Song of Songs and Passover

Why do we read Song of Songs on Passover?

  • There's a mention of Pharaoh
  • The Zohar tells us that Song of Songs embodies the entire Torah, the story of the exile in Egypt, and the redemption of Israel from there, as well as from the other oppressors, so that by reading it we are enhancing the mitzvah of recounting the story of the Exodus.
  • Another reason for reading Song of Songs [is] that Passover is a time of love between G-d and Israel, who entered into a covenant and became betrothed to Him through the Exodus from Egypt, which Song of Songs emphasizes.
  • The rabbis claim that the verse in Song of Songs refers to the passage through the Red Sea. In the Song of Songs, the beloved calls to his lover to come out of hiding and show her face. This is seen as a parallel of the verse in Exodus (14:13) in which the people are called upon to “stand forth and see.” It has been taught that Song of Songs Rabbah consistently sees Song of Songs as referring to either the crossing of the sea or the revelation at Mt. Sinai.

What's the connection between Song of Songs and Passover?

Possible Connection #1

(י) עָנָה דוֹדִי וְאָמַר לִי קוּמִי לָךְ רַעְיָתִי יָפָתִי וּלְכִי לָךְ. (יא) כִּי הִנֵּה הסתו [הַסְּתָיו] עָבָר הַגֶּשֶׁם חָלַף הָלַךְ לוֹ. (יב) הַנִּצָּנִים נִרְאוּ בָאָרֶץ עֵת הַזָּמִיר הִגִּיעַ וְקוֹל הַתּוֹר נִשְׁמַע בְּאַרְצֵנוּ. (יג) הַתְּאֵנָה חָנְטָה פַגֶּיהָ וְהַגְּפָנִים סְמָדַר נָתְנוּ רֵיחַ קוּמִי לכי [לָךְ] רַעְיָתִי יָפָתִי וּלְכִי לָךְ.

(10) My beloved spoke, and said unto me: ‘Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. (11) For, lo, the winter is past, The rain is over and gone; (12) The flowers appear on the earth; The time of singing is come, And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land; (13) The fig-tree putteth forth her green figs, And the vines in blossom give forth their fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.

What themes do we see in this primary text that might connect it to Passover?

Possible Connection #2 (Song of Songs Rabbah IV:16:1): “Blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out.” R. Huna said in the name of R. Joshua b. R. Benjamin b. Levi: In this world when the south wind blows the north wind does not blow, and when the north wind blows the south wind does not blow. But in the time to come God will bring a strong clearing wind on the world and drive on the two winds together so that both will be in action, as it is written, “I will say to the north: Give up, and to the south: Keep not back” (Isa. 43:6).

Extrapolation on this (Milton Steinberg "Inviting the North Wind"): For a Yizkor sermon on Pesah, Steinberg...focuses on the winds: while the South Wind comes from Egypt and is warm, moist, and fragrant, the North Wind is from Anatolia and Armenia, from the hills of snow and cold. Flowers that only know the South Wind are frail and do not attain full beauty, which is why the poet invokes the North Wind. This is not about nature but about the spirit. On Yizkor, we think about the North Wind and how it has blown our lives apart. While we all want the South Wind, we need the North Wind, adversity and struggle, to teach us strength of character and sympathy for others.

Possible Connection #3
(יד) יוֹנָתִי בְּחַגְוֵי הַסֶּלַע בְּסֵתֶר הַמַּדְרֵגָה הַרְאִינִי אֶת מַרְאַיִךְ הַשְׁמִיעִינִי אֶת קוֹלֵךְ כִּי קוֹלֵךְ עָרֵב וּמַרְאֵיךְ נָאוֶה.

(14) O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the covert of the cliff, Let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; For sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely.’

R. Eliezer decoded the verse in the 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” [Ex. 15:1]
  • 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” [Ex. 15:2].
What about today? What about us?
(ד) מָשְׁכֵנִי אַחֲרֶיךָ נָּרוּצָה הֱבִיאַנִי הַמֶּלֶךְ חֲדָרָיו נָגִילָה וְנִשְׂמְחָה בָּךְ נַזְכִּירָה דֹדֶיךָ מִיַּיִן מֵישָׁרִים אֲהֵבוּךָ.

(4) Draw me, we will run after thee; The king hath brought me into his chambers; We will be glad and rejoice in thee, We will find thy love more fragrant than wine! Sincerely do they love thee.

Extrapolation on this (Song of Songs Rabbah 1:4:3): R. Berekhiah in the name of R. Judah b. R. Ilai: “It is written, ‘And Moses led Israel onward from the Red Sea’” (Ex. 15:22): “He led them on from the . . . sea. “They said to them, ‘Moses, our lord, where are you leading us?’ “He said to them, ‘To Elim, from Elim to Alush, from Alush to Marah, from Marah to Rephidim, from Rephidim to Sinai.’ “They said to him, ‘Indeed, wherever you go and lead us, we are with you.’ “The matter is comparable to the case of one who went and married a woman from a village. He said to her, ‘Arise and come with me.’ “She said to him, ‘From here to where?’ “He said to her, ‘From here to Tiberias, from Tiberias to the Tannery to the Upper Market, from the Upper Market to the Lower Market.’ “She said to him, ‘Wherever you go and take me, I shall go with you...” Said R. Yose b. R. Iqa, “And lo, a verse of Scripture itself proclaims the same point: ‘Draw me, after you let us make haste.’” “If it is from one verse of Scripture to another of Scripture, if it is from one passage of the Mishnah to another passage of the Mishnah, if it is from one passage of the Talmud to another passage of the Talmud, if it is from one passage of the Tosefta to another passage of the Tosefta, if it is from one aspect of narrative to another aspect of narrative.” -- Song of Songs Rabbah 1:4:3

(ט) דּוֹמֶ֤ה דוֹדִי֙ לִצְבִ֔י א֖וֹ לְעֹ֣פֶר הָֽאַיָּלִ֑ים הִנֵּה־זֶ֤ה עוֹמֵד֙ אַחַ֣ר כָּתְלֵ֔נוּ מַשְׁגִּ֙יחַ֙ מִן־הַֽחֲלֹּנ֔וֹת מֵצִ֖יץ מִן־הַֽחֲרַכִּֽים׃
(9) My beloved is like a gazelle or a young hart; Behold, he standeth behind our wall, He looketh in through the windows, He peereth through the lattice.