Torah Tidbits

1 August 2014 / 5 Av 5774
Issue 1039
Shabbat Parshat Tzav-Hagadol-Shmini
March 21, 2013

Guest Article

Shir HaShirim: The Holiest Book in Tanach? by Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher, Dean of Students, Diaspora Yeshiva

We have a custom to recite Shir HaShirim on the Shabbat during Pesach. Many reasons have been offered to explain why. One is that Pesach takes place in the month of spring, and Shir HaShirim is a song about spring and renewal. The Brisker Rav says that the month of Nissan did not become the season of freedom because the events of Pesach fell in it, but these events happened in Nissan, because it was the time G-d ordained for the manifestation of freedom. This phenomenon extends beyond the spritual. During Nissan, nature itself undergoes renewal, bursting out in new bloom. Thus, this is also the time of our spiritual renewal and rejuvenation. “My Beloved called out and said to me,”  Arise, My love, My beautiful one, and go forth. For the winter [of bondage] has passed. The rains are over and gone, and the blossoms have appeared in the land” (2:10-12).
It is most probable, however, that the reason for reading Shir HaShirim on Pesach is actually to be found not so much in the text of the Song, in its simple meaning, but rather in its Midrashic meaning. Rabbi Akiva was the most outspoken advocate of the view that Shir HaShirim is actually a parable of the passionate love between G-d, the Lover, and Israel, the beloved. As Rabbi Akiva said, “All of creation does not compare in worth to the day when Shir HaShirim was given to Israel. For all of Tanach is holy, but Shir HaShirim is the holiest of the holy.“ (Mishna Yadayim 3:5).
The specific connection to Pesach is the fact that this interpretation sees in Shir HaShirim a depiction of G-d coming to redeem Israel from slavery, not only in the past in Egypt, but also in the future redemption yet to come. For example the verse, “With me from Lebanon, with me from Lebanon - come! (4:8) is read as if it is said not “from Levanon” but “from leveinim” -  bricks. “While you were still working with mud and bricks [i.e. enslaved in Egypt], I, the Holy One Blessed Be He, jumped in and redeemed you.” (Midrash Shir Hashirim 4:17).
Similarly in 2:8 “Hark! My beloved! There he comes”... is interpreted both as referring to Moshe telling the enslaved Jews that G-d will come to redeem them soon and also to the Moshiach, who will announce the future redemption at Pesach time (Midrash Sh"Sh 2:19). Thus reading Shir HaShirim on the Festival of Redemption, the time when the coming redemption is also to take place according to the Midrash makes perfect sense.
Regarding the Midrashic interpretation of Shir HaShirim, Rabbi Akiva saw the passionate love relationship of man and woman as the best and highest expression of the love that should exist between G-d and Israel. The Torah itself as well as the prophets, utilizes the language of love, fidelity, infidelity and marriage in regard to G-d and Israel. The Rambam states in Hilchot T’shuva (10), that a Jew’s highest purpose and goal in life is to be madly in love with the One Above.
Therefore, the first Mitzva of the Torah is to marry and raise a family. The Zohar explains that only the passionate love between husband and wife teaches us how to passionately love G-d. Thus, according to the Zohar, in order to love G-d properly and fully, a person must first experience passionate love for his or her spouse.

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