Every Pesach, on Shabbat Chol Hamoed, Ashkenazim read “Shir HaShirim,” Song of Songs, in Shul. At first glance the “song” appears to be a love poem about a wife and husband who separate and, after much yearning, eventually reunite. Chazal, however, explain this poem to be an allegory in which the husband is Hashem and His wife is the Jewish nation. Bnei Yisrael sin and, after Hashem abandons them, they yearn to return to Him; after much pleading, He eventually accepts their Teshuva.
A few basic questions arise on Chazal’s interpretation. First and foremost, why do Chazal feel the need to explain Shir HaShirim in this manner? Why can’t it be that Shlomo Hamelech simply wrote a romance about two humans? Furthermore, if Chazal are correct, why did Shlomo Hamelech have to write Shir HaShirim in the form of an allegory? He could have stated outright that it is a love poem between Hashem and Bnei Yisrael! An additional question arises as to why, of all the holidays and special days of the year, we choose Pesach to read this particular Sefer.
To answer these questions, one needs to understand the relationship between Hashem and Bnei Yisrael throughout Jewish history and, specifically, Tanach. When Bnei Yisrael received the Torah at Har Sinai, Chazal comment (see Rashi to Devarim 33:2) that Hashem came down to the mountain like a “bridegroom who goes out to greet His bride.” The analogy goes even further to say that the Torah is the item that Hashem married us with. When a man marries a woman, one of the ways to acquire her is through money. He gives her the valued object and she is acquired unto him. Likewise, Hashem acquired Bnei Yisrael by giving us the Torah. The Tanach consistently refers to the relationship between Hashem and Bnei Yisrael as that of a husband and his bride.
The relationship between a husband and wife is one that transcends all other relationships. The love that is shared between married couples is more intense than that found by all other relationships, a direct result of the fact that the husband and wife give each other their entire lives, sharing all that they have. This can explain why the relationship between Hashem and Bnei Yisrael is compared to that of a husband and wife. Our connection to Hashem is supposed to be so strong and unyielding that the Torah chooses to utilize the metaphor of a similar relationship, the husband and wife, so that an average human can understand it and implement it.
This can help explain the saying of Rabbi Akiva who said “all the books of Tanach are holy, but Shir HaShirim is the holiest of holies”. Shir HaShirim expressed a passionate relationship between Hashem and Man. No other book of Tanach features the fire that Shir HaShirim depicts, the yearning to get close to Hashem in the same way that a Chatan yearns to reach out to his Kallah.
This still begs the question as to why we read this Sefer on Pesach. Again, the answer can be found in the parallel between a husband and wife. The central theme of Shir HaShirim is renewal. After a wife (i.e. Bnei Yisrael) disappoints her husband (i.e. Hashem), she yearns for her husband, and he, in turn, reunites with her. Even though Bnei Yisrael sin, Hashem gives us chance after chance to repent and return to Him.
This message of renewal is a major theme in the Exodus story. Chazal say that when Am Yisrael was in Egypt, they sank diminutively to the second-lowest level of impurity and, when they crossed the Red Sea, they were on the highest level of holiness. Exhibiting the same theme as Bnei Yisrael, Pesach occurs in the month of spring. Spring, the famous season of renewal and rebirth, is the time when man feels as if he just crawled out from the darkness of winter and has entered life for the first time.
The concept of renewal plays a tremendous role in a Frum family. The wife is separated from her husband during her days of Nidah, monthly. At the end of that time period, she goes to the Mikvah, a ritual bath that symbolizes renewal and rebirth, and she is permitted to return to her husband. It is almost as they re-wed monthly (see Nidah 31b). [Editor’s note: this explains, in part, why the divorce rate in the Orthodox community is a fraction of the rate outside the Orthodox community].
Separation and renewal play a great role in a Torah lifestyle. The connection between Hashem and Bnei Yisrael is likened to the relationship between a husband and wife because of the love which takes place even after we sin. Concordantly, Pesach, a time of renewal, is a time for us to draw close to Hashem and cleave to Him. It is a time to leave the past behind and repent. Each Jew is commanded to cling to Hashem and, clearly, Pesach is a time where this unique Mitzvah requires little effort.