Despite the fact that traditional commentators describe the Song of Songs as a metaphor for the love between G-d and Israel (which is also a wonderful and mysterious idea), we can’t get around the fact that in its simple reading, it is an erotic poem between two flesh and blood lovers.
The Song of Songs is connected to Passover, and is traditionally read on the Shabbat of Hol Hamoed Pesach (unless you are Sephardi in which case it is read every Friday night – yet another example, with the more lenient Passover restrictions, of Sephardim’s supremacy!). Rabbi Akiba declared, about this love poem: “Heaven forbid that any man in Israel ever disputed that the Song of Songs is holy. For the whole world is not worth the day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel, for all the Writings are holy and the Song of Songs is holy of holies.” (Mishnah Yadayim 3:5).
Why is it read on Passover? Wait – there’s even more. Amazingly enough, the rabbis said that if for whatever reason you can’t attend a seder, if you read the Song of Songs – you’ve fulfilled the requirement. It tells the same story. We learn through this that Passover is a love song, and that in this love song is bound up slavery, the pangs of release, wandering, redemption, freedom.
I think of the famous children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit, and the stuffed bunny’s longing to be real. The skin horse tells the bunny that we become real when we are loved deeply and truly. And that it hurts sometimes.
This is what we long for on Passover. This is why we read Song of Songs. And – of course we experience this love in no end of ways, but what the traditions say about the Exodus, and about Song of Songs is that they are love stories between us and G-d. G-d loves us with a love that makes us real, or if you like, there is a force of love in the universe that wants to bring us to life under its hands. We can help each other become real when we deeply and truly love one another, and we can feel the love of G-d, the love of the cosmos penetrating to our very bones, settling on us like dew, bringing us from sadness, terror, loss, darkness – back to life.