It is customary to read the Song of Songs on Pesach. Some read it at night after completing the Haggadah; some read it in synagogue on Shabbat of Chol Hamoed. This year we read it at home as we locked down on both the Passover Seder and the 7th night of Passover when we celebrate the splitting of the Sea.
The springtime atmosphere of bloom and blossoming described in the Song of Songs provides a natural link to the holiday of Spring, but a look at the Rabbinic sources teaches us that the association between the Song of Songs and the Exodus goes much deeper.
Exodus 14 tells the story of Israel’s exodus from Egypt. Although Pharaoh has sent Israel out from his land, he quickly regrets it. Seeing that Israel has turned in the direction of the desert, he concludes that they have lost their way: “They are entangled in the land, the wilderness has shut them in” (Exodus 14:3) (locked down). He harnesses his chariot and gives chase, pursuing the people of Israel with a large army. They catch up to Israel, who is camped on the shores of the Sea.
There appeared to be no way out. . But then deliverance comes from an unexpected direction.
The beauty of Rabbinic Midrashim is that they set Biblical stories in a new and refreshing light. A Midrash concretizes the danger in which the Israelites found themselves, fleeing from the Egyptians (It is interesting that the image of a hawk symbolized the Egyptian god Horus, one of the nine major gods of ancient Egypt. Horus was associated with Pharaoh and thought to be the protector and patron of the king). to the desert, only to encounter the threatening sea.
The Midrash dwells on this moment of hopelessness: “And the Egyptians pursued after them, and overtook them encamping by the sea” (Exodus 14:9). Danger engulfs them from all sides, from land and from sea, and they know they have no escape. They are overwhelmed by fear and terror and cry out to God. The Egyptians are sure that Israel is their easy prey, because “the desert has closed in upon them,” (locked in) but just then rescue comes from an unexpected direction: “They were very afraid and the children of Israel cried out to God” (Exodus 14:10)… and “God saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians” (Exodus 14:30).
God easily overcomes the Egyptian army, its horses, chariots and officers. The Egyptians are surprised not only by God’s appearance outside of the land of Egypt but also by His ability to pave a totally unexpected path of deliverance by splitting the Red Sea. At that moment the Egyptians realize that Israel is a special nation; that God comes to their aid as soon as they cry out to Him. Just as it is clear that man has dominion over the animals, it becomes evident that God dominates all His creations – the Egyptians and the sea both – and thus only from Him can Israel seek full deliverance.
The parable is not only a story about the splitting of the sea but also transmits a relevant message to its audience in the early rabbinic period. Enemies press from all sides, and there is no apparent way out. The author’s message is to remember that when threatened we need only to cry out to God Who will hear, come and save us.
The parallel between Israel and the tame dove is not accidental. The Midrash wishes to stress that Israel’s strength does not lie in military prowess, nor will fleeing to caves and hiding places bring salvation. True deliverance comes from God: “God will fight for you and you will hold your peace” (Exodus 14:14).
What is the connection between the Song of Songs and the splitting of the sea?
On the face of it there is a simple answer to this question. It is known that the Song of Songs is thought to be an allegory about the relationship between God and Israel. The dove is the beloved, the people of Israel, and God is her spouse. Yet the answer is more complex than this. Midrash Song of Songs Rabbah (1,2:1) presents a fundamental disagreement over the interpretation of the Song of Songs:
“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth” – where is it said?
Rabbi Hanina bar Pappa said, this was said at the sea, for it is written, “[I have compared you]…to a mare of Pharaoh’s chariots.”
Rabbi Yochanan said: this was said at Sinai, for it is written, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth.”
Rabbi Meir said: this was said at the Tent of Meeting, and brings proof from the verse, “Awake, O north wind, and come O south wind …”
The rabbis said: this was said at the temple, and they bring proof from the same verse, “Awake, O north wind…”
The splitting of the Red Sea was an event at which Israel experienced a direct revelation of God. Their witnessing of God was so sweeping and so imposing that the Sages declared, “the merest handmaiden at the Sea saw what Isaiah and Ezekiel never saw;” (Mechilta of Rabbi Ishmael, Tractate Shira, Parasha 3). “a tot on its mother’s knees and a babe suckling at its mother’s breast even a fetus in its mother’s womb” witnessed the Shechina.” (Tosefta Sotah, סוטה ו ה”ד).
At this uplifting moment, they broke into song. According to the “it was said at the sea” approach, Israel sang not only the Song of the Sea but also the Song of Songs. The verses of the latter take on a holy dimension and are presented as words of the prophecy, an expression of the experience of witnessing God face to face. The Song of Songs enhances the Splitting of the Sea with its ambiance of a longed-for encounter between a pair of lovers.
The custom of reading the Song of Songs on Passover thus renews that lofty religious experience of seeing God face to face, and expresses our fervent desire that God’s love and concern for us will abide forever.
Rabbeinu Bahya, Shemot 2:23:1-2
Even though the time of the redemption had arrived, they weren’t worthy of being redeemed. However, once they all cried out in unison from the work that they were undergoing, their tefillos were accepted… This is to teach you that the Tefillah of a person is only complete when one cries out from the pain and stress that are contained within one’s heart. This type of Tefillah is more accepted by Hashem then mere lip service… It is possible to say that this Parsha is a hint to our future redemption which depends on returning to G-d and prayer. For we find that in Egypt they were redeemed because they returned to G-d and prayed to G-d who responds in time of distress and their prayers were accepted; then the Redeemer came to them immediately.”
Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman zt”l, wrote in a letter: “Several times I heard from the holy Chofetz Chayim, that we can learn about the end of our exile from what happened at the end of our exile in Egypt
How? The posuk[ says, “It happened during those many days, that the king of Egypt died and the Children of Israel groaned because of the work and they cried out. Their cry for help from the oppression rose up to G-d.”
תניא רבי סימאי אומר נאמר ולקחתי אתכם לי לעם ונאמר והבאתי אתכם מקיש יציאתן ממצרים לביאתן לארץ מה ביאתן לארץ שנים מס’ ריבוא אף יציאתן ממצרים שנים מס’ ריבוא אמר רבא וכן לימות המשיח שנא’ וענתה שמה כימי נעוריה וכיום עלותה מארץ מצרים
It has been taught: R. Simai said: It says, And I will take you to me for a people,’ and it is also said, And I will bring you in [unto the land, etc.]. Their exodus from Egypt is thus likened to their entry into the [promised] land: just as at their entry into the [promised] land there were but two out of six hundred thousand, so at their exodus from Egypt there were but two out of six hundred thousand. Raba said: It shall be even so in the days of the Messiah, for it is said, And she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, and as in the days when she came up out of the land of Egypt.
Since we are G-d’s wife, it is appropriate to tell a new wife story:
A Good Wife, Who Can Find?
Sam is enjoying his 80th birthday party with family and friends. Even Rabbi Landau is present. Sam is so happy that he decides now is the time to let out his secret and to everybody’s surprise, announces his forthcoming marriage to 50-year-old Hetty.
Everyone comes up to wish them mazel tov. Later, Rabbi Landau takes Sam aside and says, “Don’t be offended, but I must ask you a few questions. Do you really love Hetty?”
“To tell you the truth, Rabbi, I’m not sure,” Sam replies.
“Well, is she a good cook? Is her chicken soup special?” asks Rabbi Landau.
“I’m not sure, I’ve never seen her in the kitchen, Rabbi,” Sam replies.
“Is Hetty rich?” he asks.
“I’m not sure about her finances, we’ve never discussed money,” replies Sam.
“But if you don’t know whether you love her, if you’re not sure whether she’s a good cook, or if you don’t know whether she’s rich, why on earth do you want to marry her?” asks Rabbi Landau.
“She can drive at night,” replies Sam.