Mystical Music

of the

Song of Songs


Rabbi Akiva said: The world was never as worthy as on the day that the Song of Songs was given to Israel, for all the Writings are holy, whereas the Song of Songs is the holiest of the holy. (Rashi Song of Songs 1:1 quoting the Mishnah.)

The Song of Songs, which describes the romantic relationship between man and his beloved, is included in the Tanach, the Hebrew Bible, because it is a metaphor describing the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people. But if the song is an analogy, what is the analog?

The sages of the Midrash understood the song from a historical perspective. The twists and turns of Jewish history represent the unfolding relationship between G-d and the Jewish people, ranging from intense closeness to the pain of betrayal and distance. As Rashi explains:

There are many aggadic midrashim but they do not fit the sequence of the topics, for I see that Solomon prophesied and spoke about the Exodus from Egypt and about the giving of the Torah, the Tabernacle, the entry to the Land, the Temple, the Babylonian exile, and the coming of the Second Temple and its destruction. (Rashi, Song of Songs 2:7)

Others saw the song as an expression of the individual person’s relationship with G-d. As Maimonides writes in describing the ultimate service of G-d:

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].

Each essay in the following pages addresses a verse, or a series of verses, from the simple, historic and Chasidic perspectives. Unless noted otherwise, the Chasidic insights are adapted from the teachings of the Alter Rebbe, the founder of the Chabad movement, printed in Lekutei Torah. The insights are an attempt to offer a taste of the depth and beauty of the original Chassidic discourses.

The conventional reading of the Song of Songs is that the song describes the ups and downs of a relationship. It describes the positive moments of love and the dark moments of separation, pain, and alienation. Perhaps we can summarize that one of the revolutionary points of the Chassidic interpretation is that the dark moments are not merely unfortunate setbacks; rather, they are a catalyst to even more profound commitment and love. While the conventional reading would prefer, both in our personal relationships as well as in our people's collective relationship with G-d, a life without the alienation and separation, the Chasidic interpretation explains that it is precisely in the challenging times, in the darkness of the soul's descent into the physical world, and in the pain of exile, when we reach deeper dimensions within our connection to G-d.

The Song of all Songs

"The Song of Songs, which is Solomon's." is the opening verse of the Song of Songs, the biblical book which depicts the intense, yet sometimes complicated, love between the woman (the Jewish people) and her beloved (G-d).

What is the meaning of the words "song of songs"?

The simple interpretation is that the author of this book wrote many love songs to her beloved, yet this one is "the song of songs," the best song of all the other songs.

The sages of the Mishnah offer an explanation that is as surprising as it is profound; this book is the "song of songs" it is the holiest book in all of the Bible. The other books of the Bible are holy, yet this song is "holy of holies." As Rashi quotes:

It is a song that is above all songs, which was recited to the Holy One, blessed be He, by His congregation and His people, the congregation of Israel. Rabbi Akiva said: The world was never as worthy as on the day that the Song of Songs was given to Israel, for all the Writings are holy, whereas the Song of Songs is the holiest of the holy.

The Chassidic Perspective

Every soul is constantly singing a love song to G-d. While the person may be living a physical life, focused on survival, paying bills, and seeking a measure of happiness and pleasure, the soul is tuned-in to a different reality. Subconsciously, the soul is singing, continuously expressing its yearning and longing to reconnect. Prayer, explain the Chassidic masters is the time we dedicate to listen to the soul’s song. We recite the words of prayer, seeking to join in with the song of the soul.

And then there is the song of all songs.

At the root of all love and yearning in this world lies one underlying song. The Kabbalah explains that the last of the ten Divine attributes, the attribute of Malchut {kingship} descends from the highest world of Emanation (Atzilut) to give vitality to the three lower worlds of creation formation and action (Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah). The attribute of Malchus, the underlying energy of all of creation, constantly yearns to reunite with its source, as king David states in the book of Psalms (Psalms 30:13): "So that honer will sing praises to You and not be silent." The Kabbalists explain that King David is referring to Malchut, which never ceases to sing and yearn.

All of creation is constantly yearning. We each want health blessing, acceptance, recognition, love, comfort, pleasure meaning. Often, we misunderstand the nature of our yearning, and we seek to quench its thirst, to satisfy it in the wrong places and in destructive areas. The opening verse of the Song of Songs enlightens us to the essence of all yearning. It helps us understand that at the core of all desire is an underlying song, a song that motivates all other songs, the desire of the world's life force to reconnect to its source within the Divine.

Let Him Kiss Me with the Kisses of His Mouth

The Song of Songs is not merely a beautiful, soul-stirring story of love between a young woman and her beloved. The song opens up a new dimension on the relationship between the jew and G-d. The great sage Rabbi Akiva stated: "The world was never as worthy as on the day that the Song of Songs was given to Israel, for all the Writings are holy, whereas the Song of Songs is the holiest of the holy." The Five Books of Moses express primarily two dimensions of our relationship with G-d: he is our father and we are his children, and He is our king and master and we are his servants. In the Song of Songs, a new dimension is introduced: a relationship of romantic love.

The song of songs is an allegory depicting the romantic relationship between G-d, the young man, and the Jewish people, the young woman. Like all love stories, there are ups and downs, challenges, obstacles to overcome in this rollercoaster ride of a love story. But what is the analog? What is the meaning of the allegory?

There are generally two modes of interpretation. The first sees the story in terms of history, focusing on various historical periods reflecting the courtship, romance, and challenges in the relationship between the Jewish people and G-d. The second mode of interpretation reads the song as the story of every soul's relationship with G-d. The ups and downs, the challenges, the colorful imagery, the changing scenes within the Song of Songs reflect the twists and turns, the longing and the ecstasy, in the relationship between the soul and her beloved, G-d himself.

The song begins with the woman expressing intense love to her beloved, yearning to receive the expression of his passion:

"Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth, for ‘.

Because of the fragrance of your goodly oils, your name is 'oil poured forth.' Therefore, the maidens loved you. (1:2)

The Historical Perspective

Rashi quotes the Medrash, which interpreted the request for a kiss in the historical sense. While in exile, the Jewish people yearn to be "kissed" again, as they were kissed in the past. The Jewish people yearn to experience a revelation of the secrets of the Torah, in the future messianic era, as they have experienced the "kiss", the "face to face" revelation of the Torah at Mount Sinai:

As Rashi explains:

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: She recites this song with her mouth, in her exile and in her widowhood: "If only King Solomon would kiss me with the kisses of his mouth as of old,"...

This figure of speech was used because He gave them His Torah and spoke to them face to face, and that love is still more pleasant to them than any pleasure, and they are assured by Him that He will appear to them to explain to them the secret of its reasons and its hidden mysteries, and they entreat Him to fulfill His word, and this is the meaning of "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth."

The Spiritual Perspective

The verses describe the woman who smells the fragrance of her beloved; by smelling his fragrance, she knows he is just behind the wall but, for a reason unexplained in the song, is unable to reach him. She, therefore, yearns that he "kiss me with the kisses of the mouth", let him overcome the barrier, and let him appear to her.

What is the barrier? What is the meaning of fragrance? What does the kiss represent?

The barrier is the physical body and material reality. Once the soul descends into the body, her awareness of spirituality is compromised. Her consciousness is filtered through the physical brain, which cannot experience the Divine. However, there are two ways the soul can overcome the barrier of material reality: through a "fragrance" or a "kiss." "Fragrance" is a metaphor for the intellect, which allows the soul to understand and connect to G-d. Understanding, however, is not as vivid as a face-to-face experience. Thus, the soul on this earth experiences the "fragrance" of G-d, but yearns for the "kiss", the Divine revelation through prophecy, which is an experience and awareness which exceeds anything the soul could experience through her intellect alone.

The Chassidic Perspective

The Talmud states: "When wine enters, secrets emerge." Thus, wine represents the joy that comes from experiencing the revelation of G-d. When the soul declares, "your love is better than wine," the soul is saying that when she was in heaven, basking in the radiant light of G-d, she experienced the "wine," the joyous revelation. However, only when the soul descends to the physical world does she experience the connection to the essence of G-d, through performing the Divine commandments. The commandments are physical actions, which are sometimes performed without an appreciation of their spiritual meaning, the commandments do not always fill one with the joy (the "wine") of feeling connected to G-d. Nevertheless, "your love", the bond with G-d's essence achieved exclusively through the Mitzvah, is far superior to any spiritual revelation or feeling of Joy.

The spiritual connection is the "fragrance" that stirs the soul and fills it with pleasure. Yet, the fragrance is not the essence of the spiced oil. Only through the tangible Mitzvah can we grasp the essence of the oil.

While the spiritual perspective explained that the soul's deepest yearning is for the spiritual experience of prophecy, the Chassidic perspective says the exact opposite.

More than the spiritually enlightening experience of prophecy, more than the "fragrance", the soul desires the bond with the essence of G-d, achieved through the performance of the physical Mitzvah.

Who Are the Maidens?

The protagonist of the book is not the only one who loves her beloved. He is handsome, impressive, and the fragrance of his perfumed oil causes all the maidens to love him. As the verse states:

Because of the fragrance of your goodly oils, your name is 'oil poured forth.' Therefore, the maidens loved you.

Who are the maidens mentioned in the song the woman sings to her beloved?

The Historical Perspective

Rashi quotes the Midrash, which explains that the "maidens" are the individuals from amongst the nations inspired by the "fragrance", by hearing the great miracles of the Exodus of Egypt and who fell in love with G-d, and joined the Jewish people. Two famous biblical converts were Jethro, Father-in-law of Moses, and Rahav, who protected the spies Joshua dispatched to Jericho. Rahav ultimately converted and married Joshua, the successor of Moses:

Jethro came at the sound of the news and converted; also Rahav the harlot said: "For we have heard how the Lord dried up, etc.," and thereby, "the Lord your God, He is God in heaven, etc."

The Spiritual Perspective

The woman in the metaphor refers to the soul who is deeply connected to her beloved. She praises him by emphasizing she is not alone in her admiration of him. "All the maidens love you," she sings to him. The "maidens" is a reference to the capacity for human intelligence. The intelligent mind also understands the value of connecting to G-d.

The Chassidic Perspective

While enclothed in the body, the soul is referred to as "bride" (Kalah). In contrast, the souls in heaven are called "maidens" ("Almah," phonetically related to the word "Olamot," worlds, referring to the souls as they are in the lofty spiritual worlds). The Hebrew word for bride, Kallah, is related to the word for intense longing (as in the verse "Kaltah Nafshi", my soul pines). Ironically, the distance, the foreign reality of the physical world, which is a constant source of pain and anguish to the soul, creates the intense love that elevates the soul from "maiden" to "bride".

The verse "'oil poured forth.' Therefore, the maidens loved you," tells us that once the soul returns to heaven (and is once again referred to as "maiden"), it can nevertheless experience the intense love of the "bride". Because the study of Torah, as it has been "poured" from its lofty source and descended into this world, is such that it can infuse the soul in heaven with intense love.

The previous verse, "for your love is better than wine," tells us that the soul prefers the intimate bond with the essence of G-d, which is available only on earth, over the feelings of spiritual ecstasy in heaven. In this verse, as Chassidic philosophy explains, we learn that even in the realm of the emotional connection to G-d, there is an advantage to the love the soul attains right here on earth.

Draw Me, We Will Run

The woman in the song smells the fragrance of her beloved. She longs for a kiss, but he is not yet accessible. She asks that he draw her to himself so that they can unite:

“Draw me, we will run, the king brought me to his chambers. We will rejoice and be glad in you.”

Historic Perspective

While enslaved in Egypt, the Jewish people sensed that G-d was near. He sent his messengers Moses and Aaron to inform them that He was concerned with their plight. The people turn to G-d and request that He “draw” them out of Egypt so that they can “run” with Him, following him into the desert, and “enter his room,” which alludes to the clouds of glory which surrounded them in the desert. As Rashi explains:

they mention before Him the loving kindness of [their] youth, the love of [their] nuptials, their following Him in the desert, a land of aridness and darkness, and they did not even prepare supplies for themselves, but they believed in Him and in His messenger, and they did not say, “How will we go out into the desert, which is not a land of seed or food,” but they followed Him, and He brought them into the midst of the chambers of the encompassment of His clouds.

The Chassidic Perspective

The Chassidic masters explain that the three clauses of the verse refer to three stages of the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people, represented in:

  1. The holiday of Passover.

  2. The counting of the Omer (during the seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot).

  3. And the holiday of Shavuot (which commemorates the giving of the Torah at Sinai).

“Draw me after you”: The woman is trapped by her circumstances, unable to pursue the person she loves. All she can do is call out to him to draw her near to him. To inspire her and free her from the shackles holding her back. This metaphoric scene captures the reality of the Jewish people in Egypt. They were enslaved both physically and spiritually, unable to free themselves from the shackles and the mind frame of Egypt. They cried out to G-d, and G-d rescued his beloved people. G-d pulled them out of Egypt without any effort on their part.

“Let us run!”: Once her beloved drew her near, she too can run. This corresponds to the seven weeks of counting the Omer, the seven weeks of preparation for the giving of the Torah when the Jewish people work to refine themselves in preparation for receiving the Torah. That is why the verse states, “we will run,” because, unlike in Egypt where the Jewish people were passive, during the counting of the Omer, the Jewish people invest effort, they “run”, to become closer to G-d.

“The king has brought me to his chambers”: This refers to the holiday of Shavuot, when we receive the Torah because through the study of Torah, we experience an intimate bond with G-d. We are in His innermost chamber.

A careful analysis of the grammar reveals deep insight into our inner self. The Kabbalah teaches that each person possesses two souls. The G-dly soul seeks transcendence and holiness, and the self-oriented animal soul seeks physical pleasures. On Passover, when we experience Divine inspiration without any effort on our part, it is exclusively our G-dly soul that is affected. The verse, therefore, states “Draw me” in the singular. During the seven weeks of refinement that precede the giving of the Torah, the G-dly soul seeks to awaken within the animal soul a desire to come close to G-d. Slowly, the G-dly soul demonstrates to the animal soul the pleasure and goodness of spirituality and transcendence. The verse, therefore, uses the expression “we will run” in the plural because at this point, both the G-dly soul and the animal soul are involved in becoming closer to G-d.

Perhaps the most surprising insight in this verse is that not only is the animal soul affected by the G-dly soul, but the G-dly soul is also affected by the animal soul. While the G-dly soul is wise, enlightened, and kind, it does not have nearly as much passion and intensity as the animal soul. When the animal soul wants something, it wants it forcefully and completely. There is no delay and no compromise. The animal soul is either entirely uninterested or engaged with all its energy and might. While the G-dly soul “walks,” the animal soul “runs.” The verse states “we will run” in the plural. For once the G-dly soul teaches the animal soul the sweetness of becoming close to G-d, the animal soul begins to “run”, unleashing its desire and passion, previously directed toward unholy matters, to holiness. In the process, the animal soul teaches the G-dly soul how to “run”. The G-dly soul learns to develop an intense passion for G-d.

The G-dly soul teaches the animal soul what to love, and the animal soul demonstrates to the G-dly soul how to love.

I Am Black But Comely

After praising the fragrance of her beloved and mentioning that all the maidens love him, she turns to the daughters of Jerusalem. She tells them that, despite her dark skin (considered un-beautiful in that culture), she is nevertheless pretty. She declares:

I am black but comely, O daughters of Jerusalem! Like the {dark} tents of Kedar, like the {colorful} curtains of Solomon.

Do not look upon me [disdainfully] because I am swarthy, for the sun has gazed upon me; my mother's sons were incensed against me; they made me a keeper of the vineyards; my own vineyard I did not keep. (1:5-6)

She is telling the girls of Jerusalem that her darkness is not natural, it is a result of her exposure to the sun, as she was forced, by her brothers, to tend to their vineyards.

Historical Perspective

Rashi explains that these are the words of the Jewish people to the nations: yes, we have sinned, yes, we have served the golden calf, but we are comely, we possess the merits of the deeds of our ancestors, as well as our good deeds:

You, my friends, let me not be light in your eyes even if my husband has left me because of my blackness, for I am black because of the sun's gaze, but I am comely with the shape of beautiful limbs, and if I am black as the tents of Kedar, which are blackened by the rain, for they are constantly spread out in the deserts, I am easily cleansed to be like the curtains of Solomon. The allegory is that the congregation of Israel says to the nations: I am black in my deeds, but I am comely in the deeds of my ancestors, and even some of my deeds are comely. If I am guilty of the iniquity of the [Golden] Calf, I can counter it with the merit of the acceptance of the Torah.

Rashi then clarifies why the nations of the world are referred to as "the daughters of Jerusalem":

He calls the nations the daughters of Jerusalem because she [Jerusalem] is destined to become the metropolis for them all.

The Spiritual Perspective

The soul, feeling the pain of being unable to experience unity with her beloved, unable to experience the awareness of the Divine, turns to the "daughters of Jerusalem," which are the forces of the body. The soul declares: "although I am black (which absorbs light instead of reflecting it), I am comely." Although the soul, while clothed in the body, is "black" and does not radiate spiritual light, her essence is beautiful and spiritual. The darkness of the soul is only because of external circumstances. When those circumstances pass, the "dark tents of Kedar" will turn back to their natural self, to the "colorful tents of Solomon."

The Chassidic Perspective

While both the historical and spiritual perspectives interpret the verse to mean "although I am black, nevertheless I am beautiful." The Chasidic interpretation follows the literal translation and says the opposite: "Because I am black, I am beautiful." The "daughters of Jerusalem", refers to the souls in heaven who have complete awareness and awe of G-d, ("Jerusalem" is comprised of two words "Yirah" ("awe") and "Shalem" ("complete"). "Daughters" imply that the souls in heaven feel the connection to their source, their "parent").

The soul clothed in the body tells the souls in heaven: "because I am black, I am beautiful." The soul, while in the body, has a double measure of blackness (the Hebrew word for "swarthy" is written in this verse in the plural form, "Shecharchoret" ): the first is that the soul is present in this physical world where the presence of G-d is concealed. The second element of blackness is that even her relationship with G-d is achieved through fulfilling the physical ("darkness" in comparison to spirituality) actions. Yet, the painful feeling of distance, [which is a result of "the sun has gazed upon me," the soul remembers the sun shining, the awareness it had in heaven] motivates a more profound yearning and longing to G-d. The darkness, the distance, creates the beauty, the intense love.

More specifically, while all the commandments, both the positive-active and the negative-passive ones, can be referred to as "black" (because they are all commandments regarding physical objects), it is specifically the negative commandments that are referred to as "black". The positive commandments are "light"; they sanctify physical objects infusing them with Divine holiness; while the negative mitzvot, where we are commanded to refrain from engaging with certain phenomena, requires us to reject an activity or a phenomenon from the realm of holiness. The negative commandment is, in some sense, an act of darkness and cruelty toward the Divine spark within the prohibited object.

Chassidic philosophy explains that the negative commandments reach a far higher source than the positive commandments. The positive mitzvot elicit a ray of the Divine light which can be internalized within creation (the light of "Mimale"). The action of the positive Mitzvah becomes the "container" that can receive a limited measure of divine light. The essence of the Divine light (the encompassing light, the light of "Sovev"), by contrast, is far too potent to be drawn down and contained within a specific action. The essential light can only be elicited by refraining from acting, symbolizing that this light cannot be elicited by human activity.

Like The tents of Kedar, the like the {colorful} curtains of Solomon: The encompassing light (elicited by the negative commandments) is alluded to by the "tent," which encompasses the person. While the tent, the act of rejecting the negative, seems to be "black," devoid of any feeling of connection to G-d, in truth, they are the tents of Solomon. When Moshiach comes, we will be able to see the beauty of the Divine, encompassing light drawn down through the negative, "black", commandments. We will then see how they are the "tents of Solomon," whose name derives from "Shalom," peace. Solomon represents the peace between heaven and earth when the essence of G-d will be present and revealed down here on earth.

Where Do You Pasture? Where Do You Rest at Noon?

After talking to the daughters of Jerusalem, the woman turns her attention to her beloved, who is nowhere to be found. In this exchange, she refers to him as a shepherd who is out in the fields pasturing his sheep. She asks him: "Where can I find you? Where do you pasture your sheep״?

Tell me, you whom my soul loves, where do you feed, where do you rest [the flocks] at noon, for why should I be like one who veils herself beside the flocks of your companions?" (1:7)

For whatever reason, the time has not yet come for them to meet. He does not disclose his location to her. Instead, he tells her to follow her sheep and look for him amongst the other shepherds:

"If you do not know, O fairest of women, go your way in the footsteps of the flocks and pasture your kids beside the shepherds' dwellings. (1:8)

The Historical Perspective

These verses refer to the period of exile when the Jewish people don't sense the protective presence of their beloved G-d. They ask, "where are you hiding"? How will we survive amongst the nations (the other shepherds) who oppress us? As Rashi explains:

The congregation of Israel says before Him as a woman to her husband, "Tell me, You Whom my soul loves, where do You feed Your flock among these wolves in whose midst they are, and where do You rest them at noon, in this exile, which is a distressful time for them, like noon, which is a distressful time for the flock?"

beside the flocks of your companions: beside the flocks of the other shepherds, who pasture flocks as you do; i.e., among the flocks of the heathens, who rely on pagan deities, and who have kings and princes who lead them.

The Spiritual Perspective

While in the body, the soul's ability to sense the spiritual reality is compromised, she, therefore, must experience her beloved (G-d) as he is manifest in this world. Sometimes, we can sense that G-d is leading us, showering us with blessing and protection. At those times, G-d is "shepherding his flock," tending to the needs of his sheep. Yet, at other times, in the "heat of the sun", G-d hides his presence within the laws of nature. The sheep feel abandoned; they don't feel taken care of. They feel as if the shepherd has left them and went off to find some shade for himself.

G-d responds to the soul: indeed, the "shepherd" cannot be found. G-d cannot be experienced as he is. As G-d told Moses, "for no man can see me and live". If one does want to sense G-d he should "go your way in the footsteps of the flocks," by following the sheep, by seeing how G-d creates the world and orchestrates the laws of nature to act in perfect beauty, one can sense the profound wisdom of the "shepherd," our creator.

The Chassidic Perspective

The conventional interpretation of this verse is that the woman is asking her beloved where he pastures his sheep so she can find him. Yet, read literally, the verse can be translated: "tell me, you who my soul loves, how do you sustain yourself." The Jewish people question how G-d sallows the exile. While it is true that the Jewish people have strayed from following the Torah and adhering to the commandments, and they are therefore deserving of exile, nevertheless, the question remains why G-d allows the exile, since, in exile, G-d himself is deprived, of his "sustenance"?

This revolutionary explanation, that the Jewish people are asking for G-d to bring the redemption not for their benefit but rather for his benefit, is based on the Midrash's interpretation of a word which appears multiple times in the Song of Songs, "my spouse" ("Ra'ya'ti"). The literal translation of "Ra'ya'ti" ("my spouse") is "the one who pastures me." The Jewish people sustain G-d, through offering the offerings as the verse states, "my offerings my bread". The Jewish people's offerings in the temple is the "food" that sustains G-d.

The function of food is to connect the soul with the body. Without food, the body is weakened to the point that it cannot receive the soul's vitality, and the soul departs from the body. This same model applies regarding the ten Divine attributes through which G-d creates the world, which the Zohar refers to as the "body." The service of the Jewish people is the "food," which connects the "soul," the infinite light of G-d, with the "body," the ten limited and finite attributes. During the time of the exile, when the Jewish people are unable to offer the offerings and unable to perform many of the commandments, the Jewish people turn to G-d and ask: "Where do you feed?" "How is the infinite light of G-d drawn into the finite attributes to create the world without the food - the service of the Jewish people"?

The same question, "where do you feed?", can be asked from the angle of the Jewish people themselves: what is the purpose of the exile, as a consequence of straying from the Torah, if, as a result of the exile, the Jewish people are unable to keep the Torah? Instead of providing sustenance to G-d, the Jewish people are "pasturing amongst the other shepherds," struggling to survive in the material sense, completely distracted from their spiritual purpose and mission?

In response to this powerful question, G-d tells the Jewish people: "If you do not know, O fairest of women, go your way in the footsteps of the flocks". The Hebrew word "know" ("Te'dei", from the root word" Da'at") means connection. G-d explains that food is necessary to connect body and soul when a person is healthy. When one is unhealthy, suffering from an illness, which is the spiritual state of the people in exile, food will not be adequately digested and will not contribute to health. During an illness, what is necessary is not food but rather potent medicine.

"If you do not know, O fairest of women": During the spiritual illness of exile, the person can no longer "know" and experience the knowledge and awareness of G-d. The soul cannot tap into its inner beauty. Therefore, to heal herself and the Divine attributes, the soul must "go your way in the footsteps of the flocks". Following the footsteps of the flock evokes the image of our patriarch Jacob pasturing his father-in-law Laban's sheep. According to the kabbalah, Jacob refined the sparks of holiness that fell within the lowest parts of creation, the "heels" of reality. During exile, when the soul descends to the most challenging environment and must overcome challenges and obstacles to its way of life, it elicits the divine attribute of victory, rooted in a far more elevated plain than the other attributes. Overcoming obstacles, then, produces the medicine, which brings "healing" to the exile and to the ten Divine attributes.

Adapted from Ohr Hatorah Shir Hashirim page 112

Your Cheeks are Comely with Rows, your Neck with Strings of Jewels

In the previous two verses, the woman asked her beloved to disclose his location to her. He is not ready to do so. Instead, to compensate for his absence and to ensure that she knows that he is still interested in the relationship, he sings his love to her, describing her beauty:

I have likened you, my darling, To a mare in Pharaoh's chariots.

Your cheeks are comely with rows, your neck with strings of jewels.

We will make you rows of gold with studs of silver." (1:9-11)

The Historical Perspective:

Rashi interprets these verses as referring to the Jewish people at the splitting of the Red sea. [The word "to" in "to a mare at Pharaoh's chariot" means "at," and the words "I have likened you" can mean "I have silenced you."] At the great showdown at the red sea, when Pharaoh pursued the Jewish people with six hundred chariots, G-d expressed his love to the Jewish people by drowning the Egyptians and allowing the Jewish people to plunder the gold and silver of Egypt. As Rashi explains:

To the mare of Pharaoh's chariots: I gathered my camps to go forth toward you in the chariots of Pharaoh to save you...

Your cheeks are comely with rows: rows of earrings and a golden forehead plate.

Your neck with necklaces: necklaces of gold with pearls strung on golden threads of the plunder of the sea.

With studs of silver: that were already in your possession, that you took out of Egypt, for the plunder at the sea was greater than the plunder in Egypt.

The Chassidic Perspective:

While the historic perspective explains the descriptions of the Jewelry as a reference to the wealth the Jewish people amassed at the red sea, the Chassidic perspective explains the Jewelry as a metaphor for the Jew's service of G-d.

To the mare of Pharaoh's chariots: In the Kabbalah, the relationship between the horse and its rider is a metaphor for the relationship between letters and words ("horse") and the idea or emotion ("rider") conveyed by the letters. The rider controls the horse, which does not necessarily understand or relate to the rider's purpose in traveling to a given destination. Nevertheless, the horse will advance the rider to a speed and destination which the rider would not reach on his own. Similarly, the idea or emotion "controls" the words. They dictate which words will be spoken; nevertheless, words intensify emotion and comprehension. When one speaks words of love, the love is intensified; when one articulates an idea, it is crystallized in his mind.

Therefore, the horse-rider dynamic is a metaphor to express the beauty of the Jewish people's loyalty to G-d. Even when they perform the Torah and Mitzvot without the proper emotion and awareness, even when their actions are likened to mere "letters" devoid of emotion, the letters are like the horses, who raise them to profound spiritual heights.

Your cheeks are comely with rows: The Hebrew word "Tor" (translated here as "rows") refers to {Jewelry in the shape of} a triangle, which represents the three general approaches to the Service of G-d:

1) Prayer - which, in Kabbalasitic terminology, is an upward flow, because in prayer one strives to escape the gravitational pull of the material and seeks to elevate oneself to become more in tune with G-d.

2) acts of kindness, which is a downward flow, where the feeling of closeness to G-d inspires a person to give to those less fortunate than himself.

3) the study of Torah, which seeks to connect the upper and lower realms by revealing the divine will in this world, thus connecting the spiritual and physical realities.

In general, a person can engage in only one of these approaches at a time. A person is either trying to become more spiritual or trying to engage the physical. The beauty of the "Tor", of the triangle earrings hanging to the cheeks, represents the integration of all three perspectives.

Every relationship requires three essential attributes: love, respect-awe, and harmony, a blend of love and respect. Love is when one wants to unite with his beloved, whereas respect is the recognition of the differences and separateness, which then allows for harmony. When love is external, likened to silver, "the studs of silver" mentioned in verse, then each emotion is felt distinctly; when I want to feel close to you, it is very hard for me to consider your needs. However, when one reaches a more intense love, "rows of gold," whose reddish color represents a more intense love, one can experience all three emotions simultaneously. When the love is intense, one can experience closeness even when, in order to respect the beloved's wishes, one is physically distant. Or, an alternative example, when love to one's child is acute, one can feel the love even while disciplining the child.

Your neck with strings of jewels: The stringed necklace represents the Jew's interaction with the material world. When the Jew uses his physical possessions for a higher purpose, he is forming a hole in the brute materiality of the stone. He unites many distinct stones, each with a different shape, size, and composition, stringing them all together with a common spiritual purpose, forming the necklace that conveys the material world's true beauty.

While the King Was Still at His Banquet, My Spikenard Gave Forth its Fragrance

In the previous verses, we read of the praises the man offered his beloved. Perhaps because he isn't ready to become too close, his praise focused not so much on her but on her jewelry. The woman responds by raising her faults, implying that she is not deserving of his compliments. Instead, she continues to praise him. [Why does she resist his praise? Perhaps because she is uncomfortable. Or, maybe because she hopes he will push back and insist that she is indeed praiseworthy, and, this time, perhaps he will praise her and not just focus on the jewelry].

The verse reads:

While the king was still at his table, my spikenard gave forth its fragrance.

A bundle of myrrh is my beloved to me; between my breasts he shall lie.

A cluster of henna-flowers is my beloved to me, in the vineyards of Ein-Gedi." (1:12-14)

Rashi explains the meaning of her words: while at the king's table, while at the wedding banquet, she betrayed the king, producing not a refreshing fragrance but a bad smell.

for while the king was still at his banquet…" my spikenard gave forth its fragrance: This is instead of saying, "gave forth its stench."

The Historical Perspective:

After discussing the love G-d showed the Jewish people at the red sea, the verse describes the bride's (the Jewish people's) betrayal (the worshiping of the golden calf) of her husband (G-d) while still at her wedding banquet (Mount Sinai). Yet, despite the sin, G-d forgave the Jewish people and instructed them to build the Tabernacle so that he could dwell in their midst. As Rashi explains:

while the king was still at the table of his wedding banquet…" When the Shechinah (Divine presence) was still at Sinai, I sinned with the Calf; Scripture describes it with an expression of love, "gave forth its fragrance," and did not write, "stank," or "became putrid," because Scripture speaks euphemistically.

A bundle of myrrh is my beloved to me:... the Holy One, blessed be He, appeased by Israel for the incident of the calf and found them an atonement for their iniquity and said: Donate to the Tabernacle, and let the gold of the Tabernacle atone for the gold of the calf.

between my breasts (he shall lie): between the two staves of the Ark.

The Chassidic Perspective:

Seemingly, this verse, which refers to the sin of the golden calf, should have chosen a word that connotes an unfavorable smell. By employing the word "fragrance," the verse is alluding to the pleasure that G-d derives from the transformation of dark to light, of sin to merit. The word for "fragrance" appears in the book of Genesis, when Jacob presents himself as his brother Esau in order to receive their father Isaac's blessings. The verse states that Issac "smelled the fragrance of his garments". The Talmud points out that the word garments ("Bigadav") is similar to the word for betrayal ("Bogdav"). The verse implies that Issac smells the fragrance of the repentance of the betrayal of Jacob's descendants.

The choice of words in this verse ("While the king was still at the table of his wedding banquet…,") gives us insight into the Kabalsitic process of forgiveness. Read literally, the word for "while" ("Ad") means until, and the word for "banquet" ("Mesibo") is related to the word for "cause" ("Sibah"). The words "until" (a term relating to time) and "the king", refer to the attribute of kingship (the final of the ten Divine attributes), the source of time. The verse, therefore, can be read as follows: "when the attribute of kingship ("until the king") ascends to the essence of G-d, the source ("banquet") of all phenomena. This refers to the ten days of repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when the attribute of kingship, the Divine energy which creates the worlds, ascends to its source in the transcendent, essential light of G-d). Similarly, our conscious self also connects to our essential self. When we call out to G-d from the essence of our soul, we touch the essence of G-d, and draw down the infinite light, thus rehabilitating and correcting the destructiveness of the sin.

The continuation of the verse "A bundle of myrrh is my beloved to me; between my breasts he shall lie", refers to the incense that the high priest would place between the staves of the Ark on Yom Kippur. In the spiritual service of the Jew, this refers to the person who is not always able to reach the level of repentance described earlier, where one calls to G-d from the essence of his soul, with great intensity and yearning. In that case, the forgiveness comes from the myrth, which is derived from the blood gathered at a specific animal's neck. This represents the "stiff-necked" commitment to G-d, whereby the Jew is committed to serving G-d even when, because of the lack of passion, he has to force himself to do so since he lacks passion. This steadfast commitment to serving G-d, and specifically to the study of Torah ("between my breasts: between the two staves of the Ark"), brings immense pleasure to G-d, which, in turn, causes G-d to forgive. As the verse continues: "A cluster of henna-flowers is my beloved to me", the Hebrew word for "henne-flowers" (hakofer) is the same root of the word atonement (kaparah).

Adapted from Ohr Hatorah

Behold, you are comely, my beloved; behold, you are comely; your eyes are dove-like.

It worked. The woman sensed that her beloved was afraid to praise her and instead praised her Jewelry, so she insisted that she was unworthy of praise. At that point, he had no choice but to insist, not once but twice, on her beauty and even to get specific and praise her beautiful eyes:

Behold, you are comely, my beloved; behold, you are comely; your eyes are dove-like. (1:15)

The Historical Perspective

The double expression "Behold, you are comely, my beloved; behold, you are comely" refers to the double commitment the Jewish people displayed toward G-d. When they accepted the Torah at Sinai employed the double expression "we will do and we will hear." "Your eyes are dove-like" refers to the righteous amongst the Jews, the tribe of Levi, who were loyal to G-d and did not serve the golden calf; they are therefore likened to doves who are exceedingly loyal to their mate.

As Rashi explains:

The allegorical meaning is: I forgave you for your iniquity, and behold you are fair with [your statement of] "Let us do," and you are fair with [your statement of] "Let us hear"; fair with the deeds of your forefathers and fair with your own deeds, because…

your eyes are like doves: There are righteous among you who clung to Me like a dove, which, as soon as it recognizes its mate, does not abandon it to mate with another. Similarly, (Exod. 32:26): " and all the sons of Levi gathered to him," and they did not err with the Calf, and moreover, behold you are fair with the work of the Tabernacle, as it is said (ibid. 39: 43): " and behold, they made it, etc. and Moses blessed them"; behold he praised them for that.

The Chassidic Perspective

The Chassidic interpretation of "My beloved" can be understood by prefacing the difference between "will" and "love." "Will" is a desire of the mind. When a person understands that something is beneficial for him, he wants it. Yet, often, the will does not affect action because the mind's will is too abstract. When the mind's will descends to the heart, it becomes the emotion of love; since emotion is far more tangible and closer to the realm of action, it can motivate action.

The meaning of beauty in this verse can be derived from another verse in the song. In chapter 6, the verse states: "You are fair, my beloved, as Tirzah." "Tirzah" (a city, according to the plain meaning), comes from the word will ("Rotzah"). The Midrash explains that the verse, therefore, reads: "you are fair, my beloved, when you want to be." This means, "you are fair, my beloved, when your emotion, your love, is consistent with your will; when the feeling of the heart is consistent with the soul's higher aspirations.

An additional point. In the Torah, beauty refers to the blend of a few colors. A solid color can not achieve the same beauty as a blend of various colors. The spiritual application of this is that beauty is when the Jew poses not one but all three of the primary emotions of love, respect, and empathy (empathy for the pain of the Divine soul while on this earth). Each emotion on its own is pleasant, but beauty is when the relationship is multi-dimensional, not just love but also respect and empathy.

Rashi explains that the double expression "you are comely, behold you are comely" refers to the dual expression "we will do and we will hear." The double expression can also refer to the two types of emotions that the Jew possesses. The first is the love, awe, and compassion which the Jew creates through his effort ("we will do") by meditating about the greatness of G-d. Those emotions elicit a second category, the corresponding Divine expression of love, awe, and compassion, which gifted to the person. These emotions are far more profound than those a person could create on his own. "We will hear" refers to the emotions gifted to us, for all we have to do is listen; we need only to be open and accept them.

"Your eyes are dove-like"." Like a pair of doves who constantly look at each other, lovers cannot take their eyes off each other. This refers to the Jewish person who continuously derives pleasure from looking at the Divine because, wherever he looks within the creation, he sees an expression of the Creator.

The Beams of our Houses are Cedars

After the man praised the woman by saying, "Behold, you are comely, my beloved; behold, you are comely," she is eager to advance the relationship. She responds by complimenting him with the same expressions he used to describe her, but she doesn't stop there. She wants to solidify the relationship by building a home together with her beloved. She is dreaming about a home, furniture, and a bed:

Behold, you are comely, my beloved, yea pleasant; also our couch is leafy. The beams of our houses are cedars; our corridors are cypresses. (1:16-17)

The Historical Perspective

Rashi explains that in the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people, the "bed", the place of intimacy, is the Tabernacle which the Jewish people constructed in the desert. The Tabernacle is the home that the Jewish people built for G-d, and the Holy of Holies, the Tabernacle's innermost room, which housed the ark, is the physical space where the absolute unity of G-d and the Jewish people is felt. As Rashi explains:

The Tabernacle is called a bed as it is said (below 3: 7): "Behold, the bed of Solomon," and the Temple is called a bed, as it is said concerning Joash (II Chron. 22:11, II Kings 11:2): "in the bed chamber" which was in the "House of the Lord" (ibid. 3), because they [the Sanctuaries] are the source of Israel's fruitfulness and procreation.

The beams of our houses are cedars: This is the praise of the Tabernacle.

The Chassidic Perspective

In contrast to the Temple of stone in Jerusalem, discussed later in the song, the Tabernacle constructed in the desert was primarily built with beams of cedarwood (which is why our verse refers to the Tabernacle a "the beams of our homes are cedars").

The difference between the materials used to build the Tabernacle and the Temple reflects the spiritual energy they embody. The Tabernacle reflected the holiness of the "order of the chain of the worlds", the Divine light which creates the hierarchy of existence. The Tabernacle, therefore, reflected the hierarchy: the coverings, made of animal hides and wool, were from the animal kingdom, which represents the world of intelligence [the animal, unlike the tree, is not rooted in one place and is free to explorer and travel; similarly, the mind allows the person to escape his natural inclinations and perspectives and learn a new perspective]. The walls were made of cedar beams, part of the vegetation kingdom, which represents the world of emotion [the emotions are subjective, rooted deep within the personality and perspective, making it very difficult to change the emotional makeup of the personality]. The floor consisted of the earth of the desert, of the inanimate-mineral kingdom, which represents the world of action [action does not possess the energy, the "life" of emotion or intellect].

The Kabbalists explain that "the beginning is rooted in the end and the end is rooted in the beginning". Therefore, while wisdom is the highest quality within creation, it is precisely the realm of the inanimate, the realm of action, which is rooted in the essence of G-d. The Temple, built from stone, reflected the connection to the essence of G-d, which we can connect to, not through our understanding and emotion, which are incapable of grasping infinity, but by the commitment and devotion of action.

(The realm of action within the Tabernacle is the action motivated by an idea or an emotion; therefore it is the extension of the inner self, not the transcendence of self. By contrast, the action embodied by the Temple, by contrast, represents an act of devotion contrary to one's perspective).

The Tabernacle in the desert preceded the Temple in Jerusalem. That is because, at first, we relate to the energy within the hierarchy of the worlds; we operate within the model where the emotional connection and understanding are greater than action. As in any relationship, when we relate to G-d we seek to understand his greatness and experience love to our fullest capacity. Yet, after we achieve the full extent of our understanding and emotion, we reach the figurative Temple in Jerusalem. We recognize that, paradoxically, the essence of G-d is accessible only in the lowest realm. In the inanimate physical world. In the realm of action.

Torah Ohr, Vayigash

A Rose Among the Thorns

The pace of dialog picks up. She declares:

"I am a rose of Sharon, a rose of the valleys." (2:1)

He reflects her words to her, referring to her as a rose, and contrasts her to other girls:

As a rose among the thorns, so is my beloved among the daughters." (2:2)

She follows his lead and compares him to the other young men. She senses that he is happy to praise her, but he is not ready to solidify the relationship; she escalates the conversion and evokes closeness and intimacy. She speaks of "sitting in his shade" and "eating its fruit":

"As an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the sons; in his shade I delighted and sat, and his fruit was sweet to my palate.

He brought me to the banquet hall, and his attraction to me [was symbolic of his] love. (2:3-4)

The Historical Perspective

G-d praises the beauty of Jewish people ("rose") in that they remain loyal to him despite the external pressures from the oppressing nations ("thorns"). The Jewish people praise G-d in that he is unique ("apple") amongst the false pagan idols ("barren trees of the forest"). As Rashi explains:

As a rose among the thorns: which pierce it, but it remains constant in its beauty and its redness, so is my beloved among the daughters. They entice her to pursue them to stray like them after strange gods, but she remains firm in her faith.

so is my beloved among the young men. The allegory is that so is the Holy One, blessed be He, chosen above all the gods. Therefore, in His shade I delighted and sat. The Midrash Aggadah (Song Rabbah), [states]: This apple tree-all flee from it because it has no shade. So did all the nations flee from the Holy One, blessed be He, at the giving of the Torah, but I in His shade I delighted and sat.

The Chassidic Perspective

The "rose amongst the thorns" refers to the soul {rose} when it is clothed within the body and human consciousness. It is then "among the thorns," surrounded by negative and destructive desires {thorns}. The ultimate praise of the soul emerges, not when the soul is in a spiritual environment, in the "rose garden", but rather specifically when the soul is amongst the thrones. Just as in the metaphor, when the thrones poke the rose, the rose gives forth its fragrance, so too the challenge of the negative desires and impulses produce a far more intense love of G-d. Because of its intensity, it has the power to "transform sin into merit", to channel the destructive passion and transform it into a love of G-d.

"As an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the sons": In the book of Job, "the Sons of G-d" refer to the angles (as in the verse "and the sons {angels} of G-d came to stand beside the L-rd, and the Adversary, too, came among them"). In our context, "the sons" refer to the prosecuting angels who come before G-d, on Rosh Hashanah, the day of judgment, to evoke the attribute of judgment and justice. Yet, the judgment and scrutiny cause the person to return to G-d, eliciting Divine love and compassion, represented by the apple, which contains a blend of sweetness and tartness, represents compassion, a blend of judgment and kindness. "So is my beloved," the divine love to us, "amongst the sons," awakened by the attribute of judgment.

"In his shade I delighted and sat": The love which is elicited on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is expressed on the holiday of Sukkot when we sit under the shade of the Sukkah, surrounded by the walls of the Sukkah, which represent the Divine embrace. "His fruit was sweet to my palate": following the seven days of Sukkot, we internalize the Divine love, on the holiday of Shemini Atzeret ("Atzeret" also means to gather-in) through the study of Torah - "his fruit was sweet to my palate."

["The apple {compassion} among the trees of the forest {the angles}" is reflected in our daily prayers, in the blessings that proceed the recitation of the Shema. The first blessing describes the Divine service of the angels. By contemplating upon the angel's awareness and intense emotional bond to G-d, we reach the second blessing, which expresses the love and compassion G-d has for us: "you have loved us with everlasting love. You have bestowed upon us exceedingly abounding mercy].

Adapted from Ohr Hatorah

I Am Lovesick

The woman's longing for her beloved reaches the peak in the following verse:

Sustain me with flagons of wine, spread my bed with apples, for I am lovesick.

His left hand was under my head, and his right hand would embrace me. (2:5-6)

She is lovesick. She cannot think of anything other than her beloved. She dreams of his embrace. And that is when it dawns on her that while her love is flaming, he is not ready, his love for her has not yet ripened. She turns to her friends, the daughters of Jerusalem, and she shares the critical but painful insight she had learned. She tells them: don't awaken the love when it is still premature:

I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or by the hinds of the field, that you neither awaken nor arouse the love until it is desirous. (2:5-7)

The Historical Perspective:

The verse refers to the time of exile, when the Jewish people are lovesick, because they long to feel close to G-d, yet His G-d presence is concealed. While in exile, they remember and yearn for the sweet memories of when they were in the desert when G-d embraced them, protecting them and providing for all their needs. As Rashi explains:

For I am lovesick: in the manner of the sick, for I am sick for his love, for I thirst for Him here in my exile.

His left hand was under my head: in the desert. And his right hand would embrace me: He traveled a three-days' journey; to search out a rest for them [as in Num. 10: 33], and in the place of the rest, He brought down manna and quails for them. All this I remember now in my exile, and I am sick for His love.

Although the Jewish people are in love with G-d during the exile, nevertheless, they were commanded not to force the redemption prematurely. One interpretation of "neither awaken nor arouse the love until it is desirous" is that G-d made the Jewish people promise that they would not try to force the redemption before the appropriate time.

The Chassidic Perspective

While in Exile, the Jewish people are referred to as lovesick because they long to experience the revelation of G-dliness. Yet, the longing cannot be satisfied until the end of days, the era of Moshiach, when the presence of G-d will be felt within the physical world. [This explains why one of the Hebrew words for prayer is "Vayichal," which comes from the word for "Choleh" {sick} and Chol {weekday}. The love to G-d, which we awaken in prayer during weekdays, leaves us lovesick since it cannot be satisfied. The prayer of Shabbat, by contrast, is a taste of the future redemption. On Shabbat, it is easier to experience and delight in the presence of G-d, bringing a measure of healing to the soul].

In general, there are two perspectives in understanding the unity of G-d. The "higher unity" is the perspective that there is nothing other than G-d, since all of creation is utterly insignificant compared to the infinite light of G-d. This level of awareness is the subject of the first verse of the Shema, "Hear o Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-ord is one." This level of awareness is introduced with the words "Hear o Israel" because it is not apparent to the eye. Our mind can understand, we can "hear", the insignificance of the world in relation to the infinite light of G-d, but we don't "see" it.

Since it is difficult to relate to the higher level of awareness (the "higher unity"), our sages instituted that, after the first verse of the Shema, we recite another verse ("blessed is the name of the glory of his kingdom forever), which captures the awareness of the "lower unity." Namely, the world is significant to us, yet we understand that G-d is the creator of the universe. Appreciating the universe gives us a glimpse into the greatness of the creator.

It is precisely the "lower unity" (which Isaiah refers to when he says: "lift your eyes heavenward and see who created these") that creates the intensity of the love that makes us lovesick. The "higher unity" is too abstract to produce intense love. Yet, when we look at nature and sense the presence of G-d, we become lovesick because we know that the essence of G-d is beyond our capacity to understand, we sense his presence, but his essence is elusive.

We are lovesick. We proclaim: "Sustain me with flagons of wine, spread my bed with apples, for I am lovesick." We can quench our longing to grasp the essence of G-d only through the study of Torah ("wine", which is internalized within the person studying Torah, as the wine is internalized when it is consumed) and the fulfillment of the commandments ("apples", whose fragrance represents the encompassing light of the Commandments). Although we cannot grasp the essence of G-d, the Torah and the Mitzvot incloth the essence of G-d's will.

The study of Torah and the performance of Mitzvot elicit from above profound awe ("his left hand") and love ("his right hand"). This dimension of awe and love cannot be awakened by the person ("you {can} neither awaken nor arouse the love"), for it comes from above when G-d desires to awaken it ("until it is desirous").

Adapted from Ohr Hatorah and Mamarei Admur Hazaken Haktzrim

The Sound of My Beloved... Skipping Over the Mountains, Jumping Over the Hills

At this point in the song, the perspective shifts. Up until this point, it was evident that the woman's desire to connect was intense, yet the man was not necessarily ready to reciprocate in the same way. At this point in the song, the tables turn. He is courting her with enthusiasm:

The sound of my beloved! Behold, he is coming, skipping over the mountains, jumping over the hills. My beloved resembles a gazelle or a fawn of the hinds; behold, he is standing behind our wall, looking from the windows, peering from the lattices. My beloved raised his voice and said to me, 'Arise, my beloved, my fair one, and come away. For behold, the winter has passed; the rain is over and gone. The blossoms have appeared in the land, the time of singing has arrived, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree has put forth its green figs, and the vines with their tiny grapes have given forth their fragrance; arise, my beloved, my fair one, and come away. (2:8-13)

The Historical Perspective

The sound of the beloved skipping over the hills refers to the Exodus from Egypt. Although G-d told Abraham in the covenant between the parts that the Jewish people will be enslaved in a foreign land for four hundred years, nevertheless, due to G-d's love of the Jewish people, He "leaped over" the appointed time and redeemed the Jewish people after only two hundred and tens years. As Rashi explains:

The sound of my beloved: The poet returns to earlier topics, like a person who was brief with his words and later said, "I did not tell you the beginning of the matter." He commenced by saying, "The king brought me into his chambers," but did not tell how He remembered them in Egypt with an expression of affection, and now he returns and states: This attraction that I told you about, that my beloved drew me and I ran after him, came about as follows: I had despaired of the redemption until the completion of the four hundred years that were foretold [in the covenant] between the Segments.

The Chassidic Perspective

Egypt, whose Hebrew name "Mitzraim" is derived from "constraints", represents limitation and boundaries. The state of Egypt exists not only in the realm of unholiness but also within holiness. "Egypt" within holiness refers to the entire Seder Hishtalshelut, the order of the spiritual worlds, for they are all limited. The Exodus, the breaking free of all mitigation, can come about only by the revelation of the essence of G-d, which is infinite. The Exodus, therefore, is synonymous with "leap," since freedom from the limitation of Egypt can only come when the essential light of G-d "leaps over" the order of the worlds (within which the light is gradually diminished).

"Mountains" and "hills" represent the emotions that are a product of intelligence and awareness. When one meditates and understands the greatness of G-d, the emotion of love will be produced; these emotions are referred to in the Kabbalah as "mountains of light." This love, however, is still considered Egypt since it is a product of the limited mind, and it too is limited. The "leap" of G-d (my beloved) which brings about the Exodus is when the supra-conscious emotions, the "mountains of darkness," are an expression of the emotions of the essence of the soul and are thus boundless. "The sound of my beloved! Behold, he is coming" when the essence of G-d reveals himself to us, the result is "skipping over the mountains, jumping over the hills," we leap beyond the conscious emotions and experience the supra-conscious connection to G-d.

After G-d reveals his presents to us and redeemed us from Egypt, he tells us that now is the time for us to take the lead: "My beloved raised his voice and said to me, 'Arise, my beloved, my fair one, and come away." Following the revelation of the Exodus is the seven-week period of the counting of the omer, where the Jewish people prepare to receive the Torah through refining their character traits (the forty nine days represents the seven character traits, each of which includes all seven).

My Dove, in the Clefts of the Rock

While the young man is leaping over the hills to meet his beloved, she is not available to see him. He describes her hiding from him and pleads that she appear, or, at least, to let him hear her voice:

My dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the coverture of the steps, show me your appearance, let me hear your voice, for your voice is pleasant and your appearance is comely.' (2:14)

The Historical Perspective

The dove trapped within the clefts of the rock is a metaphor for the Jewish people who were, after the Exodus from Egypt discussed in the previous verses, trapped between the red sea and the impending Egyptian army. G-d, turned to his beloved and said: "show me your appearance", show me to whom you turn in your difficult moment, "let me hear your voice", cry out to me, and you will see salvation. As Rashi explains:

My dove, in the clefts of the rock: This is said concerning that time when Pharaoh pursued them and overtook them camping by the sea with no avenue of escape before them because of the sea, and they could not turn because of the wild beasts. What did they resemble at that time? A dove that fled from a hawk and entered the clefts of the rocks, and a snake was hissing at her. Should she enter within, there was the snake. Should she go outside, there was the hawk. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to her, "Show Me your appearance," the propriety of your deeds, to whom you turn in time of trouble. (2:14)

The Chassidic Perspective

The previous verses describe the Exodus from Egypt: "For behold, the winter has passed; the rain is over and gone. The blossoms have appeared in the land, and the time of singing has arrived…" The redemption allows the soul to escape the trappings of the physical world and return to its source, as the verse continues: "arise, my beloved, my fair one, and go to yourself". Kabbalah explains that only a ray of the soul is clothed within the human consciousness; the essence of the soul, too potent to descend into the human body, hovers above the body but is not felt within the person. [The term "Mazal", which literally means "dripping" or "flowing," refers to the energy and potential which "drips" from the essence of the soul into the ray of the soul clothed within the body]. The love and yearning to G-d awakened during prayer allows the ray of the soul, which is in the person, to ascend and "go to yourself", to reconnect to the essence of the soul.

The yearning of the soul to connect to G-d elicits within G-d the desire to descend and relate to the soul; G-d invests his infinite light within the Torah and the commandments. This is alluded to in the words "my beloved, my fair one." The word for my beloved, {rayati}, also means "the one who pastures me", the one who gives me sustenance, referring to the fact that the Jewish people draw the infinite light of G-d into the Torah. "My fair one" {yafati} can be read as "the one who makes me beautiful," which alludes to the commandments which are considered G-d's beautiful garments (as they offer a way for the creation to relate with G-d, just as the garments allow a person to interact with the surrounding environment).

During the Exile, the ability of the soul to arise to its spiritual source is compromised. In Exile, the Jewish people are likened to a dove trapped in the cleft of a rock, unable to spread its wings, which symbolizes love and awe of G-d. The soul's natural passion for G-d is hidden "in the coverture of the steps."

G-d tells the soul: "show me your appearance." The word for appearance {marayich} also means mirror. Placing a concealment behind transparent glass enables the glass to reflect light and images. This symbolizes that when the soul's natural connection to G-d is concealed when the soul has a cover blocking the light of G-d, it produces an intense yearning to G-d, far more potent than the love it had before it descended into the body. G-d refers to the words of Torah and prayer produced by the intensified yearning and says: "your voice is pleasant and your appearance is comely," for, as the Zohar explains, those who return to G-d after being distant, draw G-d into this world with more strength than those who were always close.

Mountains of Separation

While her beloved pleaded that she come with him, that she show him her appearance and allow him to hear her pleasant voice, she is not yet ready. She tells him to come back later in the day; in the meantime, she tells him to run off to the distant mountains:

Until the sun spreads, and the shadows flee, go around; liken yourself, my beloved, to a gazelle or to a fawn of the hinds, on distant mountains." (2:17)

The Historical Perspective

G-d leaped over the hills to appear in Egypt and redeem the Jewish people. He was there for them when they were trapped "in the clefts of the rock" at the red sea. Yet, the Jewish people were not ready for commitment. They caused G-d to flee from them when they betrayed G-d by creating the golden calf. As Rashi explains:

Until the sun spreads:... until the time that the iniquity caused the sun to darken me in the heat of the day, and the heat to intensify.

and the shadows flee: We sinned with the calf; we sinned with the Spies, and the shadows fled, the merits that protected us. We broke off His yoke

go around, liken yourself, my beloved: I caused him to leave me on mountains distant from me.

distant: Heb. בָתֶר, an expression of separation and distancing.

The Chassidic Perspective

As Rashi points out, the Hebrew word for distant ("vasar"), in "distant mountains", is derived from the word for separation. The Midrash points out that the same word is used to describe "the covenant between the parts ("besarim)," where Abraham was told that his descendants would be enslaved in a distant land before they return to the land of Israel. "Mountains of Separation" refer to both sin and exile because separation represents the perspective where the unity of G-d is not evident, a reality of many distinct, independent creations in conflict with each other. The intrinsic, all-pervading reality of G-d is concealed.

In the song, the young woman tells her beloved not only to go (to the "distant mountains") but also to flee. As explained in the verse (2:8) "skipping over the mountains," the term leap is employed to represent the presence of G-d's essence within the "order of the worlds," which ordinarily gradually conceal and hide his presence. Similarly, the sin and the resulting exile are also referred to as a leap. The presence of G-d within the reality of "separation" is as abrupt and unnatural as a leap.

The word "go around" ("sov"), which means "surround" and "encompass", represents the inner dimension of exile. While the Divine energy is concealed in exile, and therefore the exile appears to be a reality of "separation", the truth is that only the ray of G-d, which is the imminent light of G-d, is concealed. The encompassing light, the essence of G-d which the creation cannot grasp, and therefore "encompasses" the creation, is very much present in the exile. In fact, it is precisely the encompassing light that can be present in the exile because the finite light is limited in how low it can descend. The infinite light, by contrast, cannot be defined and limited by any reality, and therefore can "leap" and be present even on the distant mountains.

Similarly, G-d's providence and protection of the Jewish people throughout the exile is an expression of a more sublime level within G-d where His providence does not defy the laws of nature, as the miracle does. Rather it operates, albeit covertly, within and through nature. During exile, G-d ("my beloved",) "goes around", He ascends to the level of the encompassing light, which is far more sublime than the imminent light of G-d available when G-d's presence in the world was evident, and miracles occurred.

This verse, "liken yourself, my beloved, to a gazelle or to a fawn of the hinds, on distant mountains," is almost identical with the final verse of the song: "and liken yourself to a gazelle or to a fawn of the hinds on the spice mountains." Our verse, describing the exile, refers to the "mountains" as "mountains of separation." In contrast, the final verse of the book, addressing the final climatic reunification after the pain of separation, refers to the mountains as "mountains of spice." "Spice" represents pleasure and alludes to the inner purpose of the entire separation, sin, and exile. The exile elicits within the Jewish people a greater passion and a more profound love and yearning to G-d; it evokes within the Jewish people a commitment to overcome the spiritual darkness by threading the "mountains of separation" into a single tapestry, declaring the unity of G-d. The exile, the "mountains of separation," becomes "mountains of spice," creating intense pleasure for G-d and his beloved Israel.

Adapted from Hosofos to Torah Ohr on Megilas Esther

On My Bed at Night

In the previous verse, we read that although her beloved expressed an intense desire to meet her, the young woman was not ready to meet. She told him to run to the distant mountains and come back later in the afternoon when the sun will spread in the sky. Her beloved, however, did not come back. Once again, the tables are turned. She is left lying in bed alone, yearning for her beloved. The longing is so intense that she goes out to look for him in the dark of night:

On my bed at night, I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him but I did not find him. I will arise now and go about the city, in the marketplaces and in the city squares. I will seek him whom my soul loves; I sought him, but I did not find him. The watchmen who patrol the city found me: "Have you seen him whom my soul loves?" I had just passed them by, when I found him whom my soul loves; I held him and would not let him go, until I brought him into my mother's house and into the chamber of her who had conceived me. I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or by the hinds of the field, that you neither awaken nor arouse the love while it is desirous.

The Historical Explanation:

Through the sins of the Jewish people in the desert, they experienced alienation from G-d, "lying alone in bed" for 38 years (between the sin of the spies and the arrival to the Jordan River). During that time, the Jewish people asked Moses and Aaron ("the guards") to help them find and reestablish their relationship with G-d. The reconciliation occurred at the end of the life of Moses and Aaron ("I had just passed them by"), when Joshua led the people into the land of Israel. The Jewish people brought G-d into their home by creating the tabernacle in Shiloh. As Rashi explains:

On my bed at night: when I was troubled; when I sat in the dark for the entire thirty-eight years that the Israelites were under reproach.

The watchmen who patrol the city found me: Moses and Aaron.

I had just passed them: shortly before their separation from me, at the end of the forty years.

when I found: that He was with me in the days of Joshua to vanquish the thirty-one kings.

I held him and would not let him go: I did not loosen my grasp from Him until I brought Him to the Tabernacle at Shiloh because of all that He had done for me.

The Chassidic Perspective

This passage describes the soul's search for closeness to G-d, in the darkness of spiritual night.

"On my bed at night": As a result of the spiritual dryness caused by sin, the soul alone lies at night, unable to experience closeness to G-d. "I sought him whom my soul loves;" a precise translation of the Hebrew is "that which my soul loved," "loved," in the past tense, refers to the love of G-d which the soul experienced in the past before she entered the physical reality. The soul cannot find G-d in the night because of the "watchmen" standing at the city's entrance. The watchmen refer to the eyes and heart, which are the interface between the soul and the outside world. The eyes and heart (" the guards") are often drawn to negativity, which does not allow the soul to find closeness to G-d. Yet, occasionally, the soul breaks away from the grasp of the eyes (the "guards"), which pull it toward physical temptation. The soul then finds G-d ("that which my soul desired").

But finding the beloved, the feeling of closeness to G-d, is not enough.

The woman says: "I held him and would not let him go," implying that if she let him out of her grasp, he would flee. For indeed, the feeling of connection to G-d is so foreign in the physical world, that unless we "bring it home" and internalize it through the study of Torah, it will be fleeting. As the verse continues: "until I brought him into my mother's house and into the chamber of her who had conceived me." The sages explain that "my mother's house" refers to the written Torah, and "her who conceived me" refers to the oral Torah. When we feel a closeness to G-d, we must preserve that feeling throughout our day by internalizing it through the study of Torah.

Adapted from Mamarei Admur Hazaken Haktzarim p. 279

Who is This Coming Up From The Desert?

The spotlight turns to a woman ascending from the desert, perfumed with various spices. The narrator then describes king Solomon, his bed, and the crown his mother gave him on his wedding day. This indicates that these verses describe the wedding between the young woman and her beloved, which we now discover is none other than King Solomon. The description captures the contrast between the anonymous bride ascending from the desert, and the king Solomon in all his glory. As the song describes:

Who is this coming up from the desert, like columns of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, of all the powder of the peddler?

The Historical Perspective

The woman ascending from the desert refers to the Jewish people as they traveled through the desert to ascend to Israel. The "columns of smoke" refer to the pillar of fire that led them through the desert, and the perfume refers to the incense offered on the inner altar in the tabernacle. As Rashi explains:

Who is this coming up from the desert: When I {the collective Jewish people} was traveling through the desert and the pillar of fire and cloud were going before me and killing the snakes and scorpions and burning the thorns and thistles to make a straight road, and the cloud and the smoke were ascending, the nations saw them, and were astounded by my greatness, and they said, "Who is this," i. e., "How great is this one coming up from the desert, etc.!"

like columns of smoke: Heb. כְּתִימְרוֹת, tall and erect as a palm tree (תָּמָר).

perfumed with myrrh: the cloud of incense which would rise straight up from the inner altar.

The Chassidic Perspective

"Who is this coming up from the desert" refers to the Jewish people, who, on Shabbat and holidays, ascend from the figurative desert (inhospitable to spiritual life), which represents the involvement in physical matters devoid of holiness (true life), and enter the awareness and the presence of the king of Jerusalem, G-d himself.

The ascent happens with "columns of smoke." Smoke is produced when the substance which the fire consumes resits the fire. The more moisture in the substance, the more smoke is produced (whereas when the fire consumes a candle, there is very little smoke). The columns of smoke refer to the purpose for which the Jew descends into the "desert" during the six days of the week, namely to raise the smoke-producing, physical objects (which resist the ascent to holiness) with which he comes in contact and ignites them with the fire surging heavenward.

The woman ascending is perfumed with "myrrh and frankincense" and "all the powder of the peddler." The Hebrew word for myrrh, "mor", also means bitterness. The painful experience of being in the spiritual desert during the mundane days of the week creates sadness and bitterness within the soul; the bitterness, the "myrrh," becomes a perfume that beautifies the person on Shabbat, because the bitterness and pain of distance awaken a greater yearning to G-d within the soul. On Shabbat, when the Jew ascends, entering the realm of holiness, he is filled with "frankincense", ("levonah", "white"), the joy generated by the reunification with holiness. "Of all the powder of the peddler" refers to the unique emotion of each individual; each person has a unique emotional bond with G-d. The woman ascending from the desert represents the collective Jewish people; thus, she is perfumed with "all the powder of the peddler."

Adapted from Torah Or, Megila Esther 94a

Behold the bed of Solomon

After describing the bride emerging from the desert, our attention turns to describing the groom. The contrast between the groom and bride is stark. While she emerges from the desert, the groom, king Solomon, is in his palace, surrounded by mighty men, riches, and the daughters of Jerusaelm: is described in all his splendor:

Behold the bed of Solomon; sixty mighty men are around it, of the mighty men of Israel. They all hold the sword, skilled in warfare; each one with his sword on his thigh because of fear at night. King Solomon made himself a canopy of the trees of Lebanon. Its pillars he made of silver, its couch of gold, its curtain of purple, its interior inlaid with love, from the daughters of Jerusalem.

The Historical Perspective

The “bed of Solomon” refers to the Tabernacle, the sixty mighty men surrounding it is a reference to the six hundred thousand {sixty myriad} Jews, of draftable age, who camped around the tabernacle. As Rashi explains:

Behold the bed of Solomon: the Tent of Meeting and the Ark, which they carried in the desert.

sixty mighty men are around it: sixty myriad surround it.

of the mighty men of Israel: of those who go out to the army, in addition to those under twenty [years of age] and those over sixty.

skilled in warfare: the war of Torah, and similarly, the priests who surround it, who camp around the Tabernacle, skilled in the order of their service.

each one with his sword: his weapons. These are the Masorah and the mnemonics, by which they preserve the correct version [of the Oral Law] and the masorah (the traditional spelling and reading of the Scriptures), lest it be forgotten.

because of fear at night: lest they forget it, and troubles will befall them, and so Scripture says (Ps. 2:12): “Arm yourselves with the grain [of Torah] lest He become angry and you perish on the way.”

The Chassidic Perspective

A bed is a place of intimacy, where all garments, representing external desires, are removed and what remains is the singular desire of the soul to cleave to her creator. As Rashi explains, the bed is a reference to the “ohel moed” {tabernacle}. The Hebrew word “moed”, means meeting, but it has the same letters as the word daat, knowledge, which, in Biblical Hebrew, can also refer to intimacy (as in the verse “and Adam knew Eve”). The bed refers to the holy of holies, whose equivalent within the person is the essence of the soul which is in a state of connection and unity with G-d.

The Hebrew word for bed “mitah” comes from the word “limatah” which means below, referring to G-d’s dwelling in this world below, which is achieved through the “sixty mighty men... skilled in warfare”. The commentators explain that the sixty men refer to the six hundred thousand root souls of the jewish people. The mighty men of Israel cause G-d to descend to this physical world through warfare, which the sages explain refers to the “warfare of Torah” refers to figurative warfare, debates, which characterize Jewish study. The Hebrew word for war (“milchama”) shares the same root as the word for “bread”, which is a metaphor for the Torah, our spiritual sustenance. “Warfare” is related to the word “bread”, because when consuming bread, the bread loses its former form, it is elevated to become part of man’s flesh and blood. Similarly, the sword destroys and consumes the enemy. The study has the characteristic of warfare, in that it causes the negativity of the animal soul to be consumed and elevated within the holiness of the Torah.

Adapted from Ohr Hatorah

The Crown With Which His Mother Crowned Him

Amidst the wedding celebration, the narrator encourages the girls of Jerusalem to gaze upon the King's crown, which his mother crowned him in on his wedding day:

Go out, O daughters of Zion, and gaze upon King Solomon, upon the crown with which his mother crowned him on the day of his wedding and the day of the joy of his heart.

The Historical Perspective

Rashi explains that "marriage" and "joy of his heart" refer, respectively, to the giving of the Torah and the building of the Tabernacle:

on the day of his wedding: the day of the giving of the Torah, when they crowned Him King for themselves and accepted His yoke.

and on the day of the joy of his heart: This refers to the eighth day of the inauguration, when the Tabernacle in the desert was dedicated.

There is, however, great difficulty in reading this verse as a metaphor for the marriage between G-d (the groom) and the Jewish people (the bride). The verse refers to "the crown with which his mother crowned him" if the King is a metaphor for G-d, how can the King have a "mother"?

Rashi quotes a conversation amongst the sages of the Midrash addressing this very point:

upon the crown with which his mother crowned him:… Rabbi Nehunia said: Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai asked Rabbi Eleazar the son of Rabbi Jose, "Perhaps you heard from your father what the meaning of 'upon the crown with which his mother crowned him' is?" He replied: "This is a parable of a king who had an only daughter of whom he was very fond. He could not stop loving her until he called her" my daughter, "as it is said (Psalms 45:11):" Hearken, daughter, and see. "He could not stop loving her until he called her" my sister, "as it is said (below 5:2):" Open for me, my sister, my beloved. "He could not stop loving her until he called her" my mother, "as it is said (Isaiah 51:4):" Hearken to Me, My people, and My nation (וּלְאוּמִי), bend your ears." It is written: וּלְאֻמִי [which can be read as וּלְאִמִי, and to my mother]. Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai stood up and kissed him on his head, etc.

The Chassidic Perspective

To explain the meaning of "his mother", in the context of the relationship between the Jewish people and G-d, Chassidic philosophy prefaces the inner meaning of the name by which our sages refer to G-d: "The Holy One blessed be He" ("HaKadosh Baruch Hu"). This name captures a paradox in G-d's relationship with his creations,

On one hand, G-d is blessed ("Baruch"), which is derived from the Hebrew word to drawdown. G-d is present and invested within the creation. On the other hand, G-d is "holy" ("Kadosh"), which in Biblical Hebrew means designated, separate, and distinct. Unlike the body-soul relationship, where the soul is invested, "contained", and "grasped", by the body (to the extent that when the soul is focused on one thought, it cannot simultaneously think about something else), G-d remains separate and apart from creation, which does not limit or confine him in any way. The term "Holy one blessed be He" captures this paradox: the infinite G-d is invested in the finite reality, yet he is not contained and limited within it. Therefore, he can survey all the universe simultaneously because his investment within each of the myriad of creations does not confine him to that one creation (as the soul is limited within a specific thought).

We can now understand why the Jewish people can be referred to as the "mother" who gives birth to G-d. That's because the Jewish people are the cause for the infinite G-d to invest himself and become the G-d of the universe. When we direct our wisdom, emotion, and desire toward G-d, that causes G-d to respond in kind, investing his infinity into the ten Sefirot, the ten modes of expression which are the building blocks of the universe.

On the day of his wedding: When a teacher enlightens a student, he bestows a ray of his wisdom upon a student, who, by his own right, already possesses the capacity to understand. The teacher does not create the student. In contrast, the union between male and female creates a new entity; a child is born. This expresses a paradox: the teacher conveys an idea, a spiritual flow, whereas the seed which creates the child is physical. Nevertheless, the creation of a new entity, which comes specifically through the investment of the essence of the soul, is possible only through a physical seed.

The same is true regarding "the day of his wedding," the day the Torah was given on earth. The Union between the Jew and G-d through fulfilling the Torah as it exists on earth, enclothed within physical matter, produces a completely new entity. Fulfilling the Torah's directives within the physical world elicits a completely new flow of energy from the infinite light of G-d, far beyond the energy produced by the spiritual connection to G-d. Because, just like in the union of marriage, the essence of the light is invested specifically within physical matter.

Adapted from Lekutei Torah Shir Hashirim and Torah Ohr Bereishis

I Have Come to My Garden, My Sister, {My} Bride

The groom is elated. He describes the wedding as a celebration that captures the senses, smell, food, and drink. The festival is not only his own, but he invites all his friends to participate in the joy:

"I have come to my garden, my sister, {my} bride; I have gathered my myrrh with my spice, I have eaten my sugar cane with my sugar, I have drunk my wine with my milk. Eat, friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, beloved ones." (Song of Songs 5:1)

The Historical Perspective

The wedding between G-d and the Jewish people occurred at the dedication of the permanent Temple in Jerusalem, which was the culmination of the temporary Temple built in the desert. Thus, Rashi explains that friends", "wine," and "milk" refer to the priests and service within the Temple.

I have come to my garden: in the days of the dedication of the Temple. I have drunk my wine: These are the libations. with my milk: They were sweeter and clearer than milk. Eat, friends: in the Tent of Meeting. [These were] Aaron and his sons, and in the everlasting Temple, all the priests. drink, yea, drink abundantly, beloved ones: These are the Israelites who ate the flesh of the peace offerings that they offered up for the dedication of the altar.

The Chassidic Perspective

The Midrash addresses the nuanced expression "my garden," as opposed to "a garden," and explains that when G-d "entered" the world {garden} at temple inauguration, he was returning to "his garden", to the place where he was originally:

"I have come into My bridal chamber, into the place in which My essence was originally revealed. In the beginning, the essence of the Shechinah {Divine presence} was apparent in this lowly world. However, in the wake of the [cosmic] sin of the Tree of Knowledge, the Shechinah departed from the earth and rose into the heavens. Later, on account of the sin of Cain and then of Enosh, the Shechinah withdrew even further from this world, rising from the nearest heaven to the second, and then to the third. Later yet, the sins of the generation of the Deluge caused it to recede from the third heaven to the fourth, and so on… Afterword, seven tzaddikim {righteous people} arose whose divine service drew the Divine Presence down once more into this world below. Through the merit of Avraham the Shechinah was brought down from the seventh heaven to the sixth, through the merit of Yitzchak the Shechinah was brought down from the sixth heaven to the fifth, and so on - until Moshe, the seventh of these tzaddikim (and "all those who are seventh are cherished"), drew the revelation of the Shechinah down once again into this world below.

The conventional view of the world is that the world is a place of spiritual darkness, where the presence of G-d is concealed, and as a result, to quote the kabbalah: "all affairs of this world are severe and evil, and the wicked prevail in it." The song of Songs tells us a different story. G-d refers to this world as his "garden", which implies a place for pleasure. As the Midrash points out, the world began as a garden, where the divine presence was manifest, and only as a result of human action and sin did the Divine presence ascend from this world. Therefore, G-d's apparent absence from this world is unnatural, for the world is essentially a place of Divine pleasure.

This has profound implications for our attitude toward the world we live in. When we look around the world, we often see a place of challenges and difficulty. Yet the deeper reality is that we are in a delightful garden. Sure, cultivating a garden requires hard work and enormous effort and investment, yet we must always be mindful that we are tending a garden, a place of Divine pleasure. We are preparing this world to be the perfect garden for the "wedding," the intimate union between creator and creation.

Adapted from Toras Menachem 10 Shvat 5732

Hark! My Beloved is Knocking

The wedding is over; the honeymoon has passed; the romance has evaporated from this scene. The woman is asleep, and her beloved is outside on a rainy night knocking on the door. She is too comfortable in bed to rise and open the door for him. By the time she does, he is gone. When she searches for him in the city streets, the watchmen beat her. Once again, she turned to the daughters of Jerusalem. Once again, she adjures them. But this time, instead of telling them not to awaken the love, as she had told them twice before in the song, she tells them that if they meet her beloved, they should tell him that she is lovesick for him:

"I sleep, but my heart is awake. Hark! My beloved is knocking: Open for me, my sister, my spouse, my dove, my perfect one, for my head is full of dew, my locks with the drops of the night."

"I have taken off my tunic; how can I put it on? I have bathed my feet; how can I soil them?"

My beloved stretched forth his hand from the hole, and my insides stirred because of him.

I arose to open for my beloved, and my hands dripped with myrrh, and my fingers with flowing myrrh, upon the handles of the lock.

I opened for my beloved, but my beloved had hidden and was gone; my soul went out when he spoke; I sought him, but found him not; I called him, but he did not answer me.

The watchmen who patrol the city found me; they smote me and wounded me; the watchmen of the walls took my jewelry off me.

"I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my beloved, what will you tell him? That I am lovesick." (Song of Songs 5:2-8)

The Historical Perspective

Since "the day of the rejoicing of his heart" refers to the building of the temple, it follows that the next scene takes place during the era of the first temple. The romance between the excitement of the "wedding" has passed, and the Jewish people are now serving idols. G-d "knocked on the door" by sending the prophets to awaken the Jewish people to return. By the time the Jewish people repented, it was too little and too late. The "watchmen", the Babylonian king and his armies, destroyed the temple and persecuted Jews and Judaism. The response of the Jewish people has been extraordinary. Instead of resentment toward G-d, they adjure the nations of the world to testify to G-d how the Jewish people are lovesick to G-d, willing to sacrifice their very being for their love to him. As Rashi explains:

​​I sleep: When I was confident and tranquil in the First Temple, I despaired of worshiping the Holy One, blessed be He, as one who sleeps and slumbers.

Hark! My beloved is knocking: He causes His Shechinah to rest upon the prophets and He admonishes through them by sending them betimes.

I have taken off my tunic: i.e., I have already accustomed myself to other ways; I can no longer return to You…

and my insides stirred because of him: Hezekiah his son came and repented with all his heart to seek the Holy One, blessed be He, and his entire generation was wholehearted;

I opened for my beloved, but my beloved had hidden and was gone: He did not nullify His decree, as it is stated regarding Hezekiah (Isaiah 39:6): "Behold a time shall come when everything in your palace, etc. shall be carried off to Babylonia…

The watchmen… found me: Nebuchadnezzar and his armies…

I adjure you: [You] heathens, Nebuchadnezzar's men, who saw Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah submitting themselves to the fiery furnace, and Daniel to the lions' den because of prayer, and Mordecai's generation in the days of Haman…

if you find my beloved: in the future, on judgment day, for He will request you to testify about me…

what will you tell him: you will testify on my behalf that because of love for Him, I suffered harsh tortures among you.

The Chassidic Perspective

The soul descends into this world, and its natural love for G-d is asleep. Yet, despite the slumber, her beloved, G-d, "knocks on the door," imploring her to open up, to take a step to awaken her love to G-d. G-d knocks on the door and calls to the soul: "open for me, my sister, my beloved, my dove, my perfect one," each of these descriptions captures another element of the relationship between the soul and G-d.

"My sister" refers to the love of siblings, which is a natural love based on closeness and similarity, and, even when not felt, is concealed within the heart, waiting to be awakened. "My sister" refers to the natural love of G-d, hidden within the G-dly soul of every Jew; all one needs to do is reveal it.

"My spouse," by contrast, refers to romantic love, which is far more intense than the love between siblings. Romantic love draws one to a stranger; therefore, on the one hand it must be far more potent in order to unite people who are different, while on the other hand, the love is not consistent and must be recreated continuously. "My spouse" refers to the natural-animalistic soul of man, which does not naturally love G-d. Yet precisely because the natural-animalistic soul is a "stranger" to G-d, it can, through meditation, create the far more intense romantic love to G-d.

"My dove" is evoked as a symbol of birds who are not only loyal to their mate but also seem to constantly look at, and derive pleasure from, seeing each other. "My dove" refers to love produced from the recognition of the infinity of G-d, which leads the soul to consistently seek to "look" and derive pleasure from its relationship with G-d, in the manner that the sages explain that "every day the words of Torah should be like new." Unlike the love derived from contemplating the aspects of G-d that can be grasped, which is limited and therefore can become "old," "my dove" is a love fueled by meditating about the infinity of G-d.

"My perfect one" can be read as "the one who makes me complete," which represents the greatest expression of G-d's love to the Jew, for G-d is the "groom," and the Jew is the "bride," G-d chose to desire the relationship to the extent that he considers himself incomplete without his "bride," as the Zohar explains states: "male without female is a half of a body."

"For my head is full of dew": The Talmud differentiates between rain and dew, explaining that unlike rain, there is no obligation to mention dew in the daily prayers, because "dew does not cease". While rain represents the flow from above that depends on, and is a response to, the person's effort; dew represents the flow from above that is unconditional on the person's Divine service. Thus, G-d "knocks on the door," seeking to inspire even the Jew who is spiritually asleep.

Although G-d knocks, although the inspiration flows from above, G-d cannot enter until the Jew opens the door. Inspiration from above will only transform the person when he decides to open his heart and allow the inspiration to enter. How does one open one's heart? The sages explain that G-d requests and says, "open for me as the point of a needle and I will open for you as the opening of the hall {of the temple}." The Jew must seek to awaken his mind and heart through intellectual meditation, which is merely a needle point in comparison to his unconditional love to G-d. Once the opening has been achieved, the "opening of the hall," the love of the essence of the soul, will be felt within the Jew.

Turn Away Your Eyes From Me, For They Have Made Me Haughty

"Where has your beloved gone, O fairest of women? Where has your beloved turned that we may seek him with you?" The young woman's friends taunt her by asking why her beloved has disappeared. She responds: "My beloved has gone down to his garden, to the spice beds, to graze in the gardens, and to gather roses." She seems unsure where he went. Did he go looking for other roses? Has he abandoned her in pursuit of another relationship?

The song turns to the man, who responds unequivocally that he is still in love with her. He reassures her that despite being in the rose garden, seeing various roses, she is unique and cingular. He praises her and says: "You are fair, my beloved, as {the city of} Tirzah, comely as Jerusalem, awesome as the bannered legions."

Amongst the praises, he says:

Turn away your eyes from me, for they have made me haughty; your hair is like a flock of goats that streamed down from Gilead. (Song of Songs 6:5)

"Turn away your eyes from me", not because he doesn't love her, but rather because his love is too intense. "They have made me haughty". The closeness to her is too intense for him to bear.

The Historic Perspective

After the destruction of the First Temple and the subsequent Babylonian exile, some Jewish people returned to Israel and rebuilt the Temple. The Jewish people were in love with G-d, hoping he would reciprocate and express his love to them, as he did during the First Temple. G-d's presence, however, was not manifest in the Second Temple, and the Ark with the tablets was not present.

G-d tells the Jewish people, "Turn away your eyes from me", the time in not yet ripe to express the affection of an intimate relationship, for "they have made me haughty." During the First Temple, G-d's manifest affection for the people caused them to take the love for granted and betray G-d. As Rashi explains:

Turn away your eyes from me: as a young man whose betrothed is dear and sweet to him, and her eyes are comely, and he says to her, "Turn away your eyes from me, for when I see you, my heart becomes haughty and proud, and my spirit becomes arrogant, and I cannot resist."

They have made me haughty:... The allegorical meaning is as follows: The Holy One, blessed be He, said: In this Temple, it is impossible to restore to you the Ark, the Ark cover, and the cherubim, which made Me proud in the First Temple, to show you great affection, until you betrayed Me.

your hair is like a flock of goats: in the small, the tender, and the slight ones among you, there is much praise.

The Chassidic Perspective

Up until this point of the song, the struggle has been to reveal and maintain the feeling of love. Through meditation and prayer, the soul becomes "lovesick", wanting nothing other than to escape all distraction and cleave to G-d, metaphorically looking into his eyes, as a lover looks into the eyes of the beloved. G-d, however, pleads with soul to "Turn away your eyes from me," to turn away from the yearning to G-d. Because the purpose of creation is not the "running" to cleave to G-d, but rather the "return", the drawing back into the physical world to imbue the creation with holiness.

"for they have made me haughty." The desire to escape the material and cleave to G-d is based on the premise that G-d is "great," exalted, and removed from the mundane. Yet, that notion is correct only from the perspective of the "imminent light", the light of G-d that is internalized within the creation, and is present to a far greater degree in the spiritual realm. However, the "encompassing light", the essence of the Divine light, transcends both heaven and earth equally.

"Your hair is like a flock of goats that streamed down from Gilead": Although hair is part of the body and grows from the vitality of the soul when one cuts hair, the body feels no pain because hair possesses only a minuscule amount of life. Therefore, hair is a metaphor for a profound contraction of G-d's light. Gilad, a mountain in northern Israel, represents love because the typography of the mountain, where the earth rises upward, represents the desire to ascend and connect to G-d.. G-d praises the beauty of the people's engagement in the physical world (in which, like hair, the spiritual vitality of G-d is diminished and contracted). G-d says that "your hair," the "return" to refine the physical world, is beautiful because it is motivated by their love for G-d ("goats that streamed down from Gilead,") the "running."

The song continues: "Your teeth are like a flock of ewes that came up from the washing, all of which are perfect and there is no bereavement among them." Teeth, which break apart the food, enabling it to be digested and absorbed within the person, is a metaphor referring to the service of elevating the material world, allowing it to be incorporated into holiness.

"Like a flock of ewes that came up from the washing": Zohar explained that, in contrast to the souls of the world of Atzilut (emanation, the most sublime of the four worlds), which are referred to as "seed of man," the souls of the lower three world of Beriah (creation), Yetzirah (formation) and Asiya (action), are referred to as "the seed of animals," since they lack the awareness and knowledge of G-d available in Atzilut. On Shabbat, the souls of the lower three worlds are cleansed from the concealment of creation by ascending to experience G-d's oneness in the world of Atzilut.

Sixty Queens And Eighty Concubines

The beloved woman, the song's protagonist, is not the only woman in the palace. The man singing her praises acknowledges that many women indeed surround him, yet, nevertheless, she is unique:

There are sixty queens and eighty concubines and innumerable maidens.

My dove, my perfect one, is but one; she is one to her mother, she is the pure one of she who bore her; daughters saw her and praised her, queens and concubines, and they lauded her.

The Historical Perspective

G-d, the King of Kings, is the G-d of many nations, who are likened to queens, concubines, and maidens. Nevertheless, his relationship with the Jewish people is unique. As Rashi explains:

There are sixty queens: Abraham and his descendants. The sons of Keturah are sixteen. Ishmael and his sons are thirteen. Isaac and his sons are three. The sons of Jacob are twelve. The sons of Esau are sixteen, thus totaling sixty. And if you say that Timna should be excluded because she was a woman, then count Abraham in the number.

and eighty concubines: Noah and his sons until Abraham, all the generations of those who left the Ark - you will find them to be eighty. And just as the queens, who are the kings' wives, are superior in greatness to the concubines, so were Abraham and his descendants of great esteem, and superior in their esteem over everyone, as you will see. Hagar was the daughter of kings [and became Sarah's maidservant . Timna was the daughter of rulers and became Esau's concubine (ibid. 82:15), and Scripture says (Gen. 14:17): "to the Valley of Shaveh (שָׁוֶה), etc." They all unanimously (הֻשְווּ) resolved to make Abraham king over them.

and innumerable maidens: All these were divided into many families.

My dove is but one: And of all of them, one is My chosen one as a perfect dove, for she is wholehearted with her mate.

She is one to her mother: to her assembly. Many controversies exist in the study halls. All of them stem from the desire to understand the Torah in a well founded manner and according to its true meaning.

The Chassidic Perspective

The Midrash teaches that the "queens," "concubines, and maidens refer to various aspects of the Torah. Sixty queens refers to the sixty tractates of the Mishnah, "(eighty) concubines" refers to the Beraitot (the teachings of the sages that were not included in the Mishnah, and were compiled in the Beraitot (which means "outside"), and "(innumerable) maidens" refers to the laws in the Talmud and the teachings of the subsequent sages.

The purpose of the world's creation is to create a "dwelling place for G-d in the lower realms" by drawing the infinite light of G-d into this world. We achieve this goal through the study of Mishnah, which is referred to as "queens" whose relationship with the king is permanent, just as the light of G-d is present within the Mishnah. The Beraitot, however, are referred to as "concubines," whose relationship with the king is discreet; similarly, the Beraitot, which explain the law in a more elaborate manner than the Mishnah, bring the divine light to the "outside," to the realm where the Divine perspective and wisdom is not clearly revealed. The "maidens", who are not married, refer to the teachings of the Talmud, which seek to understand the meaning of the law. Yet, ultimately the reasons for the law are unknown, just as the maidens are "unknown by any man".

While the queens, concubines, and maidens all have a relationship with the king, nevertheless, "My dove, my perfect one, is but one." The Jewish people have a unique connection to G-d and a unique role in revealing his presence in the world. The light of G-d present within the Torah is defined and limited, whereas the Jewish people have the unique ability to increase the infinite light in this world by fulfilling the commandments, inspired by "My dove, my perfect one, is but one" the yearning (the "dove" which as explained previously, is a symbol of love and yearning towards a mate) and connection to the one G-d. That yearning makes G-d complete in that it allows for the oneness of G-d to be felt not only in the spiritual worlds but also in the physical world, within every corner of creation.

How Fair are your Feet in Sandals

The seventh chapter of the song begins with the call to the young woman "Return, return, O Shulammite; return, return, and let us gaze upon you." Now that her beloved is not present, other people call her, as they would like to gaze upon her beauty. The following verses describe her beauty, from the bottom up, beginning with her sandals and concluding with her head and her braided locks:

How fair are your feet in sandals, O daughter of nobles! The curves of your thighs are like jewels, the handiwork of a craftsman. (Song of Songs 7:1)

The Historical Perspective

During the exile, the nations of the world attempt to persuade the Jewish people to abandon G-d and cleave to them. The nations are intrigued with the Jewish people as they remember their former glory living in the land of Israel, under G-d'd revealed providence. "How fair are your feet in sandals" refers to the beauty of the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. As Rashi explains:

How fair are your feet in sandals: They say to her: We want you to cleave to us because of the beauty and the esteem that we saw in you when you were still beautiful.

How fair are your feet: in the festive pilgrimages, O daughter of princes!

The curves of your thighs are like jewels: A collection of gold jewels is called חֲלִי כֶתֶם, al chali in Arabic. And our Sages interpreted this as referring to the holes of the foundations [of the altar] for the libations, which were created during the Six Days of Creation, round as a thigh.

craftsman:... In the praise of the Holy One, blessed be He, the Israelites praise Him from top to bottom. They commence, so to speak, from "His head is as finest gold," and progressively descend to "His legs are as pillars of marble," since they come to appease Him, to draw down His Shechinah from the heavenly abodes to the earthly abodes. He, however, counts their praises from bottom to top: "How fair are your feet!" and He progressively counts until, "Your head upon you is like Carmel," until He comes to draw them to Him.

The Chassidic Perspective

Every physical phenomenon originates and devolves from its spiritual equivalent, its source. The Kabbalists explain that the spiritual root of the "shoe" is the attribute of Malchut, Divine speech, which is the lowest of the ten divine attributes, The energy of the higher attributes is too powerful to be contained within creation, only within Malchut is the Divine energy constricted enough to be present within the finite reality The verse (Isaiah 66:1) states: "So says the Lord, "The heavens are My throne, and the earth is My footstool." Malchut is likened to the "foot", the lowest part of the body, which "descends" to give life to the lower worlds. If the Divine energy of Malchut constantly vitalizes the entire universe, why is the Divine presence concealed? Why is it so difficult to sense G-d's presence on earth? This, explains the Kabbalists, is because of the "shoe", the concealment which obscures the Divine energy (the "foot").

Chassidic writings explain that the metaphorical "shoe" exists within every Jew. The name of our third patriarch, Yaakov (Jacob), (which is also the name of the collective Jewish people) consists of two parts: the letter yud, and the word akev, which means heel. Jacob's second name, Yisrael (Israel), refers to the soul's essence, which hovers above the person remaining in the subconscious (or, more accurately, the supra-conscious). The name Yaakov represents the yud, wisdom, which is invested in the akev, heel; the dimension of the soul, which is clothed within the body.

If the heel represents the soul, the spark of G-d within us, then the shoe, which conceals the heel, symbolizes the animal soul, the self-oriented drive, which seeks nothing more than physical survival and material pleasure.

Shoes have two characteristics (1) they are generally made of leather, the hide of animals (2) the primary purpose of shoes is to allow the person to walk; they are especially beneficial when traveling long distances. The animal soul, the metaphorical shoes, also possess these two characteristics: (1) the substance of the self-oriented soul is animalistic; it doesn't see beyond the mundane and the tangible. (2) The animal soul (the shoe) allows the G-dly soul (the foot) to travel on this earth, reaching landscapes and horizons it could not reach on its own. For just as an animal has more physical strength than a human, so too, the animal soul possesses greater passion and excitement than the G-dly soul. If we channel its energy toward the love of G-d, if we can "tan the hide," then we have successfully created a figurative pair of shoes: animal energy strengthening and intensifying our love of G-d.

The curves of your thighs are like jewels, the handiwork of a craftsman: The torso represents the Torah, and the thighs, extending from the torso, represent actions of charity that carry the Torah and its teachings into the real world. The Hebrew word for curves, "Chamukei" also means hidden, referring to the greatest form of charity, charity given anonymously. This charity is like the jewelry which beautifies the woman, the Jewish people, in the eyes of G-d.

O, That You Were Like My Brother

Chapter eight, the final chapter of the song, focuses on the young woman's desire that her relationship with her beloved, which has experienced many ups and downs, should become formal, institutionalized, and therefore out in the open. The chapter begins with her expressing her deep wish that her beloved should be like her "brother ", to whom she can display her love in public:

"O, that you were like my brother, who sucked my mother's breasts! I would find you outside, I would kiss you, and they would not despise me. (Song of Songs 8:1)

The Historical Perspective:

While in Exile, the Jewish people yearn to reunite with G-d in the land of Israel. As Rashbam explains:

"The collective Jewish people plead with G-d to return her back from Exile to the place of the sanctuary so that she will be able to serve him there as in the days of yore, with offerings, libations, and incense. And that He should dwell in her midst as he had in the tabernacle when his Divine presence contracted itself to dwell between the cherubim, like the love of male to female."

Rashi addresses the word "brother" and explains it to be a reference to Joseph's extraordinary act of love, comforting his brothers who sold him as a slave to Egypt:

O that you were like my brother: that you would come to console me as Joseph did his brothers, who did evil to him, and it is stated concerning him (Genesis 50:21): "and he consoled them."

I would find you outside, I would kiss you: I would find Your prophets speaking in Your name, and I would embrace them and kiss them. I also know that they would not despise me, for Your love is worthy that Your beloved should go around after You.

The Chassidic Perspective

The two states of being "my brother" and "I will find you outside" correspond to the two general ways of serving G-d, the righteous person (Tzaddik) and the returnee (Baal Teshuva), who was distant from G-d and now is returning. "My brother" refers to the righteous people whose spiritual mission is to increase the infinite light of G-d in this world through performing the commandments, which allows the world to grow spirituality, just as the infant child grows from nursing from his mother. In historical terms, we were considered G-d's "brothers" in the era of the Temple. As the verse (Psalms 122:8) states, "for the sake of my brethren and friends… for the sake of the house of the L-rd our G-d", implying that when "the house of the L-rd" stood we were G-d's "brethren".

"I will find you outside" refers to a returnee, who was distant from G-d, yet that distance motivated a more passionate yearning to reconnect. Thus, the verse states, "I would find you outside, I would kiss you," the "kiss", the powerful face-to-face connection, is achieved specifically through the distance of "I will find you outside."

The juxtaposition of both clauses of this verse introduces a revolutionary idea. While, in light of the Chaisidc interpretation, the song highlighted the advantage of the love to G-d generated specifically when one is distant, this verse adds a profound dimension. The same verse speaks of being a "brother" and "finding you outside," alluding to the greatest spiritual challenge, being righteous, close to G-d, and simultaneously feeling the passionate love created by the distance. This verse teaches that even when experiencing closeness to G-d, in our spiritual life, as well as collectively in the future redemption, we can maintain the fire and passion experienced in Exile.

Or, in the words of the metaphor, even when her relationship is formalized in marriage, the young woman will experience the excitement of romantic love she experienced when she was distant, when she searched for and courted her beloved.

Place Me Like a Seal on Your Heart

In a sign of the increasing permanence of the relationship, the woman requests: “place me a seal upon your heart.” She is devoted to him completely; she wants to attach herself to him. This form of attachment is likened to death, as she is relinquishing her sense of independence:

Place me like a seal on your heart, like a seal on your arm, for love is as strong as death, zeal is as strong as the grave; its coals are coals of fire of a great flame! (Song of Songs 8:6)

The Historical Perspective

The Jewish people request that, throughout the period of exile and persecution, G-d should, metaphorically, place us as a “seal on His heart.” He should constantly be conscious and aware of our devotion to him and mindful about how our love to him is “as strong as death,” we were willing to sacrifice our lives because of our intense love for Him. As Rashi explains:

Place me like a seal: for the sake of that love, You shall seal me on Your heart, so that You should not forget me, and You will see.

for love is as strong as death: The love that I loved You is to me equal to my death, for I was killed for Your sake.

The Chassidic Perspective

A seal comes in two forms: (1) a protruding seal, which creates an indentation in the material being signed. (2) An indented seal, with engraved letters or images, causing a protrusion on the material being signed. These two forms of seals exist in our relationship with G-d. The “protruding seal” refers to the passionate love to G-d produced through meditation during prayer (culminating in the prayer of Shema, which includes the words “You shall love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart with all your soul and with all your might.”) In Kabbalistic literature, love, the desire to elevate oneself heavenward, is likened to a mountain raised over the plains. The “mountain” of love is the protruding seal, which creates an “indentation” - the lowering of the infinite light of G-d into this world, investing itself and making itself accessible within the wisdom of the Torah.

The indented signet, by contrast, refers not to love, which is an expansion of self, but rather to the feeling of awe, which is a negation of the ego. In our spiritual service of G-d, the indenting signet refers to the climax of the prayer, the Amidah, where we stand before G-d in complete submission and devotion as a servant before his master. The indenting signet also refers to the negative commandments, where we refrain from doing an act we would otherwise want to do, and is, therefore, a negation of self, which, as kabbalah explains, reaches higher than the positive, action-based commandments which express our connection to G-d. The indenting signet produces a “protrusion”, which refers to a far greater revelation of infinite light that exceeds the level of wisdom.

Based on the Midrash, Chassidic philosophy explains that “a seal on your arm” refers to the hand Tefillin placed on the arm, whereas “a seal on your heart” refers to the head tefillin whose straps hang down on the chest. The hand Tefillin represents the love of G-d, the protruding signet, which draws down the light of G-d into the Divine wisdom expressed by the letters written in the Tefillin. The head Tefillin refers to the infinite light that transcends wisdom, alluded to by the straps of the Tefillin made of animal hide, of which the parchment of the Tefillin are produced. While the letters written on the parchment represent the light of G-d invested in the wisdom of the Torah, the blank white parchment surrounding the letters represents the essence of the light which transcends the light invested within the Divine wisdom.

Flee... Liken Yourself to a Gazelle... on Spice Mountains

The woman is in the garden with her beloved. He tells her that their friends are present and listening. He requests to hear her beautiful voice. Her response, which is the concluding verse of the song, is that he must flee to the spice mountains. He must escape with her and run to a place where they can be alone and enjoy an exclusive intimate connection. As the final two verses of the song describe:

You, who sit in the gardens the friends hearken to your voice; let me hear [it].

Flee, my beloved, and liken yourself to a gazelle or to a fawn of the hinds on the spice mountains." (Song of Songs 8:13-14)

The Historical Perspective:

While the Jewish people are in the gardens of strangers throughout the exile, scattered throughout the world, they sit in the synagogues and study halls studying Torah. The "friends," the heavenly angels, descend to hear the sweet, beautiful words of Torah study and prayer. As Rashi explains:

You, who sit in the gardens: The Holy One, blessed be He, says to the congregation of Israel, "You, who are scattered in exile, grazing in the gardens of strangers and sitting in synagogues and study halls…"

the friends hearken to your voice: The ministering angels, your friends, children of God like you, hearken and come to listen to your voice in the synagogues.

The song's final verse is the request of the Jewish people that G-d redeem us and flee with us back to the Temple mountain in Jerusalem, where we will experience the ultimate unification and intimacy with G-d. In Rashi's words:

Flee, my beloved: from this exile and redeem us from among them.

and liken yourself to a gazelle: to hasten the redemption and to cause Your Shechinah to rest.

on the spice mountains: This is Mount Moriah and the Temple, may it be built speedily and in our days, Amen.

The Chassidic Perspective

The infinite light of G-d must be contracted and limited to allow for the creation of the physical and spiritual worlds. In Kabbalistic terminology, the infinite light is called the light of "sovev kol almin", the light which encompasses all the worlds, for it is far too powerful to be felt and internalized within creation. The ray of the infinite light responsible for all of creation is called the light of "Mimale Kol Almin", the light that fills the worlds. The final two verses of the song address these two forms of Divine light.

"You who sit in the gardens" refers to the souls in the heavenly Paradise, the Garden of Eden. The souls bask in the ray of Divine light as a reward for their Divine service in this world. "Gardens" in the plural, refer to the two general levels of Paradise, the Lower Garden of Eden (corresponding to the world of "formation") and the Higher Garden of Eden (corresponding to the world of "creation"). While the soul in Paradise experiences the intense pleasure of understanding Divine wisdom, its experience is limited to the ray of the infinite light because the mind cannot grasp the essence of the infinite light.

The final verse of the song refers to the ultimate connection to the essence of G-d, which we will experience in Messianic times, after the resurrection, when the soul will once again be enclothed within the physical body. "Flee" represents the leap of the Divine light to express itself within the physical reality. The physical reality is unique in that it was created ex nihilo; it did not evolve from a different form, rather it was created from nothing. For it is rooted not in the finite light but the infinite lite, which possesses the ability to create. As explained in Tanya: "For the light is like its source, i.e., the nature and essence of the blessed Emanator, whose Being is of His essence, and He is not, Heaven forfend, caused by some other cause preceding Himself. He alone, therefore, has it in His power and ability to create something out of absolute naught and nothingness, without this "something" having any other cause preceding it."

On spice mountains: the ultimate intimacy with the infinite light is likened to a spice, which generates pleasure despite not being internalized within the person (in contrast to food which enters the bloodstream).

(Ohr Hatorah, Hayosheves Baganim)


The Concluding verse of the song, is reminiscent of a verse in chapter 2: "go around; liken yourself, my beloved, to a gazelle or to a fawn of the hinds, on distant mountains," which, while expressing the opposite theme, the theme of separation, is worded very similar to the final verse. The conventional reading of the Song of Songs is that the song describes the ups and downs of a relationship. It describes the positive moments of love and the dark moments of separation, pain, and alienation. Perhaps we can summarize that one of the revolutionary points of the Chassidic interpretation is that the dark moments are not merely unfortunate setbacks; rather, they are a catalyst to even more profound commitment and love. While the conventional reading would prefer, both in our personal relationships as well as in our people's collective relationship with G-d, a life without the alienation and separation, the Chasidic interpretation explains that it is precisely in the challenging times, in the darkness of the soul's descent into the physical world, and in the pain of exile, when we reach deeper dimensions within our connection to G-d. It is specifically through the pain of the "mountains of separation", do we reach the most profound connection in the "mountains of spice."