Anyone who thinks that studying the Hebrew Bible is dry, dusty, and dull should try the Song of Songs on for size. We Jews call it Shir HaShirim while my Christian friends may be more familiar with it as the Song of Solomon, but either way, it’s a pretty juicy read. It’ll wake you up — possibly to the point of needing a cold shower.
Awake, O north wind,
Come, O south wind!
Blow upon my garden,
That its perfume may spread.
Let my beloved come to his garden
And enjoy its luscious fruits! (Song of Songs, 4:16)
When you realize that the poem’s female voice is speaking in the above passage, and that the “garden” to which she invites her lover is exactly what your naughty mind is giggling about…. Well, in the words of George Takei, “Oh myyy!”
One of the things I love most about Torah* study is exploring the many layers of meaning that exist simultaneously and with equal truth. The plain-language interpretation of the Song of Songs is that we’re talking about erotic love between a man and a woman. That’s what the words mean in their basic sense. Right along with that meaning, though, are allegorical interpretations that have been around for a very long time: that the two lovers in the poem are also God and Israel, or perhaps God and a human being’s soul. All these interpretations can exist together, without one cancelling out the other, and they all have important things to tell us.
The very name of the month of Elul (אֱלוּל) can be read as an acronym for another phrase found in the Song of Songs: Ani l’dodi v’dodi li (אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי), which means “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” At this time of year, when we spend so much time reflecting on the distance our actions have put between ourselves and the Divine, I need that reminder of my constant connection with the ultimate Source of love.
* All Jewish text study is commonly referred to as “Torah study,” whether or not the text in question comes from the first five books of the Bible.
#BlogElul, the brainchild of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, invites participants to chronicle the month leading up to the Jewish High Holy Days through blog posts, photos, and other social media expressions.