Shvii Shel Pessach 5768 – Gilayon #546


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Seventh day of Pessah

MIRIAM, THE PROPHETESS, AARON'S

SISTER, TOOK A TIMBREL IN HER HAND, AND ALL THE WOMEN CAME OUT AFTER HER WITH

TIMBRELS AND WITH DANCES. AND MIRIAM CALLED OUT TO THEM,

SING TO THE LORD, FOR VERY EXALTED IS HE; A HORSE AND ITS RIDER HE CAST INTO

THE SEA

 

Miriam, the prophetess…

took When did she prophesy? When she

was [known only as] "Aaron's sister," before Moses was born, she

said, "My mother is destined to bear a son" [who will save Israel], (as is found in Sotah 12b, 13a). Another

explanation: [It is written] Aaron's sister since he [Aaron] risked his life

for her when she was afflicted with zara'at; [thus] she is called by his name.

(Rashi

Shemot 15:20, Judaica Press translation)

 

And Miriam the prophetess, the

sister of Aaron, took etc. The

sister of Aaron and not the sister of Moses! – R. Amram said in the name

of Rav, and according to others it was R. Nahman who said in the name of Rav:

It teaches that she prophesied while she yet was the sister of Aaron only and

said: "My mother will bear a son who will be the savior of Israel." When

Moses was born, the whole house was filled with light; and her father arose and

kissed her upon her head, saying "My daughter, your prophecy has been

fulfilled"; but when they cast him into the river, her father arose and

smacked her upon her head, saying: "Where, now, is your prophecy!"

That is what is written: And his sister stood afar off to know what would be

done to him (Shemot

2) – what would be the fate of

her prophecy.

(Sotah

13a, Soncino translation)

 

Miriam, the prophetess…

took – The Sages

already said that Israel left Egypt thanks to the merit of pious women, for the

women of that generation were more meritorious than the men, as it is written, My

sister, my bride, is a locked garden. You must conclude that there were

also women prophets at that time…

And Miriam called out to

them – They said that

it all happened thanks to their merit, and so they especially sang, because

they had a part in the miracle.

(Malbim

ad loc)

 

The Song of Songs – Concerning Shlomo

Benjamin Segal

The

Song of Songs, read this day in many congregations, is arguably the greatest

love poem ever written. We here address only one element thereof, and certainly

not the most important.

By

way of introduction, however, we must clarify basic understandings. While the

Song may be profitably applied to love between man and God, it must first be

appreciated on the level of direct meaning, the love of a man and a maid. In

this essay, we shall concentrate on that level. The poem, written about

Solomon (not by him), evidently derives from early second Temple times. It

reflects the story of a young couple who constantly struggle against

environment, including family, to be together.

Our

concern here is a type of love which the lovers reject. Our understanding of

their commitments has much to do with our understanding of that which they do

not desire.

Throughout

the Song, there is great concentration on what Buber called the leitwort

– a term which guides the text. To quote Buber – "…a word or a root

which is repeated within a text in a meaningful pattern… The variations… often

intensify the dynamic effect of the repetition… The variation patterns

interrelate to create a growing movement as it were. One viewing the text as a

whole can sense waves moving to and fro between them." In describing the

rejected view of love, the poet repeats a three-letter combination found in a

number of terms: sh-l-m, as found in Solomon (Shlomoh), Jerusalem

(Yerushalayim), Shulammite (see 7:1) and shalom (peace). Together, the terms appear eighteen times (equal to

the uses of '-h-v "love"), and "Solomon" and

the "Girls of Jerusalem," are each repeated seven times (a

particularly meaningful number of repetitions in Biblical literature).

The

tension is clearest in the final chapter: Solomon had a vineyard in Ba'al Hamon…

My very own vineyard is before me (8:11) one of the lovers declares, the thousand is yours, O Solomon.. This

implies competition, and rejection. Many have noted the less-than-subtle

reference here to Solomon's one thousand wives (700 chief wives, 300 concubines – I Kings

11:3). Indeed by chapter eight "vineyard"

represents the love relationship itself. The poem seems to reject Solomon's

multiplicity of relationships, preferring the one.

This

model of rejection also befits the "Girls of Jerusalem,"

occasionally partners in dialogue with the woman, sometimes a standard of

beauty, and often a potential bother. Three times the woman adjures them to

non-intervention (2:7; 3:5; 8:4).

Who

are these Girls of Jerusalem? Their history is reflected only in 3:10,

which indicates that Solomon's litter was inlaid with love by them. The

words contain multiple levels of meaning, including the feelings of those doing

the work ("lovingly wrought by…"), pictures of love-making engraved

in the litter (So

Jezebel decorated Ahab's chariot – Sanhedrin 39b), and possibly acts of love performed therein. The Girls, then, seem to

be "experts" in matters of love, even on a "mass" basis. Such

an understanding befits the Girls' presumed expertise in beauty (1:5f.) and helps explain the woman's fear of

having them too near her lover. These are city girls, girls of a thousand

loves, women of the court, possibly the same "maids" (6:8) grouped with the queens and concubines. Their

efforts at intervention are constantly rejected. Verses 8:4,5 focus on the

contrast. The Girls are adjured for a final time not to intervene, while in the

very next verse the woman exults that she has successfully done what she told

them not to do – she has roused her lover.

The

dance of the Shulammite (6:11-7:9) further

elucidates the implication of sh-l-m. Many commentaries have mistakenly

equated the Shulammite with the beloved. The poet makes no such contention, and

in fact indicates the opposite. In a vision, while semi-conscious, the male

lover sees a dancing woman, a twirling figure. The body description is the reverse

of all previous ones: beginning from the feet up, the description begins by

using totally new terms, departing from previous style. Even the locale is

totally different – all takes place amid the chariots of the nobility (6:12).

As

the Shulammite dances, an onlooking crowd expresses its appreciation, its words

eventually blending into those of the lover. Slowly, he begins to recall and

use terms associated in the past with his beloved's body. Eventually, the

identification with his beloved takes over, as all new terms are abandoned, and

he finally recites a staccato list of descriptions used before. When he recalls

her palate, symbol of the central kiss (see 1:2), she interrupts him, declaring their joint loyalty with a cry of joy (7:11) as she realizes that her lover's desires

are specifically directed at her.

This,

then, is a sexual fantasy, and certainly there is no better title for this

vision than Shulammite, girl of the root sh-l-m. Once again we have a

potentially competitive model, one based heavily on raw sex appeal, and a model

that is, in the final analysis, rejected.

But

is the model rejected? It is patently absurd to claim that the Song of Songs is

either puritanical or prudish. Few works of literature have so successfully

celebrated the rapture of physical love. Even the Shulammite is incorporated

into the beloved!

Nevertheless,

the world of sh-l-m is rejected in the Song of Songs. To

understand, one must differentiate, as the Song does, between the type of

relationship represented by sh-l-m on the one hand, and by the two

lovers, on the other. The world of sh-l-m is a world of multiplicity of

sexual relationships, of sex divorced from emotional love, devotion and/or

commitment. It is a world of sex dances and a thousand "loves." The

love ethos of the two lovers is other. They clearly prefer their own single

relationship. All multiple numbers, from the doubling dance of the

Shulammite to 60 to 80 to 1,000 to 10,000 are rejected in the Song. "One"

is emphasized and praised.

The

Song, then, while celebrating a sexual relationship, grants it full

worth only in context, one which clearly is exclusive: My very own vineyard

is before me. The thousand is yours, O Solomon.

Indeed,

the previously cited allusion to Solomon's thousand wives in all probability

inspired the poet in the choice of this symbol. There, in I Kings 11, it is

stated that Solomon's wives led his heart astray (toward idolatry) in

Jerusalem, and that Solomon's heart was not "completely" (shalem

– fully devoted) with God. The author of Kings offers a daring pun –

Solomon, Shlomoh, in Jerusalem, Yerushalayim, was not shalem,

not complete. This is an example of antiphrasis, a rhetorical device using a

word in a sense opposite to its proper meaning. (For a similar pun on Moses' name, see

Numbers 14:44.) The poet of

Song of Songs adopted that pun as an underlying theme.

Lest

the internal repetition and the final rejection of Solomon not suffice to

clarify matters for the reader, the poet took the precaution of articulating

the guide-word for all to see. This, the poet declared, is the Song of Songs asher

lishlomo, concerning Solomon (1:1), or, if one would prefer, concerning the

world of sh-l-m. The poet's message is that this world is incomplete.

At the end of the Song, that final rejection is followed only by the lovers'

intention to be together in physical embrace.

In the

understanding of both love relationships – human and divine – there are myriad

lines of contemplation left by the Song, among them the necessity to reject

societal approaches if one wishes to find true love, the failure of the

establishment to set the right standards, the struggle implied to achieve true

loyalty (whether monogamy or monotheism), and our own occasional backsliding

and confusion as to what we desire. Not the least of the lessons is that what

is labeled "complete" may be woefully not so.

This

leads to one further verse, one of the most complex in the Song: Then (i.e.,

once before) I appeared in his eyes as (if I were) one who leads to shalom (8:10). In the text, the levels are so many that

we cannot possibly cover them here. The Hebrew, a play on the well known phrase

"find favor in one's eyes," implies a false impression in the past,

while the use of "shalom" of the three letter negative root, is also

in itself the greatest of positive words. Co-existent meanings range from a

recollection of the Shulammite dance (its origin in her, his first reactions,

or his later identification of the vision with her), a recollection of their

first complete moments together which were not followed by a solution to all

their difficulties, the problematic order of appeal – first physical but

ultimately partial, et al. No prose can do justice to the multi-leveled,

intertwining poetry.

For

us, then there is one further lesson. Shalom – peace – is not a prose term but

a poetic one (like many value concepts). Forever positive, it can briefly

mislead or be misrepresented. The use of the term does not guarantee the

essence of what is described. We search and seek that which is shalem,

complete, that which is shalom, peace. Certainly there is no greater paean

to insistent search than the Song of Songs, and no greater assurance of

ultimate success. Still we are cautioned that values, often best expressed in

poetry, are open to misrepresentation and false appearance. We must pursue, and

we must be cognizant of our failings. With the help of the One whose name is

Peace, we can pray for the day when peace will be achieved – a real peace,

universally appreciated.

Rabbi Benjamin

Segal is director of the upcoming (Sukkot) learning festival "Gateways,"

in Jerusalem. His commentary on the Song of Songs will be published toward the

end of the secular year.

 

The Song of Songs – Holy of

Holies

R. Akiva said: The whole world

is not worth the day that the Song of Songs was given to Israel, for all the

Scriptures are holy, but the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies.

R. Elazar ben Azariya said: To

what can it be compared? To a king who brought a se'a of wheat to the

baker and told him: "Make such and such a quantity of fine flour from it,

such and such of bran flour (second-rate flour), such and such of coarse bran,

and sift for me from it one measure of excellent, beautiful, flour. So too the Scriptures

are holy and the Song of Songs the Holy of Holies. Se how the Holy One blessed

be He praises Israel in it: You are beautiful my beloved, you are beautiful,

you are beautiful in your deeds, you are beautiful in your ancestors' deeds,

you are beautiful at home, you are beautiful in the field. "At home"

– with the mezuzah, and you shall write them on the door posts of your house

(Devarim 6). "In the field" – with the

[agricultural gifts of] terumot and the tithes, the gleanings, forgotten

sheaves, and corner of the field. You are beautiful – at home, you

are beautiful – on the roof, for it says, When you build a new house

make a railing for your roof (Devarim 22). You are beautiful in this world and you are beautiful in the World to

come, You are beautiful my beloved

(Tanhuma

(Warsaw edition) Tetzaveh 5)

 

What is the love of God that is

befitting? It is love of the Eternal with a great and exceeding love, so strong

that one's soul shall be knit up with the love of God, and one should be

continually enraptured by it, like a love-sick individual, whose mind is at no

time free from his passion for a particular woman, the thought of her filling

his heart at all times, when sitting down or rising up, when he is eating or

drinking. Even more intense should be the love of God in the hearts of those

who love Him. And this love should continually possess them, even as He

commanded us in the phrase, with all your heart and with all your soul (Devarim 6:5). This, Solomon allegorically expressed in

the sentence, for I am sick with love (Song of Songs 2:5). The entire Song of Songs is indeed an

allegory descriptive of this love.

(RaMBaM

Hilkhot Teshuva 10:3, Hyamson translation)

 

He gives great salvation

to His king, and He performs kindness to His anointed; to David and to his

seed, forevermore.

(II

Samuel, 22 – from the haftara for the Seventh Day of Passover)

 

He gives great salvation

to His king. When the

holy One blessed be He performs kindness for David, heaven and earth

rejoice, for it says, He gives great salvation to His king, and what is

written afterwards? The heavens tell of God's glory. Similarly, when the

Holy One blessed be He prepares David's throne, all rejoice, for it is said, I

shall establish you seed forever, and what is written afterwards? And

the heavens shall make your wonders known, O Lord. One verse has magdil

[He gives great] and the other says migdol [There are two

variants of the same verse in Scripture]. R. Yudan says: [What is magdil?]

That the salvation of this nation does not arrive all at once, but rather

increases and increases. What is migdol? That He makes King

Messiah like a great tower [migdal], for is says, The name of the

Lord is a tower of strength; the righteous runs to enter it and is raised up.

(Yalkut

Shimoni II Samuel 164)

 

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