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Is there any rabbinic commentary/interpretation on Shir HaShirim (the Song of Songs) that emphasizes the holiness of love between a man and a woman?

At least from what I've encountered along the spectrum of commentaries, there are a few basic approaches:

  • The love of God and Israel (Targum, Midrash, Rashi, the standard interpretation)
  • The individual soul's yearning for God (Rambam, Malbim)
  • Kabbalistic union of God and Shekhinah (Ezra of Gerona, Zohar Midrash HaNeelam)
  • Pursuit of wisdom, dialogue between soul and intellect (Moshe Almosnino, David Maimonides)

Yet I've always felt Shir HaShirim also emphasized the holiness of kiddushin (marriage), the importance of connecting with a soulmate and building a Torah-based home.

Does anyone out here know of any such tradition?

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2 Answers 2

Malbim says there are two stories going on here;

King Solomon took a young shepherd girl to his palace, but she kept fleeing back to her shepherd-boy lover, despite all the treasures the palace had to offer.

This is an allegory for the soul trying to reach G-d. But still, it's a fascinating allegory.

Rabbi Mordechai Gifter z'l is quoted as saying the relationship between human and G-d is compared to two lovers because we can't understand how to love G-d if we don't love our spouse.

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

In light of the recent death of biblical scholar Amos Hakham, A recent blog posted an English translation of Hakham's Introduction to the commentary of the Da’at Mikra volume of Song of Songs (published by Mossad HaRav Kook, translated here by David S. Zinberg).

In the introduction, Hakham discusses the various traditional positions of interpreting the Song of Songs, which include the importance of the holy love between a man and a woman. Because of the beauty in his words, I'm quoting them directly:

The very nature of poetry is to portray circumstances more beautifully and more perfectly than they really are. Here too, the primary goal of the Song of Songs is to present an ideal portrait of the innocent love between a dod and his ra’eyah. But the descriptions are based on reality.

...

...it seems that the poet deliberately excluded the explicit form of God’s name from the text. Possibly, because the poems -- in their literal sense -- were originally meant to be recited as expressions of love between a groom and bride, it was feared that they might not always be recited in purity, and for this reason God’s name was omitted. It is also possible the omission contains a moral statement, related to Rava’s comment (Mo’ed Katan 18b), that a lover may not solicit divine intervention in the hope of marrying his love.

...

...although the natural, literal sense refers to the love between a flesh-and-blood dod and ra’eyah, by virtue of the fact that their love is wholesome, innocent, pure, and holy, it is worthy of serving as a representation and a model for a more exalted love. Support for such an approach can be found in the statements of the Sages and Jewish scholars throughout history. Indeed, while the Sages of the Midrash interpreted the Song of Songs’ love as that between Israel and God, they also interpreted it naturally, viewing the dod and the ra’eyah as two human beings. For example, in R. Yohanan’s exegesis of the verse, “I have come to my garden, my own, my bride” (5:1; see the commentary, in the poem’s summary section) [In the summary of that poem, Hakham cites Vayikra Rabba (9:6): “The Torah teaches you proper etiquette: A groom may enter the bridal chamber only after receiving his bride’s consent. First, (the bride) says, ‘Let my beloved come to his garden and enjoy its luscious fruits’ (4:16); and only then (in the next verse, the groom responds), ‘I have come to my garden, my own, my bride’ -dsz]. This is linked to the idea, appearing frequently in the literature of the Sages, that all aspects of marital relations are rooted in holiness and allude to holy matters. For this reason, the marriage blessings include the following: “The barren will surely rejoice when her children return to her joyfully. Blessed are you, God, who brings joy to Zion with her children.” From the formulation of this blessing, we may infer that the joy experienced by every bride and groom represents the joy associated with the redemption and the ingathering of the Diaspora. There are many kabbalistic teachings which take aspects of marital relations as symbols of lofty matters.

...

The fact that the prophets compare the covenant between God and Israel to the marriage covenant suggests that the latter is sacred and noble. The Sages have said, “If a married man and woman are worthy, God’s presence dwells with them” (Sotah 17a).

...

Thus, we may conclude, a variety of hermeneutics of the Song of Songs are possible: The literal interpretation, describing the love between a man and woman; the midrashic, referring to God’s love for his people; the hermeneutic which speaks of the devout’s love for God; the mystical interpretation, which is about the love that permeates all of creation.

I wish to thank David S. Zinberg for translating this lovely introduction.

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