By Dina Cohn
In the 1950’s, a very distinguished Russian rabbi by the name of Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman moved to the Land of Israel. The Holy Land was not very developed at the time, and when he finally arrived he moved into a tiny apartment with only the most basic furniture. Despite the meager accommodations, Rabbi Shteinman never complained and was always grateful for what he had.
Over the years, the rabbi’s brilliance and holiness gained worldwide recognition, attracting countless students to his house of study in order to learn from him. In time, he would come to be known as one of the most outstanding rabbis of his era.
Upon Rabbi Shteinman’s passing in the early 2000s, his family observed the seven-day mourning period in accordance with Jewish tradition. Friends and admirers from far and wide converged on his home to offer condolences and pay tribute to his remarkable life and achievements. It was during this time that many people came to appreciate just how simply Rabbi Shteinman had lived. For over six decades, he had resided in the same modest apartment and slept on the same thin mattress that he had been given upon his arrival. Not only that, but his bedroom had also doubled as his office, exemplifying his humble lifestyle.
In the last chapter of Song of Songs, the narrator seems to have found peace in her relationship with her beloved. She also seems to have found peace within herself. The once confused young woman is finally exactly where she wants to be.
The last few verses of the book, however, seem out of contentext and are a bit perplexing. Verses 11-12 read as follows:
Solomon had a vineyard in Baal-hamon. He had to post guards in the vineyard: A man would give for its fruit a thousand pieces of silver. I have my very own vineyard: You may have the thousand, O Solomon, And the guards of the fruit, two hundred!
What is the meaning of this parable of Solomon’s vineyard? And how does it fit in with the narrator’s newfound peace and confidence?
Biblical commentators explain that the narrator is expressing her contentment with what she already has. She had the opportunity to marry a king, but pursued her beloved instead. She does not want any part of Solomon’s vineyard, nor the wealth that comes with it; she has her own vineyard, and declares that Solomon need not give any of his to her. She is happier with what she has now and what she wanted all along: her beloved. Having found peace and contentment in her relationship with her beloved, the narrator recognizes the futility of desiring what someone else has. Instead, she finds happiness in what she already possesses.
This exact sentiment is expressed in a very famous mishna in Ethics of the Fathers. The mishna states:
Ben Zoma says: Who is rich? He who rejoices in his lot.
The crucial lesson of the mishna that Rabbi Shteinman and the narrator of Song of Songs understood, is that one’s happiness is not determined by material possessions or wealth. The true measure of wealth lies in finding contentment and joy in what one already has, whether it is through one’s family, profession or relationships with loved ones. This sense of fulfillment cannot be replaced by any amount of riches. Ultimately, true contentment comes from finding value in the bigger things in life, rather than from pursuing material wealth.
As we read Song of Songs on the holiday of Passover, a time to ponder the concept of freedom, this message is surely something to keep in mind; what type of contentment in our lives really makes us free? True freedom comes not from material wealth or possessions, but from finding happiness and joy in our present circumstances.