Seeking the King on the Bed of the Exile

Our sedra opens with a discussion of the impurities which a woman who has just given birth experiences, and the length of time which she remains impure after giving birth to a son or daughter.

The Zohar (beginning of Tazria) doesn’t waste any time in getting off subject, immediately quoting a passuk from the beginning of the third perek of Shir Hashirim:

עַל מִשְׁכָּבִי בַּלֵּילוֹת בִּקַּשְׁתִּי אֵת שֶׁאָהֲבָה נַפְשִׁי בִּקַּשְׁתִּיו וְלֹא מְצָאתִיו.

On my bed at night, I desire that your soul will love me- I desired Him, but couldn’t find Him. (Shir Hashirim 3:1)

As with most of Megilat Shir Hashirim, this passuk can be read on the most basic level as a woman’s plea of love from her lover. However, nearly all mefarashim understand this verse and the rest of King Shlomo’s epic love song as an expression of our nation’s desire to become closer to our Creator. Through this lens, our passuk describes Am Yisrael’s desperate desire to become closer to Hashem, but… gasp… they can’t.

In the Zohar, Rabbi El’azar is puzzled with our passuk and asks a question so simple that it defies the smoke screen of the deeper interpretations of Shir Hashirim. Put plainly, he asks: don’t most normal people sleep in their beds? Why did Shlomo write that the woman/Am Yisrael was sleeping on her bed and not in it?

Rabbi El’azar answers that this passuk represents the Jewish People (as the female lover) not sleeping in a bed, but rather on dirt. The dirt is the exile, in the lands of the other nations. She doesn’t want to be sleeping there- she’d rather be in a comfortable bed in the embrace of her lover (G-d). She calls out to him: “Please, love me. Save me from the tum’ah and dirt of the exile. Please embrace me and bring me back to your bed!”

The passuk continues: “בִּקַּשְׁתִּיו וְלֹא מְצָאתִיו”- I desired Him, but I couldn’t find Him. Why couldn’t the wife, Am Yisrael, find her lover? Rabbi E’lazar answers: “דהא ביני עמין אחרנין יתיבנא, וקליה לא שמעין …” Because you are sitting among other nations, I could not hear your voice among their tum’ah.

Rabbi Yitzchak then addresses how we can have our cries of love heard by our divine lover, explaining it euphemistically through the running parable of Shir Hashirim. Hashem, the husband, is sitting in His bedroom missing His beloved. His wife meanwhile is sitting in muddy filth, among other nations, calling for her beloved to join her there. Rabbi Yitzchak asks incredulously: Does it make any sense for the husband, the king, to leave His palace to join his wife in the mud? If the queen wants to be heard by her husband, to join her lover again and get His blessing, she needs to come to His room. Only through this can she reach the complete happiness which she so desperately cries for in Shir Hashirim 3:1. (This has been a relatively simplistic explanation of a very difficult section of the Zohar- for greater detail, see Zohar Tazria 42b).

The Zohar’s message here is clear (or as clear as kabbalah can ever be to us laymen). Just like the queen, the wife, the female lover of Shir Hashirim, our people are sleeping on the ground in the lands of the nations. We so desperately seek out the blessing of our king, our creator, and our lover, Hashem, yet we never find it. We want to see His hand, but it is never revealed to us.

What we really fail to see how improper this expectation really is. As Rabbi Yitzchak put it; how can we expect the King of the world to roll around in the mud with us? If we are seeking out Hashem’s blessing, and if we would like to see His hand in a very open way, then we must present ourselves to Him in His palace (Artzeinu Hakedosha), and beg Him to re-accept us and remove the tum’ah of the nations from upon us.

As we read Parshat Hachodesh this week, let us take to heart the final preparations of the Jewish People before departing Egypt, and let us make our own preparations to leave our modern-day Egypt. We will be sitting down to the seder of Yetziat Mitzrayim in exactly two weeks, and we will then beg Hashem to show His hand to us, fulfill His love for us and bring the ge’ulah — let us work hard to ensure that we will be in Hashem’s palace when we do this, and not sitting in the muddy filth of the golah with our enemies.

Only through following the strong advice of the Zohar and moving back into the Ultimate King’s palace can we ever hope for Him to accept our pleas, show His hand, and permanently end our exile. May we all merit a fulfillment of our prayers of “לשנה הבא בירושלים הבנויה.” Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov!

About the Author
Born and raised in Teaneck NJ, Tzvi Silver moved to Israel in 2012 after catching aliyah fever while learning abroad. Tzvi is now pursuing a degree in Engineering from the Jerusalem College of Technology, and works on the side as a contributor for local newspapers in the New York Area. Tzvi's interests include learning Torah, rabble-rousing, and finding creative ways of mixing the two.
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