Song of Songs – Chapter 3

Not Greek to ME!

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Mashal:

The woman says, “On my bed at night, I longed for the one I love, so I decided to get up and look for him.” She looked all through the markets and the streets, but she did not find him. She encountered the night watchmen and asked if they had seen her lover, but they did not reply. She had just left the guards, when she found her man. She held him and did not let go until they reached her mother’s house and entered her bedroom. (At this point, the woman again warns other girls not to interfere in her relationship.)

Who is that, coming from the desert like a pillar of smoke, perfumed with all the wares of a spice merchant? It is the sedan chair of Solomon, borne by sixty of his mightiest armed warriors. Solomon had this chair made from the trees of Lebanon, with its accessories in silver, gold and the finest cloth; it was much admired by the girls of Jerusalem. Go out, you girls, and take a good look at Solomon, wearing the crown his mother placed on his head on the joyful day he got married.

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Nimshal:

Israel sought G-d in the wilderness during the forty years of wandering, which are compared to night. They looked for Him, but He did not allow them to find Him. They asked their “watchmen,” Moses and Aaron, if they had spoken with G-d. Not long after they passed on, Joshua brought the Jews into Israel, where they were “reunited” with G-d. They brought the Mishkan (Tabernacle) to Shiloh and G-d established His Presence there. Now that Israel and G-d have been reconciled, the Jews warn the other nations not to rock the boat.

Who was it who marched through the desert, led by a pillar of cloud and burning incense? The Jews. The Tabernacle is the resting place of G-d. (Remember that in the nimshal, “Shlomo” doesn’t refer to Solomon, it refers to G-d, i.e., the One to Whom all peace belongs.) The Tabernacle was surrounded by the 600,000 Jews in the desert who were eligible for army service. G-d had the Tabernacle built of the finest wood, silver, gold and cloth, and it was much beloved to the Jews. They would gaze upon it in order to see the glory of G-d, Who was crowned by His nation on the day they were united with Him at Sinai. (How does the nimshal get “His nation” out of “his mother,” as found in the mashal? A simple vowel change: “His mother” in Hebrew is “imo,” while “His nation” is “umo.” The consonant base of the words is the same.)

Verse 9 appears to contain a Greek word (apirion, meaning a sedan chair or a litter – a kind of seat that was carried by bearers), which some consider anachronistic. I asked my friend Rabbi Eric Levy, who has delivered lectures on many Books for Nach Yomi, and he sent me a long list of explanations. Here are just two: First, it’s not even so clear cut that it is a Greek word. It may be of Sanskrit derivation, Akkadian, or even Hebrew! (The Metzudas Tziyon refers us to the similar word puriya, derived from Hebrew, in Talmud Kesubos 10b.) Second, remember that Solomon may have composed the Song, but it was Chizkiyahu’s court that edited it. Even if the word was probably unknown in Israel in Solomon’s time, this certainly wasn’t the case in Chizkiyahu’s day.

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