Friday, April 22, 2011

Pesach: Lovestory (Shir HaShirim)

The festivals of Succos and Pesach are weeklong festivals whose holiest days are those in the start and end in which Halachic work is altogether forbidden. The intervening days between the beginning and end are called Chol HaMoead.

On the Shabbos Kodesh that falls out during Chol HaMoed Pesach, Chazal instituted that we read Shir HaShirim, the ‘Song of Songs’, which is an intricate – and often explicit – poem, written in the style of the intimate discussions between two lovers as a parable to the deep and emotional relationship shared by God and His people, Am Yisrael.

This begs for analysis. What is the connection – if there even is any – between the holiday of Pesach and Shir HaShirim? The answer can’t simply be, “On Pesach Hashem showed us that He loves us very much.” Such a shallow answer is absurd being as all of the holidays are displays of God’s affection. The giving of the Torah, the Divine Shelter of Succos, the dramatic rescue from Haman’s hands are all very close moments with HaKadosh Baruch Hu. So what makes Pesach specifically connected to the intimacy of Shir HaShirim?

With the guidance of HaRav Yitzchak Hutner Zatz’al, hopefully we will be able to reach the depth of this connection. In order to do so we need to explore both sides of the equation. First we need to analyze what is Chazal’s understanding of the role of Shir HaShirim. Secondly we need to clarify what the goal of the exodus really was. Hopefully from the synthesis of these two answers we will walk away with a deeper appreciation of the matching up of Shir HaShirim with Pesach.

Shlomo HaMelech, King Solomon, - history’s wisest man – authored three books in Tanach, all three were published in his lifetime, one of them being Shir HaShirim. Shlomo HaMelech was also responsible for the construction of the first Beis HaMikdash (the Temple in Jerusalem).

Chazal tell us in Messeches Midos that the whole world was worth creating just for the day on which Shir HaShirim was completed. Why is this piece of information found Messeches Midos? Midos deals with the measurements of the physical structure of Beis HaMikdash - not scripture! The answer given is that Shir HaShirim was presented on the day that construction of the Beis HaMikdash was completed – they were delivered together. And thus the construction goes hand-in-hand with the poem.

The depth of the matter is as follows: The fact that the Shir HaShirim and the Beis HaMikdash arrive simultaneously, is merely a manifestation of the deeper reality that they actually share one root. It therefore emerges that the Beis HaMikdash must be where all of the themes of Shir HaShirim - all of the love, all of the closeness, all of the intimacy is centralized.

It is for this reason that the Kodesh HaKodashim, the inner-most sanctum of the Temple is referred to in scripture as Cheder HaMitos - The Bedroom. And it’s for the same reason that the Kruvim (Cherubs) which were the main visual attraction there - embraced - one another. And perhaps these concepts reach a climax in light of how it is specifically the Beis HaMikdash that Chazal describe as “the place where Heaven and Earth kiss”. The Beis HaMikdash is about an outpouring of love. The Beis HaMikdash embodies the romance of the Jews and HaKadosh Baruch Hu. The Beis HaMikdash is where Shir HaShirim takes on its physical form.

So now we know that the Beis HaMikdash, the Makom of HaShra’as HaShechina (The place where God’s Presence dwells) takes on the identity of Shir HaShirim. But we still need to understand how these concepts relate to Pesach - the holiday of redemption.

The Ramban brings down that the second book of the Torah - Sefer Shemos is also referred to as Sefer HaGeulah: The Book of Redemption. And for good reason too; the first few Parshios deal with God’s redeeming of the Jewish people from Egypt. But this raises a new question. If Shemos is the book that encompasses redemptive themes, then why is it that more Parshios deal with the construction of the Mishkan than those that deal with exodus?

From this question the Ramban lays down a fundamental principle about what it means to be free. Freedom doesn’t simply mean leaving bondage. Exodus to nowhere means being lost. But when we leave oppression and go into service of the Divine – then we can begin to taste real liberty. And therefore, if the Jews were to simply leave Egypt and enter directionless into the desert, we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere productive. It is only because we left Egypt and from there began to build the Mishkan - a Makom of HaShra’as HaShechina that Sefer Shemos can really be Sefer HaGeulah.

With this we can understand the line in the weekly prayer of Lecha Dodi that says Karva El Nafshi Gealah - ‘Come close to my Soul and redeem it’. The Jewish nation doesn’t seek freedom simply by escaping oppression – the collective Jewish soul understands that freedom only comes as a result of a unification with HaKadosh Baruch Hu.

We now understand that Geulah doesn’t simply mean leaving bondage. Geulah means leaving slavery as a means to enter God’s embrace. And any place that serves as a resting place, a point of interaction with the Divine will automatically become a physical embodiment of Shir HaShirim.

If Shir HaShirim is about the inherit romance that comes as a result of interaction with the Divine, and the whole concept of Geulah is meaningless until that interaction occurs - then of course when we celebrate Pesach we also read Shir HaShirim.

The application to my life is clear. If I think I’ll be free simply by doing whatever I want I’m going to quickly find that I’m a slave to many more things that I think. I’ll become a slave to the most popular fad. I’ll become controlled against my will – and perhaps even on a subconscious level – by a band, a magazine, a movie or a Youtube blogger. Simply choosing to do whatever seems good at the time is not freedom – it’s misdirection. The deeper in I go and the more wrapped up I become, the result becomes the shackling of my life to my whims.

Ein L’Cha Ben Chorin Ela Mi She’Osek BaTorah - the only free man is he who is consumed with the will of Hashem. When I make my life a contact point between Heaven and Earth - Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh - the possibility to feel the sweetness of liberation is opened up to me. Only when the goal is Karva El Nafshi will the result be Gealah.

HaKadosh Baruch Hu should give us a Bracha that we see the world for what it is: the backdrop for the greatest lovestory of all time: Between us and Him – the story of Shir HaShirim. If we can live in such a way, if from time to time we can remember that my life is most invigorated at times of closeness with the Divine, then there is no doubt that we will live lives of Sheleimus and Simcha, moving closer to the Creator and ultimately the Geulah Sheleimah!!

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