In Perek Shirah, the ancient Midrash that lists
the philosophical and ethical lessons to be learned from the
natural world, one of the songs reads: "The dove is saying,
`Like a swift or crane, so do I chatter; I moan like a dove; my
eyes fail with looking upward; Hashem, I am oppressed, be my
security' (Yeshayah 38:14). The dove says before
Hakodosh Boruch Hu: 'Master of the World! May my
sustenance be as bitter as an olive in Your hand, rather than
it being sweet as honey through flesh and blood' (Eruvin
18b, Sanhedrin 108b)."
The dove is not merely a bird from which we can learn a lesson;
it is seen as one of the quintessential creatures that clearly
embody a concept: " `He teaches us from the animals of the
land, and from the birds of the heavens He makes us wise'
(Iyov 35:11). Rabbi Yochanan said: Had the Torah not
been given, we would have learned modesty from the cat, [the
prohibition of] theft from the ant, [the prohibition of]
forbidden relationships from the dove, and derech eretz
from fowl" (Eruvin 100b).
The dove is a monogamous bird, demonstrating the quality of
fidelity and loyalty. After the eggs have been laid, both
parents take on the task of incubation with a fairly regular
division of labor: the male sits on the eggs for much of the
day and the female sits on them for the rest of the time. When
the chicks hatch, both parents share the job of feeding them,
taking turns to secrete a nutritious broth from their crop (in
their gullet). Most significantly of all, after the brood has
been reared the doves do not abandon each other in favor of
other mates, but stay with each other to produce further broods
over the course of the year.
"Though you lie between the boundaries, you shall shine like
the pinions of a dove covered with silver, and her wings with
yellowish gold" (Tehillim 68:14). A bird's wings consist
of two parts: the main limb, consisting of flesh and bone which
provides the flapping action and power of the flight; and the
outer flight feathers, called pinions, which assist in the lift
and represent the wings as a form of shelter.
We shall discuss the pinions later; for now, let us look at the
main wing. It is described in this verse with the term
yerakrak, which refers to a yellowish type of gold that
comes from the lands of Chavilah and Kush. This gold does not
have a greenish or reddish tint as is found in gold of inferior
The thrust of the wing enables the dove to fly up and away from
danger. Conceptually, this represents the flight from sin, the
avoidance of giving in to lusts of the flesh that the fidelity
of the dove teaches us. This is also reflected in the color of
the wing. Red is the color of blood and represents earthly
(odom, red, relates to adomoh, earth),
materialistic, and physical desires. But the gold of the dove's
wings is specifically described as yerakrak, the type of
gold furthest from a reddish tint. The dove teaches us to avoid
giving in to physical lusts and to remain loyal to one's
The fidelity of the dove is meant to teach us more than
fidelity to our marital partners on earth. It also represents
the loyalty that we display to our partner in Heaven. This is
no mere coincidence, as the purpose of earthly relationships is
to enable us to better understand and fulfill our relationship
with Hashem. The Book of Shir Hashirim, therefore, whose
story of love is designed to allude to our relationship with
Hashem, uses the dove to teach us this lesson:
" `Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold, you are
beautiful; your eyes are doves' (Shir HaShirim 1:15).
Just as the dove, from the time it recognizes its mate, does
not substitute another for it, so, too, Klal Yisroel;
from the time they recognized HaKodosh Boruch Hu,
they did not substitute another for Him" (Midrash Shir
HaShirim Rabbah 1:2).
This loyalty is reflected in the dove's pinions. Silvery- white
in color, they express the purity of our dedication to Hashem.
It is the pinions in particular which relate to this point, as
the shelter of the feathers expresses the result of our trust
in Hashem: our confidence in Him as our protection: "I will
abide in your tent forever; I will trust in the shelter of your
wings, selah" (Tehillim 61:5).
The loyalty to Hashem that is expressed by the dove is
actualized in single-minded devotion to serving Him. The verse
speaks of "lying down between the boundaries," a phrase also
used in Yaakov's blessing of the Torah scholar Yissochor:
"Yissochor is a beast of burden, lying down between the
boundaries" (Bereishis 49:14). It suggests that rest is
taken only at irregular places and intervals, with comfort
sacrificed for the sake of Torah study.
The loyalty of the dove to its mate, with each fully trusting
the other, is the loyalty that we are to have to Hashem. It is
a relationship of mutual trust, with us dedicating our lives to
Hashem and, in return, finding Him to be a source of shelter
and trust. In times of hardship we can confidently rely on Him
giving us strength. The song of the dove is, "Like a swift or
crane, so do I chatter; I moan like a dove; my eyes fail with
looking upward; Hashem, I am oppressed, be my security."
The dove also teaches us further insights into the trust in
Hashem that we are to develop. Doves are not traditionally kept
in coops. They are housed in dovecotes, which means that they
largely fend for themselves rather than relying on their human
"The dove came to him in the evening; and, behold, in her mouth
was an olive leaf torn off; and Noach knew that the waters had
abated from off the earth" (Bereishis 8:11). While Noach
was certainly providing food for the dove in the Ark, the dove
preferred to fend for herself, even if all she could find was a
bitter olive twig. The verse states that it was "torn off"; the
gemora notes that the same word occurs elsewhere: "
`Give me neither poverty nor wealth; tear off for me the food
that is due to me' (Mishlei 30:8). If one relies on
another person's table [for sustenance], the world is dark for
him" (Beitzah 32b).
From the similar terminology, the gemora notes that the
dove teaches us that with the relationship of mutual trust that
we are to have with Hashem, we should try to relate to Him
directly, without any intermediaries. The gemora cites
that which appears as the continuation of the dove's song in
Perek Shirah: "The dove says before Hakodosh Boruch
Hu: Master of the World! May my sustenance be as bitter as
an olive in Your Hand, rather than it being sweet as honey
through flesh and blood!"
Rabbi Nosson Slifkin teaches at Yeshivas Ohr Somayach in
Jerusalem. He is currently preparing an English elucidation of
Perek Shirah entitled Nature's Song for publication.