The Song of the Hen

"He gives nourishment to all flesh, for His lovingkindness endures forever" (Psalm 136:25)

"He gives nourishment to all flesh" - The great lovingkindness of the Compassionate One extends to all creatures, for He prepares for each and every creature the food that is fitting for it. (Commentary of Radak)

Dear Friends,

In his book on Perek Shirah - "Nature's Song" - Rabbi Nosson Slifkin writes: "The chicken finds food everywhere. It is also very flexible in its diet, able to eat different types of seeds, vegetables, insects, and so on. Thus, the song of the chicken is one of acknowledging God's provision of food, one way or another, to all His creations." The Song of the Hen is a therefore a song of faith - a reminder that the Creator has many ways of providing sustenance to all creatures, including us!

The theme of the hen's song - the Divine nurturing of all creatures - is a major theme within our traditional prayers. For example, we chant Psalm 145 three times a day, and according to the Talmud (Brochos 4b), the main theme of this psalm is found in verse 16: "You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing." We also chant the following passage each morning:

"Call out to the Compassionate One with thanks, with the harp sing to our God - Who covers the heavens with clouds, Who prepares rain for the earth, Who makes mountains sprout with grass. He gives to an animal its food, to young ravens that cry out." (Psalm 147:7-9)

Another example are these excerpts from Psalm 104, a psalm which we chant on "Rosh Chodesh" - the New Moon:

You are the One Who sends the springs into the streams; they flow between the mountains. They water every beast of the field; they quench the wild creatures' thirst. Near them dwell the birds of the heavens, from among the branches they give forth song. The One Who waters the mountains from His upper chambers, from the fruit of Your works the earth is sated. The One Who causes vegetation to sprout for the animal, and plants through human labor; to bring forth bread from the earth and wine that gladdens the human heart; to make the face glow from oil, and bread that sustains the human heart. The trees of the Compassionate One are sated, the cedars of Lebanon that He has planted; there where the birds nest, the stork with its home among cypresses, high mountains for the wild goats, rocks as refuge for the gophers. The One Who made the moon for the setting of the festivals, the sun knows its destination. You make darkness, and it is night, in which every forest beast stirs. The young lions roar after their prey, and to seek their food from God. The sun rises and they are gathered, and in their dens they crouch. The human being goes forth to his work, and to his labor until evening. How manifold are Your works, O Compassionate One; with wisdom You made them all; the earth is full of Your possessions. Behold this sea, great and of broad measure; creeping things are there without number, creatures small and great... All of them look to You with hope, to provide their food in its proper time. You give it to them, they gather it in; You open Your hand, they are sated with good. (Psalm 104, verses 10-28)

Our appreciation and thanksgiving for the Divine nurturing of all creatures is expressed in the opening blessing of the "Birchas Hamazon" - a series of blessings which we say to the Compassionate One after eating bread:

"Blessed are You, O Compassionate One, our God, Sovereign of the universe, Who nourishes the entire world with goodness - with grace, lovingkindness, and compassion. He gives nourishment to all flesh, for His lovingkindness is eternal. And through His great goodness, we have never lacked, and may we never lack nourishment for all eternity, for the sake of His great Name. For He is God Who nourishes and sustains all, and benefits all, and He prepares food for all of His creatures that He has created. Blessed are You, O Compassionate One, Who nourishes all."

According to the Talmud (Brochos 48b), the above blessing was composed by Moses in gratitude for the manna with which the Compassionate One sustained the People of Israel in the desert. The universal language of this blessing seems to indicate that Moses understood the Divine gift of manna to the People of Israel as a manifestation of the Divine love and concern for all life; therefore, Moses praises the One, "Who nourishes the entire world."

Shalom,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)

Related Teachings:

1. The Hebrew text of the Song of the Hen is, "Nosen lechem l'chol basar, ki l'olam chasdo." The ArtScroll Tanach translates this verse as, "He gives nourishment to all flesh, for His lovingkindness endures forever." The ArtScroll commentary on Psalms cites an alternative translation of the Song of the Hen. The word "olam" also means "world"; thus, "ki l'olam chasdo" can be translated as, "His lovingkindness is to the world" (Alschich). The song of the hen can therefore be translated in the following manner: "He gives nourishment to all flesh, for His lovingkindness is to the world."

2. Special foods such as bread, wine, the seven species for which the Land of Israel is praised, and certain grains have their own unique blessing of thanksgiving which is said after eating. For other foods and beverages, there is the following "general" blessing of thanksgiving to the Compassionate One where we express our appreciation for the nurturing of all creatures:

"Blessed are You, O Compassionate One, our God, Sovereign of the universe, Who creates numerous living things and their needs; for all that You have created with which to maintain the life of every being. Blessed is the One Who is the life of the worlds."

3. When we say in Hebrew our traditional prayers and blessings, the sacred Four-Letter Divine Name which expresses the attribute of compassion should be pronounced as if it was spelled, "Ado-nai" - the Master of all. The ArtScroll Siddur adds: If one is saying the traditional prayers and blessings in English, one should say "God" or "Lord" or one should pronounce the Divine Name in the proper Hebrew way "Ado-nai" (in accord with the ruling of most halachic authorities).

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