By Yehoshua Rose
A brief read of Song of Songs can raise the eyebrows of even the most open-minded adherents to religion. “What is such an explicit and graphic piece of literature doing in my Bible?” Some of the more surprising quotes include, “Scarcely had I passed them when I found the one I love. I held him fast, I would not let him go Till I brought him to my mother’s house, To the chamber of her who conceived me,” (3:4). “Your lips are like a crimson thread, Your mouth is lovely. Your brow behind your veil [Gleams] like a pomegranate split open” (4:3).
Jewish tradition teaches that Song of Songs is really an extended metaphor for the relationship between God and His chosen nation. But God is above all physicality. How, then, does Song of Songs provide an accurate representation of the relationship between Man and God?
In order to answer this quesiton we must first ask a third question. The verese in Deuteronomy (6:4-9), known to Jewish people as the Shema prayer, are recited at least twice a day by all practicing Jews. The opening words to verse 6:5 read: “You shall love Hashem your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” It’s hard enough to provide regular love to family and friends, other humans of flesh and blood, creating such a connection of love with God seems completely beyond reach! How are we expected to achieve the sublime goal of loving an infinite being?
To answer all these questions we need to return to our first question, for it is indeed Song of Songs which provides the answer to them all.
The ultimate expression of human love is the intimate bond of marriage between man and woman. The abstract yet indomitable total integration of two bodies, two souls, into one unified entity. Yet the Torah does not seem to describe this as God’s initial plan.
The verses in the first chapter of Genesis describe God initially creating man and woman as one entity. “And Hashem created man in His image, in the image of Hashem He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). This unified creation was placed in the Garden of Eden, “to serve and guard it.” This was Adam’s way of serving God. Adam is to achieve a connection with God by upholding and preserving the garden. But just two verses later, there is a realization that to serve God, Adam is going to need another avenue to achieve these spiritual heights.
As a result, God extracts a chunk of Adam and uses it to form Eve. Adam alone is now, by his very nature, incomplete. He is lacking, missing, and profoundly wanting. To become complete again he must return to his “fitting helper” (2:18).
The root used to express the union between man and woman, is “d,v,k” which means to cling or to cleave (Genesis 2:24). Interestlingy, we find the identical root used in the context of describing man’s connection and cleavage to God:
“You must revere Hashem your God: only Him shall you worship, to Him shall you hold fast, and by His name shall you swear.” (Deuteronomy 10:20)
God’s swift decision to create a helpmate for Man, and the identical use of the word “davak,” seem to indicate a profound idea. A person achieves the ultimate bond and love of God, by first developing that connection with a human partner. Man’s connection with his human partner is an axiomatic prerequisite to connection with his infinite partner.
This gives us an understanding of the framework underlying Song of Songs. King Solomon chose to use the metaphor of two lovers because that is the ultimate conduit for Man to develop a connection with the Almighty.
The great medieval sage Maimonides (1138–1204) in describing the proper way to repent to God, uses this exact structure to express precisely this idea:
What is the proper [degree] of love? That a person should love God with a very great and exceeding love until his soul is bound up in the love of God. Thus, he will always be obsessed with this love as if he is lovesick. [A lovesick person’s] thoughts are never diverted from the love of that woman. He is always obsessed with her; when he sits down, when he gets up, when he eats and drinks. With an even greater [love], the love for God should be [implanted] in the hearts of those who love Him and are obsessed with Him at all times as we are commanded [Deuteronomy 6:5: “Love God…] with all your heart and with all soul.” This concept was implied by Solomon [Song of Songs 2:5] when he stated, as a metaphor: “I am lovesick.” [Indeed,] the totality of the Song of Songs is a parable describing [this love].
So the detailed antics of love described by King Solomon are now understood: the pursuit of the deep human love we can naturally achieve, will give us the means and ability to achieve love with the divine.