Our prophets often describe the relationship between Hashem and Israel as the relationship between a groom and a bride or a husband and a wife. An example can be found in the following Divine message to our people regarding our historical exodus from Egypt:
“Thus said Hashem: ‘I recall for you the loving-kindness of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed Me into the wilderness, into an unsown land.’ ” (Jeremiah 2:2)
Within our Sacred Scriptures, we find the “Song of Songs” which was composed by King Solomon. The following explanation of the purpose of this song is based on the introduction of the commentator, Rashi, to the Song of Songs:
King Solomon foresaw through the “Holy Spirit” that Israel would experience various exiles and forms of destruction. The People of Israel will then remember their previous honored status, and how Hashem lovingly chose them from all the nations for a spiritual and universal mission. They will also recall His acts of loving-kindness, their own trespasses, and the goodness that Hashem promised to give them at the End of Days. To dramatize the story of Israel’s relationship with Hashem, King Solomon, through the Holy Spirit, tells the allegorical story of a passionate dialogue between a husband and a wife regarding their original close relationship and the later strains in the relationship which led to a period of separation. In this dialogue, Israel, the wife, expresses her longing for Hashem, her Husband. She also recalls her youthful love for Him, and she acknowledges her own trespasses which damaged the relationship. In this dialogue, the Husband empathizes with the suffering of His wife. He also recalls her acts of loving-kindness, her beauty, and her skillful deeds for which he loved her. He therefore reassures her that she is still His wife and He her husband; moreover, He indicates that He will yet return to her.
In one verse from the Song of Songs, the wife proclaims: “I have been asleep, but my heart is awake!” (5:2).
Israel is in a spiritual slumber. From the outside, it appears that she has forgotten her covenant with her Beloved, but on the inside, her heart is still awake.
Suddenly, she calls out:
“A sound! My Beloved is knocking, saying, ‘Open to Me, My sister, My love, My dove” (Ibid).
Israel hears the sound of her Beloved “knocking”; moreover, she hears Him asking her in a loving manner to open her heart and renew the relationship.
The Hebrew word for “sound” in the above verse is kol – a word which also means “voice.” I discovered a deep explanation of this “voice” in the commentary of Rav Moshe Alshich, a noted 16th century sage and biblical commentator, who lived and taught in Tsfas, a city in the north of the Land of Israel. According to Rav Alshich, Israel is saying:
This is the voice of my Beloved that He caused our souls to hear at Mount Sinai – the voice that proclaimed, “I am Hashem, your God, Who took you out from the land of Egypt, from the house of slaves” (Exodus 20:2). This voice is still “knocking” and will never leave me.
At the end of the dialogue, Israel calls out:
“Flee, my Beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young hart upon the mountains of spices.”
The following is the allegorical translation of the above call according to the commentary of Rashi:
“Flee, My Beloved, from our common exile and be like a gazelle or a young hart in Your swiftness to redeem and rest Your Shechinah (Presence) among us on the fragrant Mount Moriah, site of Your Temple.”
Israel calls upon her Beloved to bring an end to their common exile, so that she can once again experience the intimate closeness of her Beloved’s Shechinah at the site of the Holy Temple in Zion.
May we be blessed with the Shalom of Shabbos and the intimate closeness of the Shechinah.
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
Related Teachings and Comments:
1. As we discussed in previous series, Hashem – the Infinite One – has attributes that we finite human beings understand as “masculine” and “feminine” attributes. According to our tradition, the Shechinah represents the “feminine” attributes of Hashem. Our reunion with Hashem in Zion in the messianic age is therefore a reunion with both the “masculine” and “feminine” attributes of our Beloved.
2. In the Song of Songs, Israel proclaims, “I have been asleep, but my heart is awake!” (5:2). The Midrash Rabbah cites various explanations of this verse. According to the first explanation of the Midrash Rabbah, Israel is saying:
“I have been asleep with regard to the mitzvos, but my heart is awake with regard to acts of loving-kindness.”
This statement is especially relevant for our generation, when, due to assimilation and lack of Torah education, many of our people are not committed to the Divine path of mitzvos. We still can claim, however, that many of us are involved with acts of loving-kindness. As the Talmud states, a devotion to acts of loving-kindness is a major characteristics of our people (Yevamos 79a).
3. In the Song of Songs, Israel expresses her yearning for her Beloved by saying to Him: “Draw me, we will run after you” (1:4).
Why does Israel first say “me” and then “we”? The following answer is found in the commentary of Rav W. Wolf on the Song of Songs: Israel begins by asking her Beloved to draw her close to Him, so that humankind will be inspired by her example. As a result, both Israel and humankind will together follow Hashem. Israel is therefore saying, “Draw me close to you, and then we – I and all humankind – will run after you.” (Cited in the Art Scroll Shir HaShirim – Song of Songs)
3. In the next verse, the bride suddenly turns to a group of young women and addresses them as “daughters of Jerusalem” (1:5). Who are these “daughters of Jerusalem”?
According to an ancient teaching cited by Rashi, they are the nations of the world. Israel addresses them as the “daughters of Jerusalem,” because in the future, Jerusalem, the spiritual center of Israel, will also be the spiritual center of all the nations. Rashi adds that a similar metaphor is found in the following Divine promise to Jerusalem regarding the nations of the world: “And I will give them to you for daughters” (Ezekiel 16:61).
4. The Art Scroll Shir HaShirim – Song of Songs – helps us to appreciate the depth and true beauty of this sacred work. The allegorical translation, as well as the commentaries that are cited, increase our awareness of the loving relationship between us and Hashem. It is therefore an uplifting and comforting work which can be studied throughout the year; moreover, it can help to strengthen us during this very difficult period when we are experiencing the “birth pangs” of Zion. For information on this recommended work, visit: http://www.artscroll.com/linker/hazon/home and write Shir HaShirim on the search line.
5. The two-part letter – “Relating to Zion as a Unified Self” – has been added to the archive of our current series which appears on our website. A copy of this important letter can also be sent to you again upon request.
You are invited to visit the archive and review some of the previous letters in this series.