Rabbi Akiva's Issues, A
"Whoever trills the Song of Songs in banquet halls – and treats it like a mere lyric (zemer) – has no share in the world to come" (Sanhedrin 12).
The Song as Key to Unlock Torah's Meaning
The rabbis say: Do not let this mashal be light in your eyes, for by means of this mashal one comes to comprehend the words of Torah. A mashal to a king who has lost a golden coin from his house or a precious pearl – does he not find it be means of a wick worth a penny? Similarly, let not this mashal be light in your eyes, for by means of this mashal one comes to comprehend the words of Torah....
- Shir HaShirim Rabbah, translated in Boyarin, Intertextuality and the Reading of Midrash, 107
The one of the house of R. Ishmael teaches: in the hour in which Israel went out from Egypt, to what were they similar? To a dove which ran away from a hawk, and entered the cleft of a rock and found there a nesting snake. She entered within, but could not go in, because of the snake; she could not go back, because of the hawk which was waiting outside. What did the dove do? She began to cry out and beat her wings, in order that the owner of the dovecote would hear and come save her. That is how Israel appeared at the sea. They could not go down into the sea, for the sea had not yet been split for them. They could not go back, for Pharaoh was coming near. What did they do? "They were mightily afraid, and the children of Israel cried out unto the Lord" (Exod. 14:10), and immediately. "The Lord saved them on that day" (Exod 14:30).
- Shir HaShirim Rabbah, as translated in Boyarin, Intertextuality, 111
R. Eliezer decoded the verse in that hour that Israel stood at the sea. My dove in the cleft of the rock in the hiding place of the steep (Song 2:14), that they were hidden in the hiding place of the sea – Show me your visage; this is what is written. "Stand forth and see the salvation of the Lord" (Exod. 14:13) – Let me hear your voice; this is the singing, as it says, "Then Moses sang" (Exod. 13:1) – For your voice is lovely; this is the Song – And your visage is beautiful; for Israel were pointing with their fingers and saying, "This is my God and I will beautify Him." (Exod. 15:2)
- Shir HaShirim Rabba, translated in Boyarin, Intertextuality, 113
"And they stood (va-yityatzevu) at the base of the mountain" (Exod. 19:17).
They were gathered compactly. And their situation is referred to explicitly (meforash) in the Writings, "My dove in the cleft of the rock, hidden in the cliff" (Song 2:14).
R. Eleazar [disagreed and] said that this [Song verse] refers to the Sea [since that verse] continues, "Let me see (har'ini) your face" (ibid.), which is like what is stated [in the Torah when the people were at the Sea]: "Stand (hityatzevu) and see (u-r'u) the salvation of the Lord" (Exod. 14:13). [Moreover, the Song passage continues:] "Let me hear your voice," which is like [the adjacent Torah verse]: "And Pharaoh drew close...and the Israelites cried out to the Lord" (Exod. 14:10). [And further, the Song adds:] "For your voice (kol) is sweet," [which is like the passage:] "And their cry (kol) ascended to the Lord" (Exod. 2:23). [The Song also says:] "And your face is comely," [which corresponds to] "And the nation had faith" (Exod. 14:31).
- Mekhilta de-Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai, on Exod. 19:17, translated in JPS commentary
Midrash: R. Akiva's Issues with the Nations
This is my God, and I will beautify Him (Exod. 15:2). Rabbi Akiva says: Before all the nations of the world I shall hold forth on the beauties and splendor of Him-Who-Spoke-and-the-World-Came-to-Be! For, lo, the nations of the world keep asking Israel, "What is thy beloved more than another beloved, O most beautiful of women?" (Song 5:9), that for His sake you die, for His sake you are slain, as it is said, We have loved you unto death "for thus do the maidens love You (Song 1:3) – and it is said, "for Your sake we have been killed all the day" (Ps. 44:23). You are beautiful, you are heroes, come merge with us!
But Israel replies to the nations of the world: Do you know Him? Let us tell you a little of His glory: "My beloved is white and ruddy, braver than ten thousand. His head is purest gold; His hair is curls as black as a raven. His eyes are like doves by springs of water.... His cheeks are like perfumed gardens.... His palate is sweetmeats and He is all delight; This is my beloved and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem" (Song 5:10ff.).
And when the nations of the world hear all of this praise, they say to Israel, Let us go along with you, as it is said, "Whither is your beloved gone, O thou fairest among women? Whither has your beloved turned, that we may seek Him with you?" (Song 6:1).
But Israel replies to the nations of the world: You have no part of Him; on the contrary, "My beloved is mine, and I am His; I am my beloved's, and He is mine; He feedeth among the lilies" (Song 2:16 and 6:3).
- Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael, translated in Boyarin, Intertextuality, 118
Midrash: Degradation of Exile, Hope for Redemption
Once R. Yohanan ben Zakkai was going up to Emmaus in Judea, and he saw a girl picking barley corns from the excrement of a horse. He said to his disciples: "You see this girl – what is she?" They answered: "She is a Jewish girl." "And to whom does she belong?" "To [a foreign] horseman," they answered. Then R. Yohanan said to his disciples: "All my life I have been bothered by the verse If you do not know, O fairest of women, go follow the tracks of the sheep (Song 1:8). I would read it but not know what it meant [until now]: If you do not know [means:] you were unwilling to be subject to God, therefore you are now subjugated to the most abased of the nations."
- Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Bahodesh, 1