At first glance, King Solomon’s Song of Songs, Shir Hashirim, is a poignant love song between the dod, the lover, and his re’aya, or beloved. This Biblical book records the dialogue between them. The canonization of this book, however, indicates it is much more than just a simple love song. On a deeper level, it is the dialogue between God and the Jewish people spanning world history.
The Talmud records a debate among the Sages regarding whether or not Song of Songs should be included in the Biblical canon. According to Rabbi Akiba, not only does Song of Songs belong in the canon but it is holier than any of the other Biblical books. In his words, “all the writings are holy, but the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies.” What makes Song of Songs so holy? It is precisely because it speaks of the relationship and the love between the Children of Israel and the Creator.
When studied with classic commentaries, the “Song of Songs” alludes to the Exodus, the time spent traveling in the desert, the first and second Temple periods and the wandering of the Jews throughout the exile. The high points of Jewish history are remembered longingly both by God and by the Jewish people in exile, distanced from their homeland and their connection with the Lord. Traditionally, this scroll is read during the Passover holiday since it is a time when God’s love for the Jewish people was manifest with outright miracles, and when the relationship between between God and the Jewish people as a nation began.
In chronicling the history of the relationship between the Children of Israel and the Lord, Song of Songs is replete with imagery taken from the breathtaking landscape of the Land of Israel. The metaphors are based on its natural phenomena, its plants and wildlife. References are made to the gazelle and the deer, the horse, the flocks, the dove, the raven, the pigeon, foxes, lions and leopards. Specific places are mentioned such as Ein Gedi, the mountains of Gilead, Snir and Hermon, as well as other mountains, deserts, streams and vineyards which are all part of Israel’s scenery. And, there are twenty three types of plants mentioned in Song of Songs including various spices, roses, nuts, apples and the classic “milk and honey” for which the land is known. Additionally, most of the seven species unique to Israel are mentioned in this book. Based on Deuteronomy (8:8), Israel is known as a land of wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, a land of olive oil, and date honey. This commentary highlights the similarities between some of these fruits and the Jewish people.
While Song of Songs is mainly the dialogue between the lover, God, and His beloved, Israel, at times the Jewish people also turn to “the daughters of Jerusalem,” a reference to the other nations of the world. They are called “daughters of Jerusalem” because eventually all of mankind will come to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the world.
The book ends with a plea from the female, “Make haste, my beloved, and be thou like to a gazelle or to a young hart upon the mountains of spices.” Though the lovers have not been able to fulfill their desire to reunite by the conclusion of the book, they continue to yearn for a fulfillment of this dream. Understood on a deeper level, this is the cry of the Jewish people, asking that God speedily redeem them from their long exile, and take them back to the Land of Israel and the Temple Mount.