abundantly; you settle its ridges; you make it soft with showers; You bless its growth.” – Perek Shira 3

שְׂמָמִית אוֹמֶרֶת. הַלְלוּהוּ בְצִלְצְלֵי שָׁמַע הַלְלוּהוּ בְּצִלְצְלֵי תְרוּעָה

The Spider is saying, “Praise him with sounding cymbals! Praise him with loud clashing cymbals!” – Perek Shira 4

צְבִי אוֹמֵר. וַאֲנִי אָשִׁיר עֻזֶּךָ וַאֲרַנֵּן לַבֹּקֶר חַסְדֶּךָ כִּי הָיִיתָ מִשְׂגָּב לִי וּמָנוֹס בְּיוֹם צַר לִי

The Gazelle is saying: “And I shall sing of your strength, I shall rejoice of your kindness in the morning, for you were a refuge to me, and a hiding place on the day of my oppression.” – Perek Shira 5

I love the imagery of Perek Shira – it’s both deep and playful. The vegetables singing about how much they appreciate the water they receive, and the spiders singing about praising G-d/dess through cymbals (tell me you’re not picturing them with cute little cymbals attached to their little feet and smashing them together in the most adorable spider praise dance), are enough to put a smile on anyone’s face. But I also love the theology – the reminder that everything on earth is alive and singing its own melody. When the universe is at its best, these disparate melodies blend together into a harmony, a beautiful image of balance – the ecosystem working as it should.

As a vegan and as a Jew, this imagery feels particularly powerful. If all the world is alive and singing, it feels as though it is upon us to sing in harmony with it, and treat the world with love and care. We are stewards and stewardesses of a living, breathing, singing, earth. We need to do our best to keep her singing, by acknowledging that our song is not a solo, but one line in a choral arrangement that is this great wide world.

Oh, and if you’re still wondering about that Fox:

שׁוּעַל אוֹמֵר. הוֹי בֹּנֶה בֵיתוֹ בְּלֹא צֶדֶק וַעֲלִיּוֹתָיו בְּלֹא מִשְׁפָּט בְּרֵעֵהוּ יַעֲבֹד חִנָּם וּפֹעֲלוֹ לֹא יִתֶּן לוֹ

The Fox is saying: “Woe to him that builds his house without justice, and his chambers without lawfulness; that uses his friend’s service without wages, and does not give him for his hire.” – Perek Shira 5

So that’s a nice way of saying what I said, thanks Fox! Let’s do as the Fox does, and treat each other and this world right.

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Photo credit: Yuriy Chemerys on Unsplash

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Kohenet Yael Tischler is a ritual-weaver, Jewish educator and song leader.  She is the co-founder of Yelala, a constellation of work that celebrates Earth-centred, feminist Jewish spirituality and reclaims the practices of our women/femme and folk ancestors.  She holds an MA in Writing for Young People from Bath Spa University, a BA in English Literature from Columbia University and a BA in Tanakh (Bible) from the Jewish Theological Seminary. 

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