We are already in the Hebrew month of Nisan, preparing our hearts and souls for the arrival of the Festivity with greater activities for the whole family: Pesach, the Jewish people’s Festival of Freedom from the yoke imposed by the Ancient Egyptians 3,300 years ago. Pesach’s celebration takes 7 days (7 + 1 in the Diaspora), which have as their main distinction the consumption of matzah and the prohibition of chametz, and, of course, the family gathering around the table and the reading of the Passover Haggadah, the story of the freedom of Egypt during the Seder of Passover.
We also read, on the Shabbat of Passover, the biblical book of Shir Hashirim, The Song of Songs. The reason our exegetes – traditional Bible commentators – teach us for this reading during Passover lies in two verses of that biblical book: the first verse refers to spring - Passover also being Chag HaAviv, the Spring Festival; the second one, evokes the departure from Egypt - the central motif of Pesach, Chag HaCherut.
The Song of Songs is the quintessential book of love for the Jewish people, narrating, in a vivid, poetic and moving way, the love and passion relationship between a man and a woman - with powerful images and descriptions of that love. If someone did not know that The Song of Songs is part of the Bible sanctified by the Sages of Israel, and read it for the first time, s/he would think that it is an ancient secular work of supreme and even erotic love. Surprisingly it was our Sages those who decided to include The Song of Songs as part of the Guiding Book of all the West, the Hebrew Bible, explaining that the loving characters of Shir HaShirim are God himself - the bridegroom - and the people of Israel – His bride... making Shir HaShirim's story an allegory in its entirety.
Researchers wondered how such a book of human love - with such detailed expressions of love between man and woman - was included among the other Holy Books of the Bible; how is it that a book that has the most human love as its central theme - and owner of phrases of high sensual content - could have made "a place" among the books of Psalms, Proverbs and others. The researchers' response is surprising because of its relevance: The Song of Songs was included in the Bible ... by popular outcry. The Children of Israel adored the 8 chapters of that book of love - and it was they who "demanded" its inclusion in the Hebrew Bible that would be the Road Map of the Jewish people - and of the entire West Civilization. Yes: our Sages explained the Song of Songs as an allegory of the deep, loving, meaningful and eternal bond between the Creator and the Bride that He chose for Himself - the Jewish people ... and, with this, our ancestors saw fulfilled their need to include the theme of human love in their Master Book - since the totality of human experience cannot be explained without organically including the theme of love, the most powerful feeling that links us to one another. The Morals of the West had to include Love - which so often sustains everything.
Love is the basis of Divine Creation. Love is, in immeasurable examples, the inspiration of human creation in the arts, music, literature, cinematography - sometimes romanticized and infantilized, sometimes respected and justly exalted. It is a fundamental part of the fulfillment of each one of us, human beings; that base that allows to establish strong families, consolidated marriages, memorable friendships for a lifetime, and gatherings of human beings through common causes. Love is a living and positive force, indispensable for the functioning of the whole society. The creators of contemporary music transmitted this to us with simplicity and forcefulness: John Lennon said that "All you need is love", to which Paul McCartney added: "And, in the end / the love you take / is equal to the love you make.”
In this year in which we were deprived of our loving hugs on so many occasions due to the forced confinement of the disastrous pandemic, we suffered more than ever the absence of that love that heals so much and cures so much. Pesach reminds us that its central value, the Freedom of a people, occurred within the framework of the love between God and our people liberated through Divine Love – we, who must learn to bond through love with each other to arrive at what is most sublime of our goals. That is the message of the Song of Songs and the one we need so much these days, where we begin to meet again with those we love in a warm and deep hug of solidarity.
May this Seder and all our future Seders be celebrated in times of liberation and redemption of our People and of all men and women of good deeds!
May God give us inspiration to respond with responsibly to the calls of Freedom.
And May God awards us to have a Passover of many gatherings, many hugs, a lot of family, a lot of love... and that all Humanity is freed from the challenge of this pandemic.
Chag Pessach Sameach!
Rabbi Carlos A. Tapiero
Deputy Director-General & Director of Education
Maccabi World Union
Photo courtesy Rabbi Carlos A. Tapiero