Song of Songs, read on the holiday of Passover, is written as a love story between a woman and her beloved. It describes a romantic relationship, often using very sensual language. At first glance, it seems like such a book has no place among the other books of the Bible. The Bible is holy, the love between man and women is earthly and mundane. The book’s language portrays a passionate and intense love, which seems out of place in a religious text.
Indeed, some translations prefer not to translate Song of Songs with a literal translation, opting to forgoe the plain meaning of the text and providing an allegorical interpretation instead. Since the literal language of the text is too physical, they provide their readers with only the “deeper” meaning of King Solomon’s words.
This, of course, begs the question of why Song of Songs was written as a love story at all.
The question becomes even stronger when you consider the words of the great talmudic sage, Rabbi Akiva, who said:
“The entire universe is unworthy of the day that the Song of Songs was given to Israel, for all the Writings are holy, but Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies. ” (Mishna Yadayim 3:5)
Does this love story really sound like the “Holy of Holies? Was the the whole world was created for this?
We will answer these questions with another question, a question asked by Rabbi Chanoch Henoch of Alexander, a student of the Hassidic Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (1787-1859). The seder is a special meal that is eaten on Passover night. During this meal, the Exodus from Egpyt is discussed in question and answer format, beginning with four specific questions. Yet we don’t start the seder immediately with these four questions. If the point of the seder is to discuss the Exodus and ask these questions, why do we do a few other things first?
In order to answer this question, let’s image the following scenario. A couple has been dating for some time and things have been going well. They are sitting in a romantic spot when the man takes a deep breath and says to the woman: “I love you – will you marry me?” Assuming this young lady feels the same way that he does, how should she respond at this moment? Should she dive into: “but how will we support ourselves?” or “what will our families think?” These aren’t bad questions, they’re important questions! But the fact is that these questions don’t really belong in that moment. Because it is a formative moment, a sacred moment, and a moment that transcends all questions.
Passover, when God took our forefathers out of Egypt, was a formative moment; it was the engagement of our entire people to God. The story of Passover is something that goes beyond the intellect. It is a reliving of that moment of engagement, that moment that every couple will remember for the rest of their lives. First and foremost, Passover is about those extraordinary raw and powerful moments that we, every last one of our people, shared with God at that time.
We don’t begin the seder with the four questions because not everything is open to question. It is only after we speak about the uniquely close and loving relationship that we as a people have with God that we can begin to ask questions. If we would start with questions right away, we would be missing something very deep, something so essential. Because a relationship, a relationship of real love that runs deeper than the mind, doesn’t begin with logical questions.
This is what King Solomon was describing in Song of Songs, and this is what makes the book so unusual and so spectacular. Song of Songs is about the love between God and His people. It is about those moments that come before questions! Song of Songs is not about religion; it is about God Himself!
I believe that this is why Song of Songs is considered “Holy of Holies.” Religion is holy, observing the Sabbath is holy, the Temple is holy. But there is something that goes beyond holy, and that is our relationship with God Himself. This is also why Song of Songs is read on Passover, because it was on Passover that the love story between God and his people began.