By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
Chol Ha’moed Pesach
April 19, 2003
In many communities on this Shabbat, it is customary to read
Shir HaShirim. The source of this custom is in the tractate Soferim (14:18).
From that source it would appear that the original custom was to read half on
the night of the seventh day of Pesach, and the other half on the night of the
eighth day on the Diaspora. Now, however, the established custom is to read
the entire Shir HaShirim before the Torah reading, either on Shabbat Chol
Ha’moed, or (if there is no Shabbat during Chol Ha’moed) sometime during
What is the connection between Shir HaShirim and Pesach? To answer this, we
need to examine the unique composition of this remarkable book about which
Rabbi Akiva said:
“All the Scriptures are holy; but Shir HaShirim is the holy of holies” (Yadayim
The most striking feature of Shir HaShirim is the fact that it is entirely
composed of songs, with only the first verse – The song of songs, which is
Shlomo’s - as its only narration, serving more as a title or introduction.
This concentration on poetry is not unusual in the Tanach; many books of the
prophets, for example, are composed entirely of poetry. But, what makes Shir
HaShirim so challenging is the multiple “voices” uttering the poetry. Even in
the difficult book of Iyov, which is a series of poetic discourses, we can see
clearly where one speaker ends and the next begins. However, in Shir HaShirim,
many songs from many different “singers” – the shepherdess, her beloved, her
brothers, the chorus of young women, the chorus of men, and others – are
heard; they swirl around each other and blend together, like a dizzying dance.
To further add to our difficulties, some of the songs are sung directly to the
intended listener, while others are uttered indirectly, through others. Some
are expressions of love, others of longing. Some are sung while awake, while
others seem to emerge from various dream-states, either pleasant or
Shir HaShirim is truly a song of many songs! What is the significance of song?
Song is the expression of praise which permeates all of creation:
“Said the Holy One, Blessed be He: ‘I will open the tongue of all flesh and
blood, so that they will sing praises before Me from the four corners of the
earth. For, were it not for the song and singing that they say before Me every
day, I would not have created the world”’ (Alef-Bet of Rabbi Akiva).
Not only does every created thing utter songs of praise to Hashem, mankind is
especially suited for this purpose. When man was created:
…and He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a
living soul (L’NEFESH CHAYA) (Bereishit 2:7).
Onkelos translates NEFESH CHAYA as
“A speaking soul.”
Man’s unique intelligence is expressed in his language, and there is no more
exalted use of human language than to sing to Hashem.
The Children of Israel were once inseparable from the poetry that blessed
And Yaakov called to his sons and he said: “Gather together and I will tell
you what will befall you at the End of Days. Assemble and listen, sons of
Yaakov, and listen to Yisrael your father. Reuven, my first born are you, my
strength and the first of my prowess…” (Bereishit 49:1 ff)
However, the cruel slavery of the Egyptians demoralized the Children of
Israel, to the point of dehumanization. Crushed under the bitter burdens of
Egypt, the once-poetic Israelites can only express themselves wordlessly:
…and the Children of Israel groaned from the work and they cried out, and
their complaint because of the work ascended to G-d. And G-d heard their
outcry… (Shemot 2:23-24).
We might suggest that it was the intention of the Egyptians to rob the
Israelites of their capacity for song, from the very beginning of the
And they placed officers of forced labor over them, in order to oppress them (ANNOTO)
with their burdens… (Shemot 1:11).
This was done to deprive them of the ability to respond.
The word ANNOTO derives from the root AYIN-NUN-HEH (vbg). In the simple case (Pa’al
or Kal), this verb means “to respond, to raise the voice [in song].” But, in
the intensive case (Piel), as in this verse, it means “to oppress, impoverish,
deprive.” Perhaps the connection between these two meanings is similar to what
happens to other roots:
SH-R-SH – to root; to uproot
Y-R-SH – to inherit; to disinherit
Thus, AYIN-NUN-HEH might have two opposite meanings: to respond; to deprive
another of response! The translation of the above verse might therefore be
And they placed officers of forced labor over them, in order –ANNOTO - to
deprive them of the ability to respond.
However, once the Children of Israel had their first taste of freedom, they
regained their capacity to utter song to Hashem, climaxing with the Song at
There are ten songs: The first, which was said in Egypt, as it says, “The song
shall be for you like the night which was sanctified as a festival” [i.e.,
Passover] (Yeshaya 30:29); the second as the sea, as it is said, “Then sang
Moshe” (Shemot 15:1)… (Mechilta Beshalach; see also Shir HaShirim Rabbah on
At the Exodus, the Children of Israel rediscovered their capacity for song,
which the Egyptians had quashed.
Our celebration of Pesach is suffused with song, perhaps more than any other
festival. As Amos Chacham, editor of Da’at Mikra on Shir HaShirim, points out,
this is the main reason for incorporating Shir HaShirim into Pesach:
“On this festival we read most of the songs in Scriptures (the Song at the Sea
[Shemot ch. 15]; the song of David [Shmuel II, ch. 22, which is read as the
haftorah on the seventh day of Pesach], the song of Egyptian Hallel [Tehillim,
ch. 113-118], which is said only one time during the year, and even at night;
and the song of the future redemption [Yeshaya 10:32-12:6] in the haftorah of
the last day of Pesach in the Diaspora).”
Once granted the ability to praise Hashem with song, we cannot sing enough. We
lift our newly found voices joyfully to Hashem, praising His abundant
Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth, for better than wine is His love
(Shir HaShirim 1:2).
And, in response, Hashem “sings” to us:
Behold you are beautiful, My friend, you are beautiful; your eyes are doves (Shir
Like a narcissus among the thorns, so is My friend among the daughters (Shir
And Hashem wishes us to continue our song:
Let Me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet… (Shir HaShirim 2:14).
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Tel: 972-2-566-1181 ext. 320