Sefer Shir HaShirim – the Book of Song of Songs – is the fourth book in the Ketuvim (Writings) section of the Tanach.
The name of the sefer is derived from the very beginning of the sefer which states “The song of songs of Solomon.”
The name Shir HaShirim is a grammatical construction of the Hebrew which denotes that this is “the most exquisite of all the 1,005 songs composed by King Solomon” according to Ibn Ezra. The Targum states that the name denotes that this is the most exquisite song of “all the songs to [God] ever uttered by mankind. While Rashi notes that the name was chosen because it is the most exquisite song “of all songs to [God] ever uttered by the Jewish people.”1
Rabbi Akiva said: Far be it! No man in Israel disputed about the Song of Songs [by saying] that it does not render unclean the hands. For the whole world is not as worthy as the day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel; for all the writing are holy but the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies. (Yadayim 3:5)2
Some people consider the phrase “The song of songs of Solomon” to mean that the sefer was written by Solomon himself. The Talmud states however that this sefer was written Hezekiah and his colleagues and attributed to Solomon (Bava Batra 15a)3
In the Christian tradition, this sefer is known as the Canticle of Canticles (of simply Canticles) from the Vulgate title Canticum Canticorum (Song of Songs in Latin).4 It is also known as Aisma which is short for Aisma Aismaton (Greek – Song of Songs) in the Septuagint.
According to the Midrash, Sefer Shir HaShirim is interpreted as an allegorical representation of the relationship between God and Israel.5
Sefer Shir HaShirim is one of the five megillot. This sefer is traditionally read during Pesach on Shabbat Chol HaMoed by the Ashkenazim. This sefer is also traditionally read on Erev Shabbat each week in the Sephardic communities.
Song of Songs
Chapter 1: The Children of Israel express their longing to renew their close relationship with God and they remember the miracles God performed for them during the Exodus from Egypt. The Children of Israel declare to the Nations that even though they are tainted by the sin of the Golden Calf, they will remain God’s chosen people based upon worthy deeds and the merits of their forefathers. God’s kindness toward the Children of Israel exceeds their righteous deeds. God forgives the sin of the Golden Calf and the people praise Him for his righteousness and forgiveness.
Chapter 2: The Children of Israel remain faithful to God even through the hardships of exile. They willingly accepted the Torah that had been rejected by all the other Nations. The people yearn for the return of the presence of God in their midst. The people while in exile need Torah study to strengthen their spirits for even in the exile God’s mercy protects Israel. The Children of Israel warn the Nations to not come between them and God or they will pay the penalty. The people remember that their Exodus from Egypt was during the spring. It was God’s initial plan to bring the people to the Holy Land immediately in order to show them the Land while it was in full bloom. God and the Children of Israel have remained faithful to one another despite the temporary estrangement during the sin of the Golden Calf. Moses did not wait for time to pass but immediately began appeasing God on behalf of the people.
Chapter 3: During the accursed time of the wandering in the Desert the people searched for God. Moses attempted to appease God throughout this time but due to the people’s sins, Moses and Aaron did not receive visions during this time. The Divine Presence stood with the Children of Israel shortly after Moses and Aaron’s deaths when the people conquered the Canaanite kings. The Temple of Solomon was surrounded by sixty watches who were righteous and well-versed in Torah. The Temple is the physical manifestation of the unification of the Children of Israel.
Chapter 4: Just as a dove is faithful to its mate so are the Children of Israel faithful to God. They are willing to lay down their lives in order to sanctify God’s Name. They are praised for always keeping their promises. The Children of Israel’s spiritual fortress is the Chamber of Hewn Stone where the sages issued guidance to the people. Their greatest weapon was the Torah which was studied by these sages. The ingathered exiles will look out over the Land from the mountainous north and their hearts will be filled with joy. The prophet Elijah will return during the ingathering and will lead them to repentance. In the End Times, all Nations will recognize God’s Name and they will all bring sacrificial offerings to Jerusalem.
Chapter 5: King Cyrus of Persia permitted the Children of Israel to return to Israel and rebuild the Temple. Most of the Babylonian Jews did not want to return to the Land but after God sent the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, there was enthusiasm about rebuilding the Temple. Shortly after the Temple was rebuilt, God removed the spirit of prophecy from the Children of Israel. Ever since, they have longed to hear the voice of God. The Nations who persecuted the Children of Israel continuously asked who the God of Israel was that His people would lay down their lives for Him. The people respond that they remain faithful to God for mercy and judgment is in His hands. The world is taught that it is impossible to proclaim all of God’s praises. The Divine Providence works within the world in such ways that cannot be fathomed by humanity. The mitzvot of God are pleasing and His deeds fill a person with a sense of delight.
Chapter 6: One day the Nations will repent for all the evil they perpetrated against the Children of Israel and assist them in reuniting with God. The Children of Israel will acknowledge that they are not abandoned by God but He has only temporarily hidden Himself. God will remain loyal to His people just as they have remained loyal to Him. He will gather all the righteous souls of His children as one gathers roses. God calls upon them to turn to Torah while in exile so remember Him and His mitzvot. The Children of Israel’s uniqueness comes from their matriarchs and patriarchs who instilled in their descendants the everlasting love for God. One day the Nations will acknowledge this unique relationship between God and the Children of Israel. Even in exile, God will remain faithful to His children. Those who ignored God’s call to return to Jerusalem during the reign of King Cyrus however will cause them to remain in Babylonian exile.
Chapter 7: God implores the Children of Israel to return to the Holy Land. He declares that He and His angels will protect the people, sustain them, and bring about the rebuilding of the Temple. The Temple and the Chamber of Hewn Stone are the center of the world. This is the place where the Children of Israel come for the festivals. The leaders will nourish the people with the wine of Torah and lead them in righteousness and mitzvot. Torah study and prayers will give God pleasure and delight that know no bounds. The Children of Israel also call upon God to strengthen the faith of the outlying communities who do not have proper leaders and Torah instructors. The prayer and Torah study found in the synagogues and study halls express the Children of Israel’s love for God. Their performance of the mitzvot will bring the people rewards from the Divine Presence.
Chapter 8: The Children of Israel desire to know how to properly serve God. They yearn for the time when the obstacles will be removed and they can study Torah and perform mitzvot all the time. God’s children announce proudly their faith and trust in God as proven by their willingness to leave the relative safety of Egypt and follow God to a Land unseen. They left Mount Sinai spiritually reborn and with a willingness to lay down their lives for God. The unique relationship between God and the Children of Israel has always caused envy in the Nations. However, the Nations have never been able to put out the burning love the people have for God. When the End Times arrive, the Children of Israel will show concern for their lost brethren. God assures them that if the lost members of the tribes have not assimilated into the lands where they live they will be redeemed. In the End Times God will chastise the Nations for their oppression of His children. God will demand restitution of the Nations who will return everything that was extorted from them and compensate the Children of Israel’s leaders and Torah scholars.
1Aryeh Kaplan. The Living Nach: Sacred Writings. New York: Moznaim Publishing Corporation, 1998.
2I. Epstein. “Yadayim.” Soncino Babylonian Talmud. London: Soncino Press, 1949. [http://halakhah.com/pdf/taharoth/Yadayim.pdf]
3I. Epstein. “Bava Batra.” Soncino Babylonian Talmud. London: Soncino Press, 1949. [http://halakhah.com/pdf/nezikin/Baba_Bathra.pdf]
4Gerhard Gietmann. “Canticle of Canticles.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. [http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03302a.htm]
5Louis Jacobs. “Song of Songs.” myjewishlearning.com. My Jewish Learning. n.d. [http://www.myjewishlearning.com/texts/Bible/Writings/Song_of_Songs.shtml]