Due to the Passover holiday, we pause our yearly travels through the Torah, the Bible’s first five books, and examine the traditional reading of Megillat Shir ha’Shirim, the Megillah (or short Biblical book) called Song of Songs.
Many people use the word megillah only to refer to the Book of Esther, but in reality, there are five megillot (plural of megillah) in Hebrew Scripture. The word megillah literally means “scroll: but we use it to refer to the five short books contained within Hebrew Scripture. We read each megillah on a different holiday. Thus, on Purim we read Megillat Esther (The Book of Esther) on Shavuoth (Pentecost) we read Megillat Ruth, (The Book of Ruth) on Tishah b’Av (the Ninth of Av) we read Megillat Eichah (the Book of Lamentations), on Succoth (Booths) we read Kohelet (The book of Ecclesiastes), and on Passover we read Megillat Shir Ha’Shirim, the Song of Songs.
In many cases, we see a clear connection between the megillah and the holiday during which it is read. Esther tells the story of Purim and so we read it on Purim. The Book of Ruth is about the barley harvest, and in the Land of Israel, we harvest barley at the time of Shavuoth. Lamentations is a long poem lamenting the destruction of the first Temple and thus connects the Ninth of Av to the Biblical text. In two cases, that of Succot and Passover, the connection between the holiday’s megillah and the holiday itself is less obtuse.
Certainly, that is true of the long, and some would say highly erotic poem called Shir Ha’Shirim, the Song of Songs). There was much debate about this megillah and many did not believe that it was proper to include this highly erotic poem within Hebrew Scripture. After much debate, the Rabbis who decided on which books were to be included within Scripture, decided that the poem referred to the love between G-d and his people Israel. Passover marks not only our liberation from Egypt but also the beginning of the relationship between G-d and his people. That process would culminate at Shavuoth with the eternal covenant between the people of Israel and G-d.
It is from this “courtship” that we connect the book to Passover. Passover is also a holiday that marks the beginning of spring and traditionally spring is the season of love. Thus, the rabbinic literature connects the time of love to a poem of love.
Shir Ha’Shirim is, however, more than an erotic poem, it is also a poem about rebirth, about hope and happiness. In our own age, we see this rebirth in many ways. After almost 2,000 years of exile culminating with the destruction of European Jewry, we see the rebirth of Jewish life in the land of Israel. It is in the spring that we celebrate our independence, some three thousand years ago from Egyptian slavery and some 71 years ago from British tyranny.
It is not by accident that Israel’s national anthem is a prayer called Ha’Tikvah, (The Hope). Ha’Tikvah expresses the hope that after thousands of years of exile we would once again become “Am chofshi b’Artzenu: b’EretzTzion v’YIrushalayim/A free people living in its land, the land of Israel and in the city of David, Jerusalem.”
As we enter this season of personal and national renewal we are reminded of G-d’s love for each of us, for His people. Some three thousand years after the Exodus from Egypt, we still live with the hope that humanity shall enjoy the fruits of freedom without hatred or fear of violence.
Youtubes of the week:
Songs inspired by the Song of Songs (Shir Ha’Shirim) or taken from it.
Erev Shel Shishanim: