By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
Shabbat Chol Hamoed Pesach
March 29, 2002
On Shabbat Chol Hamoed Pesach, it is customary in many synagogues to read Shir HaShirim, the Song of Songs (Rema, Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 490:9). This Megillah although written as a love song, as expressions of love between a man and a woman, is an allegory, symbolizing the eternal love between Hashem and the people of Israel.
Pesach is observed by means of haggadah, telling the story of the Exodus. Shir HaShirim is also a story, but it is “the holy of holies” (Yadayim 3:5), embracing many stories.
In the second chapter, the woman-image exclaims:
(8) “The sound of my beloved! Behold, he is coming now, skipping over the mountains, leaping over the hills.
(9) My beloved resembles a deer or a young hart; behold he stands now behind our wall, he looks in from the windows, peeking from the lattice.”
Then she quotes her beloved:
(10) My beloved called out and said to me, “Arise, my companion, my beautiful one, and come away.
(11) For behold, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.
(12) The flowers have appeared in the land, the time of the birdsong has arrived, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.
(13) The fig-tree has brought forth its green figs, and on the vines the tiny grapes give off fragrance. Arise, my companion, my beautiful one, and come away.
(14) My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hiding-place of the steep hill! Show me your countenance, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet and your countenance is fair.
(15) Let us catch the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, while our vineyard has tiny grapes.”
The beloved evokes the alluring signs of spring appearing in the Land of Israel. This image is, in the words of Rashi (verse 13),
an expression of the attraction, as the young man charms his betrothed to follow him.
The woman-image concludes this passage with a refrain that foreshadows future tensions between the lovers:
(16) “My beloved is mine, and I am his - he who tends (his flock) among the lilies - (17) until the day grows windy, and the shadows flee. Turn, make yourself, my beloved, like a deer or like a young hart, upon the distant mountains.”
But, this is not only the story of two lovers. It is also the account of the redemption of the Children of Israel from Egypt, told with passion and immediacy. The Israelites, having despaired of salvation, are surprised to discover that they are to be saved before the end of their 400 years of exile:
Behold, he is coming now . . .
Hashem summons them to prepare for the Exodus, for the tribulations of exile are past:
“Arise, my companion, my beautiful one, and come away.
For behold, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.”
The time has come for Israel to claim its rightful role, to sing praises to Hashem at the Sea of Reeds:
the time of the birdsong has arrived.
Arise, my companion, my beautiful one, and come away.
When Pharaoh’s pursuing army traps them at the Sea -
My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hiding-place of the steep hill!
- Hashem listens to their cry for rescue:
…let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet.
And Hashem saves them from the Egyptians, who would have crushed the Israelite nation in its infancy:
Let us catch the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, while our vineyard has tiny grapes.
The sin of the golden calf will becloud the intimate connection between Hashem and the people -
until the day grows windy, and the shadows flee;
but at this moment they are devoted to each other:
My beloved is mine, and I am his.
The people of Israel implore Hashem to recall the ardor of the Exodus, even when He is estranged from them, and to return:
“Turn, make yourself, my beloved, like a deer or like a young hart, upon the distant mountains.”
These are two parallel stories that produce sympathetic vibrations. But, can one story contain other stories?
In the beginning of his commentary, Rashi explains that this megillah is called Shir HaShirim because it is
the song that is over (AL) all the songs which were said to the Holy One, blessed be He, by His congregation and His nation, the assembly of Israel.
One senses that even in Rashi’s words there are many levels of meaning: this song is “over (AL) all the songs” in that it is both superior to all other songs and includes all of them. It is the song written by King Shlomo in his youth; the song of youth itself; the song of spring, the youth of the year; and the song of the Exodus, the youth of the people of Israel. It is the song that is the microcosm of all songs.
The Irish writer James Joyce wanted his last novel, Finnegans Wake, to be a story that functions on multiple levels simultaneously. Its plan was to be the dream of an old man lying beside the River Liffey, watching the history of Ireland and the world - past and future - flow through his mind. Creating multilingual puns, it is a universal history, mixing history and fable, in which all time merges.
Joyce may have learned from Shir HaShirim, but he did not succeed in writing a book that could be both complex and simple.
Shir HaShirim expresses that human experience is composed of patterns and models, that history is cyclical.
Arise, my companion, my beautiful one, and come away
are the words of every young man to his betrothed, and the words of Hashem to the Children of Israel at the Exodus, and the words of Hashem to the awakening spring, and the words of Hashem to His people at every moment of redemption.
Rabbi Avraham Fischer