Pesach is a holiday of songs: we make our youngest stand on a chair and sing the ma nishtana; we stay up late into the night singing songs we barely understand (please feel free to share a satisfying explanation to chad gadya!) and on Shabbat Pesach (or there about, depending on one’s tradition), we read Shir Hashirirm, the Song of Songs.
The Song of Songs (also Song of Solomon or Canticles) is one of the megillot (scrolls) found in the last section of the Bible. It’s unique within the Hebrew bibles as it makes no reference to the commandments, historical facts or G-d. Instead, it celebrates love and its expression. It encompasses 17 almost independent songs, meshed into one long poem. Some say that the name “Song of Songs” is a contraction of ‘A Song that is comprised of many Songs’ (the breakdown into chapters is actually something we inherited from the 11th century Christians). Even in the way it’s written, this book is different. It’s not a story or a list of directives, but two alternating voices, like a stage play or a conversation, with two lovers harmonizing.
The erotic-sexual nature of the Book didn’t escape our Talmudic sages who debated in length whether it’s even suitable to include such writings in the Holy Bible. It was Rabbi Akiva who said: “The whole world is only worthy for the day the Song of Songs was given to Israel, as all the writings are holy and the Song of Songs is the holy of Holiness” (Mishna, Yadaim, 3:5). Not everybody agreed with him about the book being the ‘holy of holiness’, but they did decide to include it in the canonized version of the Bible.
The ever-intriguing topic and the somewhat illusive style of the book, combined with the passage of time, have resulted in countless writings, from lessons in couple relationships regarding how spouses should treat each other in order to maintain that same excited spirit, to spiritual messages about the eternal and his people. One way or another, it’s a beautiful love story.
And the connection to Pesach?
The text offers some. It’s spring: “For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land” (2:11-12). It also reminds us of the Exodus: “I have compared you, O my love, to a steed in Pharaoh’s chariot” (1:9).
But it’s more than digging for specific words. It’s that feeling of love, because Pesach is when the Children of Israel and G-d chose to give up all other options, and “eloped” in the middle of the (Exodus) night, escaping to the desert, to get married in Vegas…
And ever since, Pesach is the anniversary celebration of our engagement, which calls for a party. We push all the junk aside, get our special dishes and foods, placing in the middle of the table a reminder of our early days. We invite family and friends, talk and sing and tell endless stories about our great love, about how we met, how beautiful we seemed to each other, and what extraordinary things we did together… “Ten songs are in the Bible and they all include ups and downs, good and bad moments, except for the Song of Songs that is all praise and joy” (midrash zuta). The Song of Songs itself was written much later but in a way, I think it’s fair to say that its spirit was the background music when we started our journey.
Mo’adim Le’simcha & Shabbat Shalom!
Song of Songs related fun clips: