“The world is not as worthy as the day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel, for all the writings are holy, but the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies.”
So said Rabbi Akiva (2nd century Palestine), who believed that The Song of Songs, a love poem in the Hebrew Bible, traditionally attributed to King Solomon as a young man, is an allegory between two lovers, God and Israel.
The allegorical interpretation of The Song of Songs is why The Song of Songs is read each year on the Shabbat during Pesach, this Shabbat, for it’s then that we celebrate our people’s redemption and liberation from bondage on the one hand and the Kabbalistic idea of the hoped-for-redemption of God within God’s Divine Self on the other.
All that being said, this extraordinarily enriched poetry seems to be a purely secular poem (God’s Name is never mentioned) celebrating young, sensuous and erotic love and the passionate draw of two lovers yearning for relief from their existential loneliness:
“For love is strong as death, / Harsh as the grave. / Its tongues are flames, a fierce / And holy blaze” (Song of Songs 8:6 – Translation by Marcia Falk)
Rabbi Avraham Isaac Kook wrote of a higher metaphysical love represented by the Song of Songs in this way (Translation by Ben Zion Bokser):
“Expanses divine my soul craves. / Confine me not in cages, / of substance or of spirit. / I am love-sick / I thirst, / I thirst for God, / as a deer for water brooks.
Alas, who can describe my pain? / Who will be a violin / to express the songs of my grief?
I am bound to the world, / all creatures, / all people are my friends.
Many parts of my soul / are intertwined with them, / But how can I share with them my light.”
Tonight – Friday, April 14 at 6:30 PM, at Temple Israel of Hollywood, we will be celebrating as part of our Kabbalat Shabbat service the Song of Songs with beautiful music set to its verse. We have invited members of our community who are celebrating milestone wedding anniversaries to join us, and we will offer them a blessing. If you are free and would like to join us, please do come.
Shabbat shalom and Moadim L’simchah!