Song of Songs – Chapter 8

Brothers and Sisters

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Mashal:

The woman says, “If only you were like my baby brother! Then, I could display my affection for you in public and no one would think any less of me for it! I would then take you to my mother’s house, where I would give you sweet wine to drink and you could embrace me.” The woman warns the other girls not to try to disturb their love, since it will be to no avail.

The man says, “Who is that, coming from the desert, hugging her lover?” The woman replies, “I enticed you under the apple tree, where your mother gave birth to you.” (This means that she was trying to attract his attention from the time he was born.) The man responds, “Seal me on your heart or on your arm, since my love for you is as powerful as death. It burns like a great fire that can never be put out. A river couldn’t quench the flames of my love for you. If someone offered me all his possessions in exchange for your love, he would be hated for it.”

The woman says, “I have a little sister who has not hit puberty yet. What will we do for her when it is time for her to marry? If she is like a wall, then let us build a silver turret for her, and if she is like a door, then let us get cedar panels for her.” (The meaning of a wall and a door is whether or not she retained her virginity; the “door” has been opened, but the “wall” hasn’t.) “I, myself, am a wall,” the woman says, meaning that she has retained her virginity, “and my breasts are like towers.” The woman says to the other girls, “When my lover saw I was concerned for the welfare of my little sister, he loved me even more.”

The woman concludes: “Solomon had a vineyard, which he handed over to those who would tend it for him. They sold the fruit the vineyard produced for exorbitant prices. The vineyard lies before me. You, Solomon, can have the profits of your vineyard, you can even keep the farmers’ share of the proceeds. Those who sit in gardens, where friends can be found, will listen to your voice. And you, my beloved, go swift as a deer on fragrant mountains.”

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Nimshal:

Israel says to G-d, “If only You were like a brother to us so that You would console us for the way we mistreated You, the way Joseph consoled the brothers who mistreated him! We would take You to the Temple where we could learn from You as Moses did in the Tabernacle; there, we would offer libations of wine to You.” Israel then tells the other nations that, despite their sins and G-d’s punishment of them, He still embraces the nation. Nothing can come between them, so the nations should just back off.

G-d praises the Jewish people, who came through the desert bearing His Presence. Israel says that they aroused G-d’s love for them at Sinai, where the nation became a mother. (Refer back to chapter 3 regarding the metaphor of Israel as “mother.”) They ask to be placed as a seal on G-d’s “heart,” meaning His love, and His “arm,” meaning His might. (That is, He should always remember them and act on their behalf.) Their love for Him will be so strong that they would die for it. It burns within them like a raging fire. (Or, the jealousy of other nations towards Israel over their relationship with G-d burns like a fire from Hell.) No one can quench the love between G-d and Israel. It can’t be tortured out of them and it can’t be bribed out of them; anyone who attempted to lure Israel away from G-d would be laughed at for even trying.

Israel in exile is the least of the nations, like an undeveloped little sister. What shall be done for her when the nations band together against her? If her faith is as strong as a wall, G-d crown her with beauty. If she turns like a door, her protection will be the less sturdy cedar panels. Israel says, “We have been steadfast like a wall, with synagogues and study halls strong like towers!” When they gave this reply, they were even more pleasing to G-d.

Israel was G-d’s vineyard, but He turned them over to other nations, who treated them harshly. G-d reminds those nations that Israel is His and the deeds of those nations are revealed to Him. G-d will reclaim what is His and the scholars who guarded His vineyard will be rewarded. G-d says that the Jews are sitting in synagogues and study halls throughout the lands of their exile; He longs to hear the voice of their prayers. Israel replies that G-d should swiftly return them to His sweet Presence on the Temple Mount.

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