Song of Songs – Chapter 4

That's an Odd Thing to Call Moses...

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Mashal:

The man praises the woman for a wide variety of her attributes. “Your eyes are like doves,” he say, “and your hair cascades down like a flock of goats from a mountain. Your teeth are like perfectly uniform white sheep. Your lips are like scarlet and your speech is pleasing to the ear. Your cheeks are like pomegranates and your neck is like the Tower of David. Your breasts are like twin fawns, the offspring of a gazelle, peacefully grazing among roses. I will go to the two fragrant mountains until high noon.”

The man continues: “You are perfect, my beloved, without blemish. Come with me from Lebanon and look down from the peaks of mountains, where lions dwell. You have stolen my heart with just one of your eyes, with one link of your necklace. Your love is better than wine and you anoint yourself with oils more fragrant than spices. Your lips are like honey; indeed, milk and honey are under your tongue. Your clothes are as aromatic as the forests of Lebanon.”

The man concludes: “You, my love, are like a garden or a spring that is protected by a locked gate. Even your arid fields are fruitful with abundant trees and spices.”

The woman replies, “If so, may the winds blow upon my garden and distribute the fragrance of the spices. You, my beloved, should come to the garden and partake of some of the fruits.”

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Nimshal:

G-d praises Israel for her modest traits. Their sons are like the cascading goats and their soldiers are like a perfect, unblemished flock. Their words are trustworthy, like the scarlet thread used to identify and save Rahab’s family in the Book of Joshua (chapters 2 and 6). The merits of even the least of them are as numerous as the seeds of a pomegranate.

The Sanhedrin is upright, like the Tower of David. The brothers Moses and Aaron are like twin fawns among the roses. (They are referred to as breasts in the text because they nurtured the nation in its infancy.) G-d says that He went to the site of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) until the sins of the nation caused Him to depart. He will then be with the Jewish people on the Temple Mount, where He will accept their prayers. He will be with them when the Temple is destroyed and they are ultimately exiled. (“Lebanon” is a frequent name for the Temple throughout Tanach.)

G-d says to Israel, “You have captured My heart with just one of your attributes, with but a single one of the many mitzvos that adorn you. Your love is better than wine and your reputation for righteousness is better than perfume.”

Sweet words of Torah are found on the lips of the Jewish people. Their garments are fragrant through the mitzvos they perform. (Rashi refers specifically to the mitzvos performed through clothing, such as the Priestly garments, placing tzitzis – fringes – on a four-cornered garment, and not wearing shaatnez, i.e., a mixture of wool and linen.)

The Jewish girls are paragons of modesty, chaste like a locked garden. Even the simplest Jews, compared to the dry fields, are replete with virtues, compared to pomegranates and a variety of spices.

May G-d return the exiles of Israel to this “garden” like winds from the north and the south. Then, may He join the Jewish people in this metaphorical garden, where He will delight in them.

In this chapter, G-d says the Jews’ love is better than wine. What use does G-d have for wine? In Hebrew, the numerical value of the word “yayin” (wine) is 70. According to the Targum, wine here is an allusion to the traditional 70 nations of the world. According to this interpretation, the love displayed by Israel is superior to that shown G-d by the other nations. (See Targum on verse 10.)

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