For the week ending 23 July 2022 / 24 Tammuz 5782

Perek Shira: The Song of the Eagle

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by Rabbi Shmuel Kraines

The eagle says: “And You Hashem, G-d, L-rd of Legions, G-d of Israel, awaken to mete out justice upon all of the [enemy] nations; do not favor deceitful traitors, Selah!” (Tehillim 59:6)

The eagle is the “King of Birds.” Grand, strong, and fearless, it soars majestically above other birds and sits on the top of the avian food chain. When any other bird of prey attacks, it will first look around it to ensure it is not vulnerable to other predators, whereas the eagle attacks without caution or fear. It is also known to attack larger birds. An additional expression of its loftiness is that it tends to fly alone and not mingled with other birds. The eagle thus sings of Hashem’s kingship and supremacy.

It also sings of Hashem’s compassion towards His people, despite the fact that He must generally maintain a face of strictness in order to maintain justice in His world. Although the eagle is cruel to its prey, it displays compassion for its young. When it has to transport them, it carries them on its wings, indicating that it prefers that arrows enter it than its eaglets. This is a symbol of how Hashem carried us to freedom from Egypt “on eagles’ wings,” speedily and safely, protecting us with His Clouds. When an eagle arrives at its nest, it first hovers above, so as not to startle its young. So too, if Hashem’s nation is “asleep” regarding the mitzvahs, He awakens them at first gently, and then continues as needed with gradually increasing intensity.

In its song, the eagle calls for Hashem not to favor deceitful traitors and not to compromise on truth and justice. This is expressed by the fact that it displays all four signs of impurity, which indicates it does not flatter the wicked but rather shows its true predatory colors. Moreover, its superiority makes flattery needless.

The eagle’s verse refers to Hashem by His four-letter Name of Mercy as well as “Elok im” — G-d of Justice — and it bids Him to deal justice on our wicked enemies out of His mercy for His nation. We, too, should utilize unbending justice to maintain the order of society, yet at the same time we should exhibit characteristic Jewish heart and compassion. To correctly balance opposing character traits is a disciplined wisdom. Its beautiful display is the song of the eagle.

*Note: This is the song of the “nesher.” We have translated “nesher” as “eagle,” but this is actually a matter of dispute. Chizkuni translates nesher as “eagle.” Rasag,Ramban, and Ran apparently translate it as “vulture.” Some identify it as the Griffon Vulture (see Sichas Chullin and Mesores Ha’of; however, see also V’Zos HaChayah). In this commentary we have followed the opinion that it is the eagle since it seems to represent the song better.

  • Sources: Chagigah 13b; Tanchuma, Eikev 2; Pi Eliyahu; Kol Rinah; Shem MiShimon

*In loving memory of Harav Zeev Shlomo ben Zecharia Leib

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