by Micah Gimpel
The love song read on Shabbat every Passover (this year on the eighth day) captures the passion everyone should strive for in a relationship. Traditionally, Shir HaShirim, Song of Songs, alludes to the bond of love between Hashem and His people. This analogy to a human relationship only helps us better appreciate the complexity of a relationship and provides for us a frame of reference.
The love song read on Shabbat every Passover (this year on the eighth day) captures the passion everyone should strive for in a relationship. Traditionally, Shir HaShirim, Song of Songs, alludes to the bond of love between Hashem and His people. This analogy to a human relationship only helps us better appreciate the complexity of a relationship and provides for us a frame of reference (Rambam Hilchot Teshuvah, Chap. 10). However, the couple speaks in ambiguous metaphor, often obscuring the theme and making it difficult to understand their intent. Particularly, a garden occupies significant portions of their dialogue when describing the beauty of, and passion for, each other. Beyond the association with a beautiful scene, what does the garden symbolize and how does it better describe their relationship?
Rabbi Yehudah Felix, a scholar of Biblical Botany and Zoology, noticed an interesting paradox in the description of the garden in the fourth chapter. When the Dodee (the man in the love story) is complimenting the beauty of the Rayah (the woman), he details all the spices, flowers, and plants in the garden that he is imagining. The life and color of this garden reflect an attitude of hope. However, this garden, in reality, cannot exist. The variety of plant life is too diverse to be able to grow in one area. Some spices are indigenous to places where other plants simply cannot survive. In essence, the Dodee seems to be admitting the impossibility of their relationship. In his attempt to show his hope for the future, he betrays his goal by implying an unnatural and impossible relationship.
In truth, the Dodee purposefully described this impossible garden. However, the message was not to recognize their relationship as unnatural, but instead he accented its character as supernatural. Their love falls beyond the mundane natural world. The spice can grow together only within the context of their relationship, the flowers blossom only in light of their love, and the plants flourish only in their atmosphere. This supernatural garden characterizes the nature of their relationship.
Additionally, the metaphor of the garden illustrates more than being supernatural. It also alludes to the development and formation of their love. A garden provides an example of a small scene capturing the color and beauty that can exist throughout nature. Visualizing the vibrant colors and exotic smells animates this relationship founded in nature.
However, the plants do not appear naturally or arbitrarily; they are grown on purpose. The gardener planned each flower and spice in its proper place to ensure the beauty of the final product. Although the person walking by appreciates the immediate natural beauty of the scene, in reality the gardener spent many hours planning, tilling, and toiling in the field with the hopes of developing the garden of his dreams. Bypassers only see the fruits of his labor and recognize its beauty. Only the gardener remembers the seeds, the untilled land, and the strenuous work. The gardener has a different appreciation of the garden, recognizing its humble beginning and realizing its beautiful completion. He realizes that the comprehensive and thorough beauty of the garden is accomplished in direct proportion to the effort.
Similarly, a beautiful relationship is achieved only with effort. People require more than "chemistry" to find the beauty of a relationship. Although, like a garden, the relationship must have a natural foundation, it must be attended to. The passion given to a relationship will appear on the final product. Of course, a natural relationship should provide a basis, but only a conscious effort advances and deepens it, both with respect for other people and with Hashem.
This article was written for my older brother, Danny Gimpel, in honor of his recent marriage to my new sister-in-law, Avigail (Perlman) Gimpel. May they merit in having a relationship full of passion for each other similar to the natural-supernatural one described in Shir HaShirim. And through their love for each other, Hashem should help them build a Torah-true family within the Jewish nation.
Gimpel, a native Atlantan and graduate of Yeshiva University, is studying
at Yeshivat Har Etzion in Israel.