When Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezritch, died, his senior students gathered to share their memories of their teacher. Hours passed, and eventually they fell silent, having exhausted all they could remember.
After a few minutes of silence, Reb Shneur Zalman of Liadi spoke: “Our teacher was a sage of infinite wisdom, but some of his actions can be a bit confusing. For example, we all know that our rebbe used to leave his home at dawn each morning and walk along the lake where the frogs congregate and croak. What I wonder is, do any of you know why he did this?”
The Hasidim looked one to the other, but none spoke.
Reb Shneur Zalman then answered his own question, saying, “This is what I think. We learn from Perek Shirah that when King David finished writing the Book of Psalms he called to God and said, ‘Is there any creature who sings more praises to You than I?’ Suddenly a frog hopped up in front of him and said, ‘What arrogance, even for a king! I for one recite far more songs of praise than you, and each of my songs contains three thousand interpretations! And that is not all. My very life fulfills a mitzvah, for there is a creature that lives on the edge of this pond whose very life depends on eating me. When he is hungry I give myself to him in fulfillment of the verse ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him. (Proverbs 25:21)’
“Every aspect of creation, from the smallest to the greatest, from the inanimate to the animate, carries a melody into this world and sings it each in its own way. Even frogs have their own song.”
He paused to see whether his friends were following him. “Don’t you see,” he said to them, “this was the reason our rebbe walked to the lake each morning? He went to learn the song of the frog, that he might pray among them.”
What is your song? And for whom are you willing to die?
No one can answer these questions for you. No one can give you your song, for no one knows it but you. What you can do is invite your song to reveal itself to you by immersing yourself in the songs of others. How can you do this? By listening attentively to life around you.
What of the second question? The frog’s death was not a messianic atonement but a personal fulfillment. Feeding his enemy, not dying for his enemy, is the point. Your enemy is the nagging sense of meaninglessness that drives you to quest after power and control. When you sing your song, you find your purpose and meaning in life. All hungers vanish, and you are full and fulfilled.
Perek Shirah: A tenth-century kabbalistic text that speaks of the earth as a vessel of song that has traveled through space since creation, singing praises of the Creator.
Mitzvah: Divine command.