Torah Reading: Exodus 33:12 - 34:26 & Numbers 28:19 - 28:25
When we gather together for Shabbat and Pesach services tomorrow morning, we will devote a few moments to reading "Shir HaShirim" / The Song of Songs.
Each of the three Pilgrimage Festivals of the Jewish year (Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot) are established in the Jewish calendar in the Torah and are enhanced by the reading of a book from the third section of the Hebrew Bible, The Writings. On Passover we read The Song of Songs (Shir Hashirim), on Shavuot we read the book of Ruth and on Sukkot we read Ecclesiastes (Kohelet). Each of these additional readings relates to some element of the festival it enhances.
Shir Hashirim, the text assigned to Passover, highlights one of the names of this festival: Chag Ha'Aviv . . . the Spring Festival. Much of the imagery in Song of Songs conveys the sights, sounds and colors of spring in the Land of Israel. But there is an even more profound connection between the Song of Songs and Passover.
In the Babylonian Talmud, we have a front row seat as the sages of the late antique period debate the virtues of the book, Song of Songs. Their discussion centers on whether this enchanting text belongs in the official canon of the Hebrew Bible or not. Why is there any question about this? One reason is that the name of God does not appear at all. Another reason is that the book is largely a passionate love poem! Most of the sages were against including this book in the Hebrew Bible. Until Rabbi Akiva spoke up. Rabbi Akiva explained that this is the story of the passionate love between God and Israel and as such should have pride of place in the Hebrew Bible.
So here we are, in the middle of the Festival of Passover . . . the holiday in which we relive that iconic moment that demonstrates God's love for b'nai Yisrael, the children of Israel. The events of Passover, when God saves Israel from Egyptian slavery, has become the iconic moment of God's love for us. How fitting that our celebration of this moment should include the "love poem" of Song of Songs on the Shabbat of Passover.