Perek Shira - The Song of the Wheat Stalk
by Rabbi Shmuel Kraines
The wheat stalk says: “A song of ascents, from the depths I call out to You, Hashem.” (Tehillim 130)
The wheat kernel is planted within the soil, dark and far from life. The seed remains buried throughout the cold winter, sprouting only in the summer. It strikes its roots very deeply and it stubbornly pushes its sheaves to the surface. Its ascent from the physical depths symbolizes a Jew’s ascent from spiritual depths. Hence, the wheat stalk sings, “A song of ascents, from the depths I call out to You, Hashem.”
As with any seed, when a wheat kernel is planted, it seems to rot, and only then does it sprout. This represents that no matter how impure a person may become as a result of sin and spiritual stagnation, the main part of the soul, the neshamah, remains pure and untainted. Therefore, the person can sprout to greatness beyond his former state if he chooses to repent. When the wheat stalk matures to proud fruition, with countless life-giving grains, the weighted stalk is bent over in seeming humility. This pose suggests that it recalls its humble beginnings.
A wheat kernel is a pristinely white object that is covered with coarse chaff. It symbolizes the pure good inclination of a person that is clouded over by the evil inclination due to sin. Just as clouds cover over sunlight and darken the world, sin prevents inner goodness from shining forth. Indeed, before Adam transgressed and brought sin into the world, the wheat kernel was bare of chaff, and in parallel, the world was filled with pure goodness. This can be understood best according to the opinion that the Tree of Knowledge was a wheat stalk.
Nevertheless, in the same way that chaff can be removed and clean flour can be extracted through a procedure of breaking and grinding of the grain, so too, repentance and entreaty “from the depths” of a broken heart serve to free the good inclination of the bad inclination’s darkening influence. The full procedure of preparing bread from wheat involves ten steps. This is one of the reasons why we hold the bread with ten fingers and recite a blessing for bread that consists of ten words (“HaMotzi”) before eating it.
The wheat stalk’s song carries a message of inspiration. Sometimes, one has to descend to the depths of misery in order to reach the heights. A difficult period in life is not a reason to halt prayer and communication with Hashem. In the depths, it is time to call from the depths of the heart, from the pure core of the soul.Greatness awaits.
- Sources: Bereishis Rabbah(13:19); Perek B’Shir (by Rav Chaim Kanievsky); Zimras HaShamayim V’HaAretz; Zohar (Bamidbar 247a and Devarim 265b); Chessed L’Avraham (1:19; see there further); Nefesh HaChaim (1:18); Maharash; Nachalei Devash; Abudraham (Birkas HaLechem V’HaPas)
*In loving memory of Harav Zeev Shlomo ben Zecharia Leib