Shiur #17: Shir Ha-Shirim 8:8-14

  • Rav Tzvi Sinensky
 
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Dedicated by Mr. and Mrs. Leon Brum for the Refua Sheleima of
Dana Petrover (Batsheva bat Gittel Aidel Leba)
and Marvin Rosenberg (Meir Chaim ben Tzipporah Miriam)
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In memory of six friends and family, 
strong pillars of the Montreal Jewish community, 
who have left us in the past 7 years. 
All were אוהבי עם ישראל, אוהבי ארץ ישראל, אוהבי תורת ישראל.
Joseph (Yosie) Deitcher
Avrum (Avy) Drazin
Rabbi Joseph Drazin
Leibel Frisch
Israel (Mutch) Yampolsky
Dr. Mark Wainberg
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In verses 8-9, we are introduced to a perplexing dialogue that seems to enter the narrative out of nowhere:
 
We have a little sister, Whose breasts are not yet formed. What shall we do for our sister When she is spoken for?
 
If she be a wall, We will build upon it a silver battlement; If she be a door, We will panel it in cedar.
 
Who is this “little sister,” and why do the brothers seek to compare her to a wall or door?
 
So unusual is this passage that Malbim claims that this section in fact introduces a new character – the ra’aya’s younger sister – and represents a coda to the entire work. (See shiur 7 of this series for an extended presentation of Malbim’s novel approach.) 
 
More simply understood, these verses are intended to take us full circle to the ra’aya’s brothers, with whom the book began. Immediately, we are apprehensive at the very mention of the brothers, whom the ra’aya earlier described as having mistreated her.
 
Apparently, in our verses the brothers seek to protect her. The “day” presumably refers to her wedding day, and the wall or door is a reference to her wedding gift. They choose to protect her during her wedding day, which suggests that they do not see her as sufficiently mature for marriage, and possibly even that they seek to stop her from consummating a sexual relationship.
 
It is plausible that they genuinely mean well; this, at least, is how Da’at Mikra reads the verses. But in light of the brothers’ behavior at the beginning of the sefer, we have reason to suspect otherwise. Be that as it may, the point remains the same. The two metaphors they offer – the wall and door – represent that which is closed off. The brothers are biased toward seeing her as completely closed – perhaps as physically immature, perhaps as emotionally incapable of forming deep, lasting relationships, and perhaps both. Indeed, as we have seen, there was a point at which she might have seen herself as incapable of establishing a meaningful relationship.
 
Yet her response is telling as to just how far she has come and how far off the mark is the brothers’ assessment:
 
I am a wall, My breasts are like towers. So I became in his eyes As one who finds favor.
 
Her response suggests a number of observations. First, she could have easily responded to both metaphors, that of the wall and door. Instead, she insists that she is a wall, not a door. The fact that she firmly opts for one of the two metaphors clearly suggests her independence and maturity, which she is proudly asserting.
 
Second, while the brothers may or may not have intended the metaphors to be interchangeable, her choice of the wall is presumably significant. A wall would appear to be a far greater symbol of strength than a door. She likely chooses this metaphor in order to underscore her strength. The image of the wall also leads nicely into her invocation of a tower, which further underscores her overall message.
 
Third, earlier her breasts were referenced by way of allusion to the imagery of a wall. Yet tellingly, while previously it was the dod who describes her in this fashion, here she describes herself as sexually mature. This is precisely the point of her response: the brothers have missed the boat. They are simply too late. She has already matured on her own and has no need for their brotherly protection, well-intended or otherwise.
 
Moreover, in light of our analysis of the ra’aya’s character development throughout the sefer, it seems likely that her response regards more than her physical maturity. She has learned to take responsibility for herself and her own decisions, and she no longer needs to be dependent on others. Her physical maturity is merely an indication of her overall emotional maturation, to which her brothers have not been privy.
 
This leads us to the concluding clause of this section, “So I became in his eyes As one who finds favor.” What exactly does this mean? Rashi (s.v. hayiti) explains that when she said this, she was like a bride who finds peace in her groom’s house. Along similar lines, Metzudat David (s.v. az) suggests that she became respected like someone who chased peace and found it.
 
Yet these explanations are somewhat opaque. How do we understand this verse, and what do Rashi and Metzudat David have in mind?
 
On one level, the verse simply refers to the fact that the ra’aya has found peace inasmuch as she has found her beloved. But there seems to be a deeper transformation underway. She has found peace with herself through the process of finding her beloved.
 
Indeed, this final clause represents a play on the word “Shulamit” (7:1), and use of the term shalom throughout the sefer. The name indicates that she found peace and herself – which are one and the same. Despite her difficult childhood, she has managed to find herself and find peace with her lot.
 
But our verse goes one final step further. Crucially, she stresses not just that she has found peace, but that the dod now perceives her in this way. At the very outset of the sefer, he had spurned her right after she tried to justify her appearance. While we don’t know why he spurned her, the juxtaposition suggests that it might be because he recognizes that she was not yet emotionally prepared for a relationship. Now, by the book’s end, he recognizes that she truly has found inner peace and is ready to engage fully in their relationship.
 
8:11-14
 
We will now examine the concluding four verses of Shir Ha-Shirim, which divide into two subsections, verses 11-12 and 13-14. The first two pesukim read:
 
Solomon had a vineyard In Baal-Hamon. He had to post guards in the vineyard: A man would give for its fruit A thousand pieces of silver.
 
I have my very own vineyard: You may have the thousand, O Solomon, And the guards of the fruit two hundred!
 
Although Malbim, following his general view that the final six verses of Shir Ha-Shirim are a “song” unto their own, seeks to link these verses directly to the previous pesukim, these two verses seem to stand on their own. What, then, is the intention of this parable regarding the vineyard of Shlomo? 
 
We may begin with a more technical note. Where or what is Ba’al Hamon? Ibn Ezra (millim, s.v. be-va’al) claims that it is the name of a place. Da’at Mikra (p. 73) cites two possible renderings: one, that it refers to Gei Hamon, the site of the messianic vision in Yechezkel 39:11-16; and two, more prosaically, it might simply refer to a field that produces “hamon,” much bounty. Rashi similarly explains that it is a field that will add to the bounty of what is already present.
 
What is the larger point of the mashal? Malbim explains that the woman is declining to receive a portion in Shlomo’s field. As Da’at Mikra puts it: “This is the ra’aya’s response to the words of the song: I do not desire the wealth of King Shlomo, and I don’t want to hear what happens regarding [his fields]... May the thousand be yours, Shlomo.” On this reading, the woman recognizes that those who tend to Shlomo’s field are indeed quite wealthy. Yet she declines the opportunity to receive a portion in his field – possibly referring to the financial benefits that accompany royal marriage – and instead is satisfied with her own lot.
 
This recalls the episode in the middle of the book, which also concerned Shlomo – the scene of his wedding. According to our reading, in that episode she declines to pursue a marriage with a king, instead preferring to pursue her true beloved. Ultimately, she is satisfied with her lot, financially and personally: “karmi sheli lefanai, my vineyard is before me,” and that is all I need. Here, as throughout the sefer, the references to nature are stand-ins for the nature of their relationship.
 
We now finally reach the last two pesukim of Shir Ha-Shirim:
 
O you who linger in the garden, A lover is listening; Let me hear your voice.
 
“Hurry, my beloved, Swift as a gazelle or a young stag, To the hills of spices!”
 
It is an ambiguous ending, to say the least. The dod seems to be calling out to her, inviting her to sing for the dod and his friends. She responds in ambiguous language, encouraging her beloved to flee to the hills of spices.
 
Of course, the million dollar question is whether or not she expects that he will run there along with her or alone. One Talmudic passage seems to underscore the darker reading of her intentions:
 
R. Abba said that R. Shimon ben Lakish said: When two Torah scholars listen to each other in the discussion of Halakha, the Holy One, Blessed be He, hears their voice, as it is stated: “You who dwell in gardens, the companions heed your voice, cause me to hear it” (Shir Ha-Shirim 8:13).
 
And if they do not do so [i.e., they do not listen to each other], they cause the Divine Presence to depart from among Israel, as it is stated in the following verse: “Run away, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young hart upon the mountains of spices” (ibid. 8:14). (Shabbat 63a)
 
The gemara clearly reads the final verse as a call for the beloved to run away on his own.
 
The gemara notwithstanding, the majority of commentators read the conclusion in a more optimistic light. For instance, Metzudat David (s.v. berach) reads the conclusion metaphorically, explaining that the Jews and God will speak privately at the hills of spices, meaning without any other God. Rashbam (to verse 13) similarly explains that her response is not intended to deflect her beloved, but quite the opposite. She only wants to sing privately for her beloved. Anything else would be immodest. (Ibn Ezra, s.v. ve-imri, says much the same.)
 
Da’at Mikra (p. 75) further notes that as opposed to the earlier reference, these verses conclude “al harei besamim, on the hills of spices,” to stress that the conclusion is intended in a positive vein.
 
Why, then, does the sefer end in this way? In the view of some, such as R. Soloveitchik (U-Vikashtem Mi-Sham), the point is that the courtship between God and the Jewish People is never fully resolved, but is a never-ending drama.
 
But in light of our reading of the sefer, another interpretation presents itself. No longer is the ra’aya the recipient of others’ instructions. Now she is the one who wears the pants in the family. Accordingly, she will not simply sing for just anyone; she will only sing for her beloved.