Song of Songs
At first glance, Megillat Shir Hashirim, Song of Songs, is a poignant love song between the dod, ‘lover,’ and his re’aya, ‘beloved,’ relating a lengthy dialogue between the couple. However, if it was only a simple love song, it would not be part of Tanakh. The canonization of the book indicates that it contains a much deeper meaning; it expresses a dialogue between Hashem and His people that spans history.
The Mishna records a debate among the Sages regarding whether or not Megillat Shir Hashirim should be included in the corpus of Tanakh. Rabbi Akiva declares that is it not only worthy of being part of the canon; it is actually holier than any of the other books in the Bible. In his words, “All the writings are holy, but Shir Hashirim is the holy of holies.” What makes Megillat Shir Hashirim so special is precisely the fact that it speaks of the relationship and love between the children of Israel and the Creator.
According to the interpretation of the classic commentaries, Megillat Shir Hashirim alludes to the Exodus, the time the Israelites spent traveling in the desert, the first and second Temple periods and the wandering of the Jews throughout the exile. The high points of history are remembered longingly, both by God and by His people in exile, distanced from their homeland and their connection with Hashem. Traditionally, Megillat Shir Hashirim is read publicly during Pesach, since that is a time when God’s love for the people of Israel was made manifest with outright miracles, and when the relationship between Hashem and His people began.
In chronicling the history of the relationship between God and the children of Israel, Megillat Shir Hashirim is replete with imagery taken from the breathtaking landscape of Eretz Yisrael. The metaphors are based on its natural phenomena, its plants and wildlife. References are made to the gazelle and the deer, the horse, doves, ravens, pigeons, foxes, lions and leopards. Specific places are mentioned, such as Ein Gedi, the mountains of Gilad, Snir and Chermon, as well as other hills, deserts, streams and vineyards – all of which are integral parts of Israel’s landscape. Furthermore, there are twenty-three types of plants mentioned in Shir Hashirim, including various spices, roses, nuts, apples and the classic “milk and honey” for which the land is well-known. Additionally, most of the seven species unique to Israel are mentioned in Shir Hashirim. Our commentary highlights the similarities between some of these fruits and the people of Israel.
While Shir Hashirim is mainly the dialogue between the lover (Hashem), and His beloved people, at times the book turns to “the daughters of Yerushalayim,” which is understood as a reference to the other nations of the world. These nations are called “daughters of Yerushalayim” because eventually, all of mankind will come to recognize Jerusalem as the center of the world.
The book ends with a plea from the female: “Hurry, my beloved, swift as a gazelle or a young stag, to the hills of spices!” Though by the conclusion of Megillat Shir Hashirim, the lovers have not yet managed to fulfill their desire to reunite, they continue to yearn for the fulfillment of this dream. Understood on a deeper level, this expresses the cry of the Jewish people, asking that Hashem speedily redeem them from their lengthy exile, and bring them back to Eretz Yisrael and Yerushalayim.