Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz was a leading Torah educator of the 20th century. He was known by the affectionate term, "Reb Shraga Feivel." He was once walking and talking with a group of students when one of them absentmindedly picked a leaf off a tree. Reb Shraga Feivel stopped in midsentence. "Don't you know," he asked the hapless offender, "that the whole creation sings a song to the Creator – every plant, every blade of grass? When you pulled that leaf off the tree, you cut off its song in the middle." One still day, he pointed out the window to a tree on which a single leaf on the very top was rustling in the wind. "That leaf is the chazzan (cantor)," he said, "and all the other leaves are listening to his prayerful song." (These stories appear in the ArtScoll biography "Reb Shraga Feivel" by Yonoson Rosenblum.)
There is an ancient Torah classic which is known as "Perek Shirah" – Chapter of Song. It contains verses which are "sung" respectively by eighty-five components of creation, including the heavenly bodies, and the earth with its mountains, oceans, plants, insects, fish, birds, and animals. Some sources ascribe this work to King David, who was inspired to compose it after being told by a frog that its song to the Creator was loftier than David's own Book of Psalms. In fact, the introduction to Perek Shirah contains the following story:
Our sages of blessed memory said about David, King of Israel, peace be upon him: When he completed the Book of Psalms, he felt proud and he said before the Holy One, Blessed is He, "Have you created any creature in Your world that recites songs and praises more than I?" At that moment a single frog encountered him and said to him: "David, do not feel pride, for I recite songs and praises more than you. Furthermore, three thousand parables can be derived from every song that I recite."
Other sources credit the authorship of Perek Shirah to David's son, King Solomon, whose wisdom was so all encompassing that he understood the "speech" of all components of the world – animal, vegetable, and mineral. Still others suggest that it was compiled by the great sages of the Mishnah: Rabbi Yishmael, Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Nechuniah ben Hakanah, and Rabbi Eliezer ben Hurkenos.
There are three basic opinions regarding the nature of the eighty five songs in Perek Shirah. Some say that each creature literally sings its own song. Ordinary human beings cannot hear them, just as there are many sounds in nature that human senses cannot detect, but are there nevertheless. A second opinion is that the singing is done by "malachim" – heavenly messengers - who are in charge of each of the components of creation, for as the sages have taught, even a blade of grass has a malach that guides its growth. These malachim therefore sing the respective songs of their charges. The third opinion is that the songs are not actually spoken: they are implicit in the existence of the creatures and their specific roles in the universe. Accordingly, one who understands the function of any creature would understand what we should learn from it, and that lesson is its song!
Perek Shirah, however, does not mention the song of the human being. Why is this so? When we began to discuss our relationship to other creatures (Letter 112), we cited the ancient teaching that the human being is a microcosm of all creation. For example, the human being's inner strength is traced to the lion, his swiftness to the deer, his agility to the eagle, his cunning to the fox, his capacity for growth to the flora - all of which are unified within the human being. As a microcosm of all creation, the human being has the capacity to sing the song of each creature; moreover, the human being has the potential to sing all the songs as one song! I would therefore like to suggest that the entire Perek Shirah is the song of the human being.
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
Related Teachings and Comments:
1. The Art Scroll "Perek Shirah" cites another reason in the name of the Maharal why the song of the human being is not mentioned: Every creature serves the Creator perfectly and without interruption. It does what it is created to do; it cannot do otherwise. These ongoing songs are the songs in Perek Shirah. The human being, however, has free will; thus, the human being does not always fulfill his potential to express his unique song, which is why he is not mentioned in Perek Shirah. Nevertheless, when the human being dedicates all aspects of his being to serving the Divine purpose, and when he also develops faith in the providence of the Creator, the human being can achieve a level of wholeness which leads to his ultimate "shirah" – song.
2. The "Sefer Ha-Ikarim" by Rabbi Yosef Albo states that one who studies the lessons which can be derived from Perek Shirah is in the spirit of the following verse from Job (35:11): "He teaches us from the animals of the land, and from the birds of the heavens He makes us wise" (cited in Otzar Ha-Tefilah).
3. With the help of Hashem, we will discuss some of the songs in Perek Shirah as our series develops. Most of the background information on Perek Shirah which appears in this letter is from the book, "Perek Shirah" – The Song of the Universe, Translation and Insights by Rabbi Nosson Scherman. For information on this work, visit: http://artscroll.com/linker/hazon/ASIN/PSHH
4. Another book on Perek Shirah is "Nature's Song" by Rabbi Nosson Slifkin (Targum/Feldheim). For further information on this work, visit: www.feldheim.com
5. For information on the ArtScoll biography "Reb Shraga Feivel" by Yonoson Rosenblum, visit: http://artscroll.com/linker/hazon/ASIN/RSFP