For the week ending 18 March 2023 / 25 Adar 5783

Perek Shira: The Song of the Ox

by Rabbi Yitzchak Breitowitz
Library Library Library

The ox says: Then Moshe and the Children of Israel chose to sing to Hashem this song, and they said, “I shall sing to Hashem, for He has shown Himself to be exalted over the exalted; horse and rider He casted into the sea!” (Shemos 15:1)

The Talmud notes that there are four exalted ones: the lion amongst the wild animals, the ox amongst the domestic animals, the eagle among the birds, and man amongst all creatures. The images of these four exalted ones are upon Hashem’s Throne of Glory, which signifies that Hashem is supreme and exalted above all. This was demonstrated when Hashem drowned the Egyptian superpower in the sea in an exhibition of awesome power and justice that could be attributed to Him alone. Upon witnessing their salvation, the Jewish people sang the Song of the Sea, which begins by describing Hashem as “exalted over the exalted.”

The ox is a powerful beast that can be dangerous even to humans, yet it subjugates itself to its master who feeds it. On a deeper level understanding, that which man is exalted over the exalted ox resembles how Hashem is exalted over the four exalted ones. Accordingly, with every furrow the ox plows, it sings the opening verse of the Song of the Sea.

On yet a deeper level of understanding, the Sages teach that the split when it saw Yosef’s coffin carried by the Jewish people, which recalled his great merit of restraining himself from committing adultery. Since Yosef is compared to an ox, it is fitting that the ox sings the opening verse of the Song of the Sea.

Although this song is attributed to the ox, it would seem to apply to cows as well, though to a lesser extent, as they are less powerful. It happened once in history that cows literally sang its song. The Pelishtim captured the Aron and placed it next to their idol, Daggon. The following morning, they found Daggon broken on the floor, and they themselves were stricken with a severe illness. They admitted that Hashem was exalted over them and their idol, and they sent the Aron back to the Jewish people together with a respectable tribute upon a cart pulled by cows. In a miraculous manner, the cows headed straight to a Jewish town, and according to one opinion amongst the Sages, they sang the opening verse of the Song of the Sea. They sang how Hashem is exalted over the exalted, the supreme and unrivaled God.

This song teaches us a fundamental idea. Although we are the exalted amongst all creatures, this must not translate into haughtiness. We should humbly recognize that Hashem is incomparably greater than us, and that He is the source of all we have. The more that He grants us, the more we should feel an obligation to subjugate ourselves to Him. By doing so, we echo one of the greatest songs in history.

  • Sources: Shemos Rabbah 23:13 with Hagahos R’ Yerocham Fishel Perlow; Pi Eliyahu; Yeshayah 1:3; Kol Rinah; Shmuel (Aleph) 6:2; Avodah Zarah 24b with Rashi.

*In loving memory of Harav Zeev Shlomo ben Zecharia Lei*

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