Birds are found everywhere in Torah!! This past week’s Torah reading includes important references to birds, including the name of Zipporah (which means ‘bird‘, in Hebrew), who is the wife of the great leader Moshe (Moses). There are numerous references to Zipporah’s swift actions, comparing her behavior to the swiftness of a little bird.
This week marked the beginning of the Book of Shemot, which means ‘names‘ in Hebrew, but is also known as the book of Exodus, a great epic, in which a central theme will be the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. The Midrash on Shemot, Shemot Rabbah, tells us that when G-d gave the Torah, the event was so momentous that “the birds did not sing and the earth was silent” [Shemot Rabbah]!
As the Torah comes to a close, near the end of Moshe’s life, G-d tells him that, despite all he has done to lead his people through the exodus from Egypt, and the years wandering in the desert, he will not be permitted to cross over into the Promised Land. According to the Yalkut Shimoni, Moshe, begs G-d to let him enter, if only as a bird: “If You will not allow me to enter the Land, allow me to [enter] as a bird that flies in the air to all four corners of the earth to collect its feed, and in the evening returns to its nest—let my soul be as one of those!”
Every Monday, my husband and I attend a wonderful Tanakh class, and we have just begun to read the Book of Daniel. Sure enough, we very soon encountered birds – in verse 9 of Chapter 4 of the Book of Daniel. The Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar, recounts the story of his dream, which he asked Daniel to interpret:
|9. Its branches were beautiful and its fruit was plentiful, and on it was sustenance for all. Under it, the beasts of the field took shade, and in its branches dwelt the birds of the heavens, and all flesh was nourished from it.||ט. עֳפְיֵהּ שַׁפִּיר וְאִנְבֵּהּ שַׂגִּיא וּמָזוֹן לְכֹלָּא בֵהּ תְּחֹתוֹהִי תַּטְלֵל| חֵיוַת בָּרָא וּבְעַנְפוֹהִי יְדֻרָן צִפֲּרֵי שְׁמַיָּא וּמִנֵּהּ יִתְּזִין כָּל בִּשְׂרָא:|
One last charming Jewish connection to birds that I came across this past week was an article on Chabad.org, aptly titled, Birds of Pray (click on title to access direct link), by Arnie Gotfryd, relating his personal journey. He describes a really beautiful transition from his life as a Birder, out with the birds at dawn, to a new experience, davening in a morning minyan – a real must-read piece!!