All of Torah is Holy, but the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies.
--Rabbi Akiva, Yaddayim (3:5)

For all our material prosperity and our technological marvels, it stillseems that something is missing from life. For all our successes, we in theWest don1t feel good about ourselves.

We're insatiable and we don't savor our achievements. We're medicated,materialistic, and divorced. Some say we've become shallow and havededicated our lives to insubstantial pursuits. Others accuse us of beingnarcissists, too self-absorbed to rise to the level of sacrifice of previousgenerations. Still others fault our ambition. We have no time forrelationships. We're all working too hard. We're driven by insecurity andfear.

All of the above are symptomatic of a more fundamental problem.

Simply put, we are bored. Bored with our jobs, our marriages, and ourexistence. Even our kids bore us. Why else would we sit them in front of TVand video games for hours on end rather than playing ball with them orreading them bedtime stories? If we weren1t bored, would we watch four hoursof TV a day? Would men and women date by going to the movies? Would husbandsand wives fantasize about other people when they are in bed together? And iflife really engaged them, would teenagers experiment with drugs?

The only thing that seems to excite is the absence of life: death andtragedy. A homicide bombing in Tel Aviv will gather a wealth of newscoverage, as will gruesome stories of dead American POWs. Murder and mayhem,rape and pillage - these are the stuff of our novels and movies. Liferequires drama to excite our interest, and drama comes in the form of thebetrayal of marriage rather than the honoring of its commitment, a cop shotby a drug dealer rather than walking a friendly neighborhood beat. A manwhose wife is leaving him told me the other day that what is compounding thepain of his divorce is how the whole community is suddenly talking aboutthem.

It's almost pornographic. They all want to see the train wreck of ourmarriage. Their lives are so dull, they need my tragedy for their perverseexcitement.

How did life become so ordinary?

Life lost its magic when it lost its eroticism. Eroticism, that elixir ofpassion, that thirsty desire to uncover the mystery of all life has to teach us, is noticeably absent from our being.

That is the reason, in my opinion, that the Jews have always read the Songof Songs (Song of Solomon) on the holiday of Passover, a holiday whichcelebrates the birth of our nationhood. Being freed of Egyptian slavery madeour bodies free, but it did not necessarily make our spirit come alive. Godwished to free us not only from the chains of slavery, but from the bane ofan unanimated existence. God did not wish for us simply to exist, but tolive; to subsist not merely with necessities, but with magic. For thisreason He gave us the Song of Songs to teach us the power of discovering anerotic existence.

The Song of Songs might seem like one of the least worthy books of theBible. Read the verses. You'll be scandalized. Here is but a sampling:

"O that you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth! For your love isbetter than wine." (1:2)

"Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, that feed amongthe lilies." (4:5)

"Your rounded thighs are like jewels, the work of a master hand. Your navelis a rounded bowl that never lacks mixed wine. Your belly is a heap of wheat, encircled with lilies." (7:1-2)

What is a long erotic love poem doing in the biblical canon? Believe it or not, it is considered the most sacred book of the Bible.

In a famous pronouncement, Rabbi Akiva declares: "The entire universe isunworthy of the day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel. For all the Books of the Bible are holy, but the Song of Songs is the holy of holies." (Yaddayim 3:5)

Other sages quoted in Midrash Rabba proclaim that that Song of Songs means"The best of songs, the most of songs, the finest of songs."

The book's erotic nature has led many scholars to interpret it inallegorical terms. Some of the ancient rabbis maintain that the song speaksof the Jewish people's love for the Torah. An even more widespreadunderstanding, adopted by the Midrash Rabba and by the later medieval Torahcommentators, is that the song describes the relationship not between twomortal beings, but between God and the Jewish people. The book is anallegory depicting in great detail the experiences of the nation in itsrelations with God from the Exodus down to the coming of the Messiah andthe rebuilding of the Third Temple.

Rashi writes that the song depicts the Jewish people as a widow yearning forher husband. Maimonides understands the Song of Songs as an extendedmetaphor for the love of the individual pious soul for God, not as an eroticdescription of human love.

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