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The Song of Songs

04/01/2021 05:10:06 PM

Apr1

We expect the Bible to give us “thou shalts,”  “begats,” and the occasional “Hallelujah.”  And then there is the Song of Songs: 

Give me of the kisses of your mouth, For your love is more delightful than wine.”

“His mouth is delicious, all of him is delightful, such is my beloved” 

Ah, you are beautiful, my darling, Ah, you are fair. Your eyes are like doves behind your veil. Your hair is like a flock streaming down Mount Gilead” 

This short book gives descriptions of the romantic and physical relationship between two lovers that are far more graphic than those I have shared.  Why is it in the Bible at all, and why read it on the Sabbath of Passover, as we will this Shabbat?

For some, the answer is simple.  The book is attributed to Solomon- its preamble begins “The Song of Songs, that is Solomon’s.”   And yet, the sages of the Talmud, reading its raunchy content, debated whether it belonged in the Bible or not!  Rabbi Akiva, the noted mystic, declared it to be the holiest of books.  Later sages understood its racy language to be an extended metaphor between God and the Jewish people.  Each of the physical traits of the male lover is transformed into a metaphysical aspect of God, each aspect of the female lover, from head to toe, an aspect of the Jewish experience.  Each incident in the romance becomes a moment in Jewish history.  The ancillary players in the story- the watchmen and the women of Jerusalem, are transformed into nations of the world who seek to disrupt the budding relationship.

The connection with Passover takes on two aspects.  The first is that it corresponds to the season.  It describes the thrill that comes with the end of winter, as new growth blossoms and birds call out their song, which is where we are now in the flow of the seasons.   Reading it through the lens of rabbinic metaphor, Passover is the beginning of the love story between God and the Jewish people. The two lovers have been separated during the long enslavement in Egypt.  The liberation from Egypt is the first encounter in a torrid romance.  The exodus into the desert is just like the departure of the young lovers into the fields.  Both bear the strange blend of enthusiasm and tentativeness that mark the beginning of many a relationship.

This spring the Song of Songs sings to us.  We have that feeling of new awakening, of new possibilities.  The chill of winter is beginning to depart, and we are thinking about going back out into the world and rekindling the physical aspects of relationships that had been put on hold.  We approach new possibilities with that same mix of fierce yearning,  desire, and also lingering uncertainty that the two lovers in the book express to and about each other. The buds must come to full bloom as flowers before the desire can be fully sated.  The Song of Songs reminds us how much beauty there is in the world, and invites us to recapture that unique rush of craziness and caution that comes with new beginnings.

Sun, May 9 2021 27 Iyyar 5781