by Rabbi Sydni
Saturday, April 3rd, 2021
Sacred, Romantic Love in Shir HaShirim
Many of us know all too well the feeling that prompts God’s statement about Adam in the second chapter of Genesis: לא טוב היות האדם לבדו - It is not good for the man to be alone (Gen. 2:18). We have all been lonely before, perhaps more so with the isolation inherent to the past year, whether we have missed friends and family, or whether it has felt particularly difficult for us to find love. We are human beings, and even those of us with enough hobbies to keep us occupied for a long time have an inherent need for human companionship. We each need a person or people in our lives to offer us love and support. And for many of us, we are lucky enough to find one person to be our עזר כנגדו, a fitting helper for us, someone who makes us feel part of a complete whole. In Jewish text and tradition, when we find that partnership of רעים אהובים - loving friends - we embrace the sacred.
Even (or perhaps, especially) in our Biblical canon, love and marriage are not just contractual obligations, and they are not just about creating more Israelites. Shir HaShirim, the Song of Songs, exemplifies love as partnership and as a path towards joy. Throughout our Song, the lovers call each other דודי (my beloved) and רעי (my friend). Their passionate love is mutual, as the female lover says, דודי לי ואני לו - My beloved is mine, and I am his (2:16). As was mentioned in a discussion during last night’s service, the graphic intensity of love in Shir HaShirim is passionate on its own, but the true holiness arises when the listener or reader recognizes that that passion is consensual. This is not a relationship built on finance or children alone, but rather, on desire for one another, on the adventure of mutual seeking.
At one moment in our Song, one of the lovers cries out to Love itself: How fair you are, Love, how beautiful! With all of your delight! (7:7). This relationship, this paradigm of love that the Talmudic Rabbi Akiva calls the Holy of Holies, is fueled by joyful wonder. On this Pesah upon which we are commanded - ושמחת בחגך - you shall be happy on your holiday, what would it mean to re-embrace that delight and adventure in our loving relationships? In a year in which we have spent a good amount of time at home, doing much of the same each day, what would it mean to surprise a loved one with fresh flowers or a fancy outing or something new and exciting? For those who are single, what would it mean to either reignite the hope for a partner, or instead, to dig deeper into what brings you meaning and fun in your decidedly non-romantic relationships?
Yes, love can certainly be practical. As Shlomo (Solomon) writes in another book said to be penned by the great king, “Two are better off than one.” They earn more together, they raise one another up, they defend each other from attackers, and they keep each other warm at night; being in a loving couple has concrete practical benefits. But I believe that in order for strength and support in any relationship to endure, a desire and appreciation for one another must exist. We need memories of delight and joy in order to stay positive and to communicate clearly when times are tough. Loving relationships need excitement and fun if they are to truly approach the sacred.
When we generate the joy of finding our עזר כנגדו, our דודי, our רעי, our gratitude has the potential to spill out into gratitude for the rest of God’s Creation, to transform into new energy for pursuing the good. Before we truly know how to love God, we must first experience the sort of passionate - I’d do anything for you - human love detailed in Shir HaShirim. As we listen to Shir HaShirim today, I challenge you to ask what our text teaches us about our own human, romantic relationships. Shabbat Shalom and Hag Sameah.