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, the earth with its mountains, oceans, plants, insects, fish, birds, and animals. According to one interpretation,
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!
The Song of the Date Palm in Perek Shirah:
“A righteous person will flourish like a date palm, like a cedar in the Lebanon he will grow tall.” (Psalm 92:13)
The date palm is a tree which gives forth sweet and nutritious fruits, and as the classical commentator, Rashi, explains, the palm tree flourishes when
it gives forth its life-giving fruits. And the song of the date palm is conveying to us the following message: When you see my special strength, you are
seeing the special strength of the “tzadik” – righteous person. For just as I give forth sweet fruits which nurture and prolong life, so too, the words
and deeds of the righteous person are sweet and nutritious “fruits” which nurture and prolong life.
The song of the date palm does not speak about the righteous person in the present tense; it does not state, “A righteous person flourishes like a date
palm, like a cedar in Lebanon, he is tall.” Instead, it speaks in the future tense by saying that the righteous person “will flourish” and “will grow tall.”
This alludes to the idea that righteous people are in a process of growth, and they are always striving to produce new “fruits”; thus, in its description
of the righteous, Psalm 92 adds, “They will still be fruitful in old age; they will be full of sap and freshness” (verse 15).
This serves as a reminder that in our older years, we can be, in the spiritual sense, “full of sap and freshness,” perhaps even more than when we were younger.
As Bob Dylan used to sing, “But I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”
It is interesting that the song of the date palm includes the following reference to the cedar tree: “like a cedar in the Lebanon, he will grow tall.” (There
is a mountainous region in the northern part of the Land of Israel which is known as “the Lebanon.”) According to the Talmud, the reason why the date palm
and the cedar of the Lebanon are mentioned in the same song is because each has a quality which the other lacks (Ta’anis 25a &b). The date palm produces
fruits, while the cedar does not. But when the date palm is cut down, its trunk dries in the ground. When the cedar of the Lebanon is felled, however,
its roots and stumps remain alive and a new cedar shoot will sprout in its place. According to the Etz Yosef commentary on the Talmud, this power of renewal
within the cedar of the Lebanon represents the power of renewal in the “tzadik” – righteous person. As it is written, “For though the tzadik may fall seven
times, he will arise, but the wicked will stumble through evil” (Proverbs 24:16).
There is a beautiful explanation of this verse by the rebbe of my rebbe, Rav Yitzchak Hutner, a leading sage who headed the Chaim Berlin Yeshiva. Rav Hutner
explains that the real meaning of this verse is not that the tzadik manages to rise again after falling seven times, but that the essence of the tzadik’s
rising is through his seven falls. Through these falls, he gains new insights and strengths which enable him to rise higher. (Pachad Yitzchak – Letters
and Writings, p. 217)
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen
P.S. New subscribers that would like to learn more about “Perek Shirah” can check out the articles in our archive (lower section).
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