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For the week ending 31 December 2022 / 7 Cheshvan 5783

Perek Shira: The Song of the Fly

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The Fly says, at a time when the Jewish people are not engaged in Torah study: A voice says “Call!” and I said, “What shall I call? All of flesh is like grass and all its kindness like the sprouts of the field. The grass will have dried up and the sprout will have withered, but the word of our G-d will stand forever.” (Yeshayah 40:6, 8)

“I create speech of lips that brings peace to the far and the near,” says Hashem, “and I have healed him.” (ibid., 57:19)

The ever-buzzing, pestering, and relentless fly symbolizes the yetzer hara. Just as a fly is attracted to rotten matter, the yetzer hara sits by the entrance of the heart and advises it to commit repulsive acts. It flies from impulse to impulse and from thought to thought, and it may go so far as to convince a person that a sin is a mitzvah. Since the yetzer hara uses a person’s intellect against him, even the wise are vulnerable to its wiles. In the same way that a few insignificant flies can fall in and ruin the finest perfumed oils, the yetzer hara can topple even the greatest of people.

The yetzer hara cannot be defeated by the mere desire to avoid sin. The very definitions of “good” and “evil” are subjective, and even truly virtuous deeds are often fueled by selfish motives. Hashem’s one prescribed antidote for the yetzer hara is the study of Torah, which clearly teaches right from wrong and purifies the mind. If its study is abandoned, the fly returns.

The fly’s song is about how Hashem told the prophet Yeshayah to call out to the nation about the redemption. Yeshayah responds, “Why shall I call? All flesh are like grass, and all its kindness are like the sprouts of the field.” That is, the people are feeble of spirit, and even their kindness are influenced ulterior motives. With accomplishes that are like “a withering sprout,” they are undeserving of the redemption. The song concludes that Hashem’s promised redemption will come when we are engaged in the study of His Torah, whose “speech brings healing.” Until that promised time, flies intrude everywhere, not letting us forget their message.

  • Sources: Koheles 10:1 with Rashi ad loc. (see also Targum and Tikunei Zohar 30); Berachos 61a; Yerushalmi Berachos 5:5; Nefesh HaChaim; Shir HaChaim; Chafetz Chaim al HaTorah (p. 46); Ksav Sofer (Inyanei Teshuvah); Ta’ama D’Kra to Yeshayah 40; see also Perek B’Shir.

*In loving memory of Harav Zeev Shlomo ben Zecharia Leib

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