Tuesday, April 15, 2008

“The House of Wine” – A Metaphor from the Song of Songs

Guest Post by Yosef ben Shlomo Hakohen

“The House of Wine” – A Metaphor from the Song of Songs

The “Song of Songs” is an allegorical love song between Israel and Hashem, and this love story is a theme of the Passover Festival. This is why there is a custom to chant the Song of Songs after the Passover Seder. In addition, Ashkenazic Jewish communities chant the Song of Songs on the Shabbos of the Intermediate Days of Passover, and this year, when there is no Intermediate Shabbos, it is chanted on the Seventh Day of Passover. I have attached a recording of a deep nigun which is sung to the following passage from the Song of Songs.

“He has brought me to the house of wine, and His banner upon me is love. Sustain me with dainties, spread out apples around me, for I am sick with love. His left hand is under my head and His right arm embraces me.” (Song of Songs 2: 4-6)

The following are some explanations of the above verses:

1. One of the metaphors for Torah within our tradition is “wine”; thus, the phrase, “He has brought me to the house of wine,” can be understood as a reference to our people being brought to the house of Torah study. The Midrash Rabbah and the Targum therefore interpret this phrase as a reference to Mount Sinai, where we received and studied the Torah.

Another example of wine as a metaphor for Torah is found in the following verse from the Book of Proverbs, where the wisdom of Torah proclaims: “Drink of the wine that I have mixed” (9:5). Why is the Torah compared to wine? Just as wine rejoices the heart, as it is written, “And wine that gladdens a person’s heart” (Psalm 104:15), so too, Torah rejoices the heart, as it is written, “The mandates of Hashem are upright, gladdening the heart” (Psalm 19:9).

The Midrash Tanchuma (Netzavim 3) cites the tradition that all the souls of our people throughout all the generations were present when the Torah was given; thus, each of our souls experienced joy within the “house of wine” on Mount Sinai.

The phrase, “His banner over me was love,” can be understood as a reference to the Torah as a banner of love. In this spirit, the Mishnah teaches that the giving of the Torah to Israel was a great act of love (Pirkei Avos 3:18). In addition, we become betrothed to our Beloved through the giving of the Torah, and our tradition finds an allusion to this idea in the following words:

“Hashem came from Sinai” (Deuteronomy 33:2) – “He went out towards them when they came to stand at the bottom of the mountain, like a groom who goes out to greet the bride.” (Commentary of Rashi, based on the midrashic commentary of the Mechilta, Parshas Yisro 17)

The idea that we are the bride of Hashem is expressed in the following statement where Hashem recalls our willingness to journey into a barren wilderness in order to receive the Torah:

“Thus said Hashem: ‘I recall for you the lovingkindness of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed Me into the wilderness, into an unsown land.’ ” (Jeremiah 2:2)

2. “Sustain me with dainties, spread out apples around me, for I am sick with love” (2:5). – According to one of the explanations of Midrash Rabbah, Israel is asking her Beloved to sustain her during the difficult exile with comforting teachings and stories, for she is lovesick for her Beloved.

The commentator, Metzudas David, adds another dimension to our understanding of the words, “I am sick with love.” He explains that Israel is seeking courage, strength, and comfort through the return of the Shechinah – the Presence of her Beloved. Israel is therefore saying, “My soul yearns for her.” The Shechinah expresses those Divine attributes that we understand as “feminine” – attributes that enable us to experience the immanence of Hashem.

3. “His left hand is under my head and His right arm embraces me.” The commentator, Rashi, interprets these words in the following manner: Israel, in her exile, recalls the loving Divine support and care during her journey in the wilderness, and these memories cause her to be lovesick for her Beloved.

According to Metzudas David, these words are Israel’s prayer to once again experience the closeness of her Beloved’s Shechinah.

The nigun in this recording was composed by Rabbi Yitzchak Alster, a disciple of Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner, a leading sage who headed the Chaim Berlin Yeshiva. The nigun and the words of this song are on an old record produced by the Chaim Berlin Yeshiva, called, “Torah Lives and Sings!” All the nigunim on this record were composed by Rav Hutner and his disciples. Click here to listen/download Yosef singing this niggun (mp3 format).

(Picture Courtesy of TodaysSenionsNetwork.com)

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Anonymous said...

Beautiful post!
Another connection between Shir Ha'Shirim and Pesach, is the theme of "Yedidus": the beloved/friendship/"hand in hand" relationship Hashem has with us and we can have with Him. Shir Ha'Shirim has been called "A Song of Yedidus" (Metzudas Dovid in his introduction to Shir Ha'Shirim), and the Yom Tom of Pesach is called by the Navi Yechezkel an "Eis Dodim" and is the tekufa in which the Jewish nation as a whole, earned the title of "Yedidim" of Hashem (see the Bracha right before Shemoneh Esrei for two sudden references to Yedidus in the context of Kerias Yam Suf!).
For more on the topic, the Dixie Yid has recently posted "Yedidus"-related shiurim from Rabbi Brazil (4/8/08) and Reb Yerachmiel (3/25/08). Thank you again to Yosef ben Shlomo Hakohen for sharing!

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

Thank you Mr. Anonymous!

The links to the two shiurim you referred to are here:



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