Perek Shirah, literally "A Chapter Of Song," is an ancient text that is at least a thousand years old; some ancient commentaries even attribute its authorship to King David! It takes the form of a list of eighty-four elements of the natural world, including elements of the sky and of the earth, plants, birds, animals, and insects, attaching a verse from the Bible to each. The concept behind Perek Shirah is that everything in the natural world teaches us a lesson in philosophy or ethics, and the verse gives a clue as to what that lesson is. The result is the "song" of the natural world, the tapestry of lessons for life that the natural world is telling us. Perek Shirah, a work of tremendous historic value, is itself extremely mysterious and cryptic. However, various commentaries have been written on it over the last five hundred years, which give an insight into what the verse is telling us to learn from the creature.
Thus, for example, Perek Shirah states that "The lion is saying, 'God shall go out as a mighty man, he shall arouse zeal, he shall cry, even roar; he shall prevail over his enemies (Isaiah 42:13)." The lion teaches us of the importance of might and power. This does not mean physical strength; true power is power over oneself. All big cats are aggressive predators and therefore cannot get along even with each other; it is only the lion that is able to somehow control its aggression and live in groups. The lion teaches us of the greatest power, that of self-control.
Nature's Song is the first English explanation of Perek Shirah . It makes use of rare ancient commentaries on Perek Shirah , as well as contemporary insights from the fields of meteorology, zoology and so on. The result is a Biblical encyclopedia of the natural world, synthesizing the ancient with the modern, that enables one to perceive new depths of insight into the natural world that surrounds us.
Hardcover/ 452 pages/ Retail Price $29.95/ New edition published 2009 by Zoo Torah/ Distributed by Gefen Books
Available for purchase at bookstores worldwide and online here ($25.95 + $5.00 shipping to US or Israel):
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You can read an extract by clicking here.
You can download a 16-page booklet containing the text of Perek Shirah with an English translation by clicking here.
The booklet is in PDF format; to open it, you will need Acrobat Reader, which can by downloaded for free here.
Review by Pennee Lauders
A beautiful book dealing with all the aspects of the natural world in the Torah perspective of "How great are Your works, Hashem," accompanied with poignant black-and-white illustrations, Nature's Song is authoritative, factual, poetic, comprehensive, a brilliant work of art-and-science. A book to have and to give, to read repeatedly and to cherish.
A fitting review for our Shavuos edition, for this momentous day in history when Creation itself was ultimately vindicated through the giving of the Torah to the JEwish nation. "Yom HaShishi - say Chazal - "the Sixth Day of Sivan" when the TOrha was given, amidst lightning and thunder.
Many years ago, I was lent a tape about Perek Shirah. The lecturer expounded at length on the fascinating, mystical significance of the text, but I never had an opportunity to look into Perek Shirah itself. Where was it? What was it? This was, of course, partially due to my busy schedule, raising five bouncy boys. Now that three of them are busy bouncing elsewhere, I'm capable of perusing such formidable tomes as R' Nosson Slifkin's handsome, informative, well-written and thoroughly researched Nature's Song. Delighted, I found Perek Shirah in Hebrew with English translation to be featured as the first textual entry. It's not that one can't plow laboriously through the Hebrew and come up with a reasonable understanding by oneself. However, a busy baalebusta must be careful to budget her time wisely. The translation together with the Hebrew makes it easier to move forward and get into the ideas. The really serious learners can tackle original sources, as the ambitious author of this lovely volume has so courageously done. That he deigns to share his hard-earned knowledge and his personal insights with the Targum-Feldheim readership is a chessed of immense proportions.
One message of Perek Shirah, according to the author and those whom he quotes, is to point out to man that the good character traits which the Jew is commanded to acquire can be found embodied in the various creatures which inhabit the globe. As is quoted on page 39 of the introduction, "R' Yochonon said: Had the Torah not been given, we would have learned modesty from the cat, [the prohibition of] theft from the ant, [the prohibition of] forbidden relationships from the dove..." Not skipping a beat, Rabbi Slifkin brings a footnote. "We may ask why there is a need to learn from nature -- why not simply learn from the Torah?" Indeed, the Talmud says that we would have learned these lessons from the animals had the Torah not been given: the apparent implication of this is that now that the Torah has been given, we should be learning life's lessons from the Torah! Kenaf Renanim, a major bibliographical source for this work, explains that if one has reached the ideal of being entirely immersed in Torah, then he should, indeed, learn only from Torah. But if one is involved in the wider world, he can study the Torah's ways from nature (page 40).
Could R' Yochonon have known that at the end of days, there would be such a crying dearth of the wisdom of the Torah's mussar? That through teachers like R' Slifkin we tinokos shenishbu would come to extract the Truth even from the behavior of animals? In fact, this book proves that we are so far from nature that we don't even have a working relationship with many of the animals mentioned in Perek Shirah. How then can we hope to obtain mussar at all if we haven't yet acquired it through Torah, nor through nature, which has been leached of its strength and nearly bought to a grinding halt by the 'civilized' masses whose 'progress' continually pushes nature further and further from their door? Anyone who picks up this 450-page book will soon realize that the text is entertaining but thought-provoking at the same time. One is compelled to engage in the gentle tug of Rabbi Slifkin's contemplation. This in itself will hopefully lead one to actually do something about those raw edges, which keep one from finishing the work which Hashem has begun [and has relegated to the purview of mankind]. We must tame the raw nature in us in order to reveal our Divinely-ordained purpose. Indeed, this is a book for all seasons [and I may add, with all seasons...]. Whoever acquires it will have the opportunity to review the pleasant guidance of Torah Sages, who understand that an objective look at the improvements which one should undertake, is more easily digested than cold and hard rebuke. R' Slifkin's book is a truly gentle reminder to all of us that the Jewish path is one of loving-kindness. And one quote, to give the reader something to savor:
"The Lightning Bolts are saying: 'He causes the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth; He makes lightning for the rain; He brings forth the wind from His storehouses' (Psalms 135:7) "...Lightning comes about due to an imbalance in the electric charges between the ground and the thunderhead. The lightning bolts instantly strike and redress the imbalance. It's a sudden and striking way of doing so, but highly effective. "A similar imbalance of forces sometimes exists between man and the Heavens. Man sometimes becomes lost in the material world, forgetting about the spiritual. There, too, something must be done. "There is nothing more openly perceived as an act of G-d than a bolt of lightning. Thunderstorms, with their terrifying crashing sounds, startling flashes of light, and driving rain, do not merely instill awe in a person -- they instill religious awe... "'Thunder was created only to straighten out the crookedness of one's heart' (Berochos 59a)."
And later, in a box, this information:
ANALYZING A LIGHTNING BOLT "In a lightning bolt, a relatively low-powered 'leader' first shoots from a thundercloud to the earth in a series of zigzag steps. When it is sixty to ninety feet from the ground, it is met by an upward-seeking discharge of electricity some two or three inches in diameter and surrounded by a five-inch sleeve of superheated air. The stroke packs 10,000 to 20,000 amperes and instantly cooks the surrounding air to a temperature of 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit or more, causing it to expand violently in a roar of thunder. When the return stroke enters the cloud, another leader descends and is, in turn, met by another rising charge. This repeats from three to twenty-six times, but the bolts all travel so fast, at about 93,000 miles per second, that we see it as a single flash of lightning" (p. 149-152).
The reader will be treated to many more interesting quotes, facts and insights. This book is a valuable addition to anyone's library. May Rabbi Slifkin merit to reap great blessing as his perspective is imbibed and incorporated into the daily conduct of his uplifted readers.
Comments from readers will be posted here. To send a comment, write to email@example.com
From the readers:
Dear Rabbi Slifkin,
I purchased your book "Nature's Song" to help me with Perek Shira. It is such an amazing work because it really helps one to be "osek" in the Perek Shira and to really keep Hashem in one's life. I don't think I could ever thank you enough for working so hard to put out such a wonderful book. It has changed me for the better and hopefully will continue to do so. May Hashem bless you with many long healthy years to enable you to continue teaching so many about Him and His wonderful creations.
Dear R' Nosson,
I just read Nature's Song and wanted to thank you for a wonderful work. Although it probably took you several years to write and I read it several hours, the lessons I learned will remain with me for many years. May Hashem bless you with the menuchas hanefesh and siyata dishmaya to continue spreading Torah throughout the world.
Dear Rabbi Slifkin,
I recently purchased your book, "Nature's Song". It has been a pleasure and inspiration to read. Besides being beautifully written, obviously well researched and considered, it also demonstrates a deep knowledge of and love for Torah.
What a delight it is to read such a beautifully written work.
May Hashem bless you with strength to continue your work and much success.
All the best.
Dear Rav Slifkin,
It says in Masechas Sanhedrin (37a) that "one who saves one Jewish person, it's as if he saves an entire world." Due to my lack of Torah knowledge I am not sure if this is in regards to physically or if it is also regarding spirituality. Let's say for now that it is in regards to both.
Before I arrived to yeshiva, I had not learned a word of Torah for almost two years. I did not care for it and wanted absolutely nothing to do with it. It was about four months into yeshiva and I had one foot out the door. I was miserable there. I hated the learning and felt that I was wasting my time. In a shiur with one of the rebbeim, Perek Shira was mentioned. To me, that sounded somewhat interesting. So I began to look into it. I searched a little and was told about your book, Nature's Song. So I decided to learn it. I must tell you, that it was what I needed to help me. I was very enthusiastic about the Sefer and did not stop learning it. My copy at home is completely covered in highlights and notes. Not only that but I have a family member who was quite sick. She was arrested for drug possession and was in drug re-hab for 9 1/2 months for being addicted to Cocaine. I used to visit her once every two weeks. She once told me that she would take walks through the mountains where the re-hab was and loved looking at Nature. I decided to buy her a copy of Nature's Song and Baruch Hashem, she had recovered and is frum. She told me that the book helped immensely.
Two lives were saved which means two worlds were saved. If nothing else, just know that all my future endeavors, the type of girl I will marry, my children and everything I do in life, will be because of you. There must be a starting point in everyone's life. I am not a huge masmid, nor am I a talmid chacham, but what I am is a Jewish man who learns at least once every day because of someone who was able to touch my soul when nothing else was working. Whether Nature's Song opening my eyes to Hashem everywhere I look at every moment in the day, or The Science of Torah giving me a new outlook, or even Mysterious Creatures giving me a new insight to a very new and different aspect of Torah, every one of the books has helped me grow into the person I am today.
I wanted to let you know Rav Slifkin that you have helped me more than any Rebbeim I have had in all my years. The amount of hakaras ha-tov that I owe you is immeasurable. No amount of thanks or gratitude can be given. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for saving my life from a life off the Derech Hashem.