Friday, June 09, 2006

The Zoo Rabbi and Perek Shirah

So it's Friday. Happy Friday. Shabbat Shalom.

I liked putting what I happened to be listening to in the Title and it worked for years and now I'm irritated by it. So at least for now it's whatever ends up being the main subject for the entry.

But I'll still put the music. Today it's Sigur Ros -- Saegklopur . These guys are from Iceland, I think, and make pretty music that is either in gibberish or Icelandic. Can't tell. When Bjork sings in Icelandic you can hear her annunciate all. These guys mumble in falsetto. Who knew such magic was possible?

You say you want to go on an African Safari, but you can't stomach the idea of eating all that trayfe? I have the solution for you! Rabbi Natan Slifkin, famous Zoo Rabbi of Israel (actually, I think he's the only Zoo Rabbi worldwide) has joined with a tour operator to create Kosher Safaris! Not only do you travel across Africa eating glatt kosher meals (which I wouldn't eat, since I'm vegetarian), but you have the pleasure of being in Rabbi Slifkin's company.

Slifkin is a true, true tzaddik, emphasizing the mitzvah of looking at the world with close attention, seeing the way things work, appreciating the miraculous nature of it all, and appreciating that G-d is the creator and source of it all. In fact, some of his books have gotten him into a huge controversy with more reactionary Orthodox rabbis because he shows how modern scientific discoveries, rather than somehow showing Torah to be wrong, merely help to further show the amazing nature of G-d's creation. The rabbis that think it's science vs Torah and scientific evidence showing the universe wasn't made in 6 days must be wrong and Torah says six literal days. Slifkin quotes long-respected rabbis who have offered 'minority' but respected opinions on the subject, such as rabbis who say that maybe the six days weren't literal(remember, the issue of how old the earth is doesn't impact on the mitzvot or halacha, so it's all opinion) and does it to help young people understand that science isn't the enemy of Torah but an aid to understanding the majesty of Torah. And he's pilloried for it.

Anyhoo. Even ignoring the controversy, he's a really cool young Rabbi.

One of the neat things he does is focus on Perek Shirah in his zoo tours and writing. Perek Shirah is a cool ancient Midrash that is basically a song sung by the planets, weather phenomenae, trees, animals, and birds. Each one is singing a particular verse from the Tanach. There's deep meaning in how each thing, plant, animal, etc gets matched to a particular verse. Some are obvious, like

The Palm is saying, 'The Righteous flourish like the palm tree; they grow like a cedar in Lebanon.'

But some just don't make obvious sense, so you need someone like Rabbi Slifkin to explain the connection. For example, he says that

"the agur, which is the crane, a large bird similar to a stork, sings, “Praise God with the lyre, make music for Him with the ten-stringed harp” (Psalms 33:2). Unlike other birds, cranes have terrible voices. But although they cannot sing musically, they clatter the mandible of their beaks together like maracas. They thereby allude to the theme of the verse, which speaks of praising God with musical instruments rather than song. The message is that we need not all be the same, but rather we all have our own unique talents and abilities which we should develop for serving God.

See how that works? Slifkin shows us that we cannot appreciate the text without studying the natural world! We have to observe these animals and think about them and learn their habits and everything about them to understand the source. After all, the Rabbis say that one who studies Perek Shirah is destined for the World to Come and all sorts of other benefits. And without knowing that this crane has no song, one doesn't understand the verse. One cannot simply study Torah all the time. One has to know Torah AND the natural world. That way you can get deeper insights into Torah. This is real study, the kind of study that can, if you apply its lessons, lead to a place in the World to Come.

Slifkin is also an expert on great complicated kosher slaughterer things like "are giraffes kosher? Where on the neck do you cut?" So check out Kosher Safaris for me. I don't have the money, but you rich people with lots of time, seriously. It'll be so much fun.

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