"Even the bird finds its home and the free bird her nest where she had her young; O to be at Your altars, O Compassionate One, Master of the hosts of creation, my Sovereign and my God." (Psalm 84:4)
In "Nature's Song," Rabbi Slifkin writes, "Birds have an excellent homing instinct. Capture one, take it many miles away, and it will inevitably find its way back home to her nest." The Song of the Bird begins by describing how the bird returns to its nest, and it then expresses our yearning to return to our "nest" by the altars of the Compassionate One.
On one level, the yearning for our "nest" can be understood as the yearning of each soul for its spiritual home. As Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch writes in his commentary on this verse: "Each soul builds its own 'nest,' as it were, in the House of the Lord. In the House of God there is assigned to each individual his own special task of purification, devotion, and upward striving in accordance with the particular nature of his personality." The Song of the Bird therefore expresses the yearning of each soul for its "nest" - its specific place and purpose within the House of God.
On another level, the yearning for our "nest" can be understood as the yearning for our unifying and elevating Temple in Jerusalem. The Song of the Bird therefore expresses our people's yearning to return to the altars of the Temple, where we can sing our own song of praise to the Compassionate One. In this spirit, we sing the following words at the Shabbos table: "May the Temple be rebuilt, the City of Zion replenished; there we shall sing a new song, with joyous singing ascend" (Tzur Mi-Shelo).
"Even the bird finds its home and the free bird her nest " According to the Midrash cited by Rashi, the "bird" is the Community of Israel that will find its "nest" when the Temple will be rebuilt. In fact, the bird which represents our people is the dove, and this bird is especially known for its loyalty to its nest; thus, when we begin to leave the lands of our exile and return to our "nest" in Zion, the peoples will say, "Who are these that fly like a cloud, like doves to their cotes?" (Isaiah 60:8)
The Temple is to also serve as the spiritual nest for all humankind, as it is written, "The mountain of the Temple of the Compassionate One will be firmly established as the head of the mountains, and it will be exalted above the hills, and all the nations will stream to it" (Isaiah 2:1). This universal vision appears again in the words of the following Divine promise which we chant on each fast day:
"I will bring them to My sacred mountain, and I will gladden them in My house of prayer; their elevation-offerings and their feast-offerings will find favor on My Altar, for My House will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples." (Isaiah 56:7)
It is written, "Like a bird wandering from its nest, so is a person wandering from his place" (Proverbs 27:8). In a certain sense, all human beings are "wandering birds" that will one day return to their spiritual home - their "nest" in Zion. In the concluding words of the Shabbos song, "Kah Ribon," this home is described as, "the Holy of Holies, the place where spirits and souls will rejoice!"
May we be blessed with a peaceful Shabbos.
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
Related Teachings and Stories:
1. Jewish tradition teaches that the first human being was originally created as an androgynous being with two sides male and female which were later separated (Rashi on Genesis 1:17 and 2:21); moreover, the human being was created at the site where the Temple would be built, as the Midrash states: "With an abounding love did the Holy One, blessed be He, love the first human being, as He created him in a pure locality, in the place of the Temple" (Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer, chapter 12). All human beings therefore have a special connection to this sacred place.
2. The Song of the Bird has another translation: "Even the bird finds its home and the free bird her nest where she had her young at Your altars, O Compassionate One..." This translation implies that the birds themselves are attracted to the sacred mountain of the Temple. In this spirit, Rabbi Slifkin writes in "Natures' Song":
"Visitors to the Kosel Ha-Maaravi, the Western Wall of the Temple Mount, will notice the profusion of birds that inhabit it. Sparrows, swifts and doves all build their homes in this holiest of places, and their cries are heard incessantly. It is explained that birds have a sixth sense for sanctity." Rabbi Slifkin suggests that this spiritual sensitivity may be a reason why birds are represented in disproportionately large numbers in Perek Shirah.
3. Many of us have stories to tell of visitors to Israel including non-Jews who felt a mysterious inner yearning when they arrived at the Kotel the Western Wall. For example, a Jewish friend of mine told me a story about his sister-in-law's visit to Jerusalem. She had come from the United States to visit her brother, who lives in Israel, and my friend took her to visit the Kotel. She does not consider herself to be religious, and she did not have a Torah education. In addition, she never expressed any spiritual yearnings, and whenever my friend talked about spiritual ideas with her, she was not interested. She knew very little about the Kotel, but since she was a tourist in Jerusalem, she went with my friend and her brother to see it. As she reached the Kotel, she suddenly became overcome with deep emotions, and began to weep. She and those with her were in shock, for such a reaction seemed totally against her "normal" nature. As I told my friend, when she arrived at the Kotel, her true nature was revealed.
4. The Fast of the 17th day of Tamuz falls this year on Sunday, July 24th. On this day we will chant the prophecy, "My House will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples."
5. One of the resources we are using for this series is "Perek Shirah" The Song of the Universe, Translation and Insights by Rabbi Nosson Scherman. For information on this work, visit: http://artscroll.com/linker/hazon/ASIN/PSHH
Another resource is "Nature's Song" a book on Perek Shirah by Rabbi Nosson Slifkin (Targum/Feldheim). For further information on this work, visit: www.feldheim.com.