“My beloved called out and said to me, ‘Arise my love, my fair one, and come away. For see, the winter has passed, the rain is over and gone. The flowers have appeared in the land, the time for song has come, and the voice of the turtle dove is heard in our land.’”
--Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs), 2:10-12
“All of the Writings are holy, but the Song of Songs is the holy of holies.”
We associate Pesach (Passover) with the Song of Songs. Indeed, we have a tradition that Rabbi Akiva, who called the Song of Songs the holy of holies, was the Baal Ha-Hagaddah, the author of the Hagaddah, the text that guides the Pesach seder. Many have the custom of reading Shir HaShirim on the night of Pesach, after the seder. Ashkenazic communities read Shir HaShirim publicly on Shabbat Choel Moed Pesach (the Sabbath that falls during the intermediate days of the Passover festival). What is behind this strong association?
A parable, based on a drash I once heard from Rabbi Aaron Abend of Chabad of North Hollywood:
Once there was a young couple, whom we will call Shlomo and Yisraela. Just before they became engaged, Shlomo told Yisraela, “If you want to marry me, you will need to follow me out to the desert, where I live. It’s a real wilderness out there. Let’s have you visit the place, and take seven weeks to learn what life is like there and what I will expect from you when we are married.”
Yisraela was so in love she would have followed Shlomo anywhere. So she agreed, and on the eve of their engagement, she tried to make a special dinner for Shlomo, a roasted lamb, just the way he liked it, and her first attempt at baking bread. Well, she burned the roast, and the bread did not rise, and to tell the truth, it was a little burnt also. But they were in love, so they laughed it off. Yisraela even saved a bone from the roast and a piece of the burnt flat bread as mementos.
Yisraela followed Shlomo out to the desert, the seven weeks passed, and they were married. Shlomo and Yisraela even built a beautiful home where they would dwell together.
However, as the years passed, Yisraela’s devotion to Shlomo waned. She flirted with some other guys. Shlomo moved out, and one night, after he saw her with another guy, he burned the house down.
So Yisraela and Shlomo lived apart, but Shlomo did not seek a divorce, and, indeed, was always there when Yisraela stumbled to help her get back on her feet. Every year, on the anniversary of their engagement dinner, Yisraela would again make dinner for Shlomo. She would bring out the burnt bone and burnt flat bread from her memento box, and she would say to Shlomo, “You see Shlomo! Do you remember how crazy in love we were? How when I was your young bride, and made our engagement dinner, I burned the roast and the bread, but we laughed about it? How I followed you out to the desert? I still love you that way! Please take me back!”
And Shlomo would reply, “Yisraela, when I know that you really mean what you say, and I will someday soon, then I will take you back, I will rebuild the house, we will live together again, and we will love one another even more than before.”
That is why we read Shir HaShirim on Pesach. That is why we put the matzoh and the roasted shank bone on the seder plate, along with the bitter herbs and tears of our long estrangement from HaShem. That is also why Shlomo haMelech (King Solomon, who is not the Shlomo in our parable) wrote Shir HaShirim in romantic, actually erotic language. At the time of yetziat Mitzraim (the Exodus from Egypt) and matan Torah (the giving of the Torah), we were like new lovers. HaShem (literally, "the name," the appellation that religious Jews use for God in conversation other than prayer) has never stopped loving Am Yisrael (the Jewish people) like a loving, faithful husband loves the bride of his youth, even if she goes astray. The alienation is our own fault; it is we who drifted away. We need to use Pesach and the Sederim (the seder meals) to recapture the feeling of love for HaShem that we felt when we went out from Mitzraim (Egypt), the way new lovers feel for one another. We need to tell HaShem that we once again feel the love of HaShem the way we did then, and that we know that HaShem has always loved us that way. Then our Beloved will surely take us back, and we will merit to see the coming of Mashiach (the Messiah), the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash (the Temple in Jerusalem), and our final redemption, bimheirah vyamenu (soon and in our days).
“Go and proclaim in the ears of Yerushalayim [Jerusalem], saying, “So said HaShem, I remember for your sake the kindness of your youth, the love of your bridal days, how you followed Me in the wilderness, in an unsown land.”--Yirmeyahu [Jeremiah] 2:2
“And she shall run after her lovers, but she shall not overtake them, and she shall seek them, but she shall not find them. Then she shall say, ‘I will go and return to my first husband, for then it was better for me than now.’
Therefore ,behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And I will give her vineyards from there, and the valley of troubling for a door of hope; and she will respond there, as in the days of her youth, and as in the day when she came up out of Egypt.” –Hoshea 2:9, 16-17.