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In the introduction to Perek Shirah, the idea is expressed to use the natural world as something to learn from and as a living Torah. The Fox is given a very complex statement from Jeremiah as both prophets’ rebuke and a lament by the fox.

The Fox is saying: “Woe to him that builds his house without justice, and his chambers without lawfulness; that uses his friend’s service without wages, and does not give him for his hire.” (Jeremiah 22:13), (Slifkin, 2009)

(Perek Shirah 5:16) El Zorro dice: "¡Ay de quien construye su casa sin justicia y sus cámaras sin equidad; del que aprovecha el servicio de su prójimo sin salario y no le paga por su trabajo!" (Jeremías 22:13).

The fox in Perek Shirah is first compared in Midrash to the false prophets and crafty soothsayers of the time when the Temple was falling and then in ruins, when as foxes would slip in and out of the vineyards, so too would the lying soothsayers come into Judea, say what they wanted for their own profit, and then escape leaving Judea and the Temple broken. Ezekial 13:4 is referenced in Slifkin but I find more appropriate to include 13:4-9 for Ezekial includes more about the false prophets, speaking false visions, and their punishments. The Song of Songs 2:15, as a complete verse, states to catch these little foxes, for the vineyard is in bloom. In Nechemiah 3:35, Tobiah the Ammonite, alongside him, said, “That stone wall they are building—if a fox climbed it he would breach it!” as that it does not matter that the righteous have built the nation or even the Temple anew if it is not continually guarded against the foxes of false prophets and their deceptions. Isaiah 5:7 lovingly declares that the House of Israel is the vineyard of Adonai and its people the seedlings, but without effort from the people, justice turns to injustice and equity turns to inequity.

Next in Perek Shirah, the fox is examined as having a crafty and devious nature, and by acting within its role, foxes are the only ones to profit or to gain roaming rights over Mount Zion and even the grounds of the ruined Temple. Psalms 63:11 says that the people Israel acting like crafty foxes will die by the sword and be allocated to the animal foxes (maybe jackals herein) as their feast. When Jerusalem and the wicked Judean kings listened to the false prophets who acted like foxes, they gave Jerusalem to the animal foxes as a domain fit only for foxes. Lamentations 5:16-18 shows that when the people recognize that they have sinned, they also know they no longer have the Temple, but the foxes roam what was holy ground. People no longer have the use of the Temple for the sacrifices given in Torah, but the foxes now may use it as their own home and hunting grounds. Slifkin uses Samuel II 22:27 as when acting like a fox is appropriate for a person, only if you are already dealing with someone recognized as crooked already. You may return foxlike behavior to a person acting like a fox, but you may not begin with such craftiness and cunning to an innocent person.

Last in Perek Shirah, Slifkin uses eating meat and wearing leather shoes as examples of how we should only use the deaths of other animals for good reasons. He cites Talmud Pesachim 49b as reason “it is forbidden for a boor to eat meat”. There is a detailed description and hopefully only a thought argument in that Gemara about how, when, and if you should say a blessing for killing a human wicked boor, that can be read in my Sefaria Source Sheet, link on last page. One should say a blessing when putting on (leather) shoes for “who has provided me with all my needs” but it is forbidden to bless someone who has bought new leather shoes or leather garments, because you do not wish for additional animals to be killed. You may wear a fox coat to keep warm, but you may not wear a fox coat to show off. You cannot take pride in the death of an animal merely for its skin. Also, Jews are not to hunt for recreation, without any true need.

The Fox, though it may have lived through its deviousness and gained even the grounds of the Temple, often becomes only a trophy in the end, as it laments in its song, and as another translation of Samuel II 22:27 says, “with the perverse You are wily”.

In Slifkin’s Midrashic citation (Midrash Tanchuma, Vayikra 6) which gives a fairly specific story of the deviousness of these false prophets and their predicting the sex of an unborn baby by an escape route of different answers given to different people, I would instead use Ezekial 13:4-9 because Ezekial states how these false prophets entered though breaches, much like the Foxes in vineyards, prophesied lies and falsely declared that Adonai had sent them. Then Adonai will act, and remove these human foxes from the assembly, cast them from the “lists of the House of Israel, and they shall not come back to the land of Israel.” So, the punishments are to be denied the community of people that they preyed upon, no longer be named as people, and to even be forbidden the Land itself. Ezekial is a prophet speaking not only of how to identify a false prophet, but also how these crafty soothsayers shall be rebuked and punished by Adonai and well translated in other English copies, which I find a better example than the cited Midrash Tanchuma, where I dislike having such a specific example and I couldn’t find other English translations.

Makkot 24b is another Gemara incident that puts the foxes in a kinder perspective, as only acting as agents of Adonai that those who listen to false prophets instead have even the Holy of Holies given to the foxes instead of humans. Rabbi Akiva, the one who had previously been a shepherd, laughs instead of weeping at seeing the fox there. So, as the Rabbis would, they ask him why is he laughing at seeing a fox there instead of weeping?

Rabbi Akiva said to them: That is why I am laughing, as it is written, when God revealed the future to the prophet Isaiah: “And I will take to Me faithful witnesses to attest: Uriah the priest, and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah” (Isaiah 8:2). Now what is the connection between Uriah and Zechariah? He clarifies the difficulty: Uriah prophesied during the First Temple period, and Zechariah prophesied during the Second Temple period, as he was among those who returned to Zion from Babylonia. Rather, the verse established that fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah is dependent on fulfillment of the prophecy of Uriah.

In the prophecy of Uriah it is written: “Therefore, for your sake Zion shall be plowed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become rubble, and the Temple Mount as the high places of a forest” (Micah 3:12), where foxes are found. There is a rabbinic tradition that this was prophesied by Uriah. In the prophecy of Zechariah it is written: “There shall yet be elderly men and elderly women sitting in the streets of Jerusalem” (Zechariah 8:4). Until the prophecy of Uriah with regard to the destruction of the city was fulfilled I was afraid that the prophecy of Zechariah would not be fulfilled, as the two prophecies are linked. Now that the prophecy of Uriah was fulfilled, it is evident that the prophecy of Zechariah remains valid. The Gemara adds: The Sages said to him, employing this formulation: Akiva, you have comforted us; Akiva, you have comforted us.

So, Makkot 24b uses the foxes as proof of prophesy, and that better days will come again for Jerusalem than its current during these Rabbis’ time. If the foxes are there on the Temple Mount, then the elderly, and therefore the younger people of Israel, will maintain some continued presence in Jerusalem, or the people Israel will indeed return to Jerusalem to live and grow old there again. And so it was written, and so it has happened. It may be the children of Abraham’s son Ishmael who have the Temple Mount, but Israel and Ishmael grow old in Jerusalem again.

Megillah 16b is another work that speaks kindly of a person as a fox, for it compares Joseph to a fox, and says that Rabbi Elazar said: When the fox is in its hour, bow down to it, as Jacob had to bow down before his son Joseph, who had reached greatness.

The Fox is known for deviousness and cunning in Jewish tradition, but it is also acting as an agent of Adonai for being the exemplar of what would happen to those who act as such, without need. Slifkin’s Perek Shirah ends with the Fox lamenting that “Crime doesn’t pay”. I would have the Fox say, with a wink: I’m not completely useless, I can always serve as a bad example!

Works Cited
Slifkin, R. N. (2009). Perek Shirah: Nature's Song. Brooklyn, NY: Zoo Torah.
Source texts available: Sefaria Source Sheet on Foxes I used the first 8 pages having an English translation mostly. I did also grab my verse in Spanish and Hebrew, taking delight in having El Zorro singing!

I have a Power Point Presentation in PDF if you send me a message.
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April 2019

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