Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Dear Abby Shebashamayim

Want proof that Shir Hashirim really is a metaphor for the God/Jewish people relationship, not "just" a love song? Here's what convinced me. (credit to R' Yoni Grossman)

השבעתי אתכם בנות ירושלם, בצבאות, או באילות השדה, אם-תעירו ואם-תעוררו את האהבה עד שתחפץ
(verse 2:7)
Crudely translated: "I make you swear, daughters of Jerusalem, by gazelles, or by the deer of the field, lest you awaken or arouse the love until is desired."

Now, people usually swear by God, their life, their soul, their honor, Satan - there is a short list of entities whom it is worth swearing to. Needless to say, gazelles and the deer of the field are not on that list. The phrasing is thus utterly incomprehensible...

Until you notice the pun. Gazelles - "tzevaot" - sounds a lot like "Hashem Tzevaot". And deer of the field - "ayalot hasadeh" - sounds a lot like "El Shadai". The verse is none other than a disguised oath in God's name, which would make perfect sense, and not in the name of a wild animal. If you didn't get it the first time, the pun is repeated with a different name of God. The choice of gazelles and deer to make the pun is in line with Shir Hashirim's general tendency to use metaphors from nature.

If two references to God in Shir Hashirim are in fact disguised through natural metaphors (and there is no other way to understand the verse), then perhaps there are others. Perhaps the entire book is such a disguised reference?


Rachel Adler said...

Wait, are you saying then that Shir ha Shirim is only a metaphor for the relationship between G-d and the people of Israel (like Artscroll would have you think)? I think there's room for multiple levels of interpretation. Though I like your commentary.

Beisrunner said...

Two possible answers.

1) Yes, it is also love poetry.

2) No, it is only about the relationship with God. But the fact that the author chose to describe the relationship with God in terms of human love, says something (positive) about human love and relationships.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

What about the possibility that, whether it works in this direction or not, it also might be working in the other direction? That צבאות and איילות השדה aren't hidden references to ה' צבאות and אל שדי, but *euphamisms* for them?

Like how people say "gosh darn it" as a euphamism for "God damn it". On a "literal", Love Poetry level, it could be that the poet didn't want the image of someone actually swearing by God, and replaced it with euphamisms.

Beisrunner said...

Steg - as far as I know, in the rest of Tanach there are no such euphemisms, and I'm hesitant to say that just in this book they suddenly felt the need to use them.

In any case, it can't work BOTH my way and your way - you can't say that human love is an appropriate metaphor for religion, and ALSO say that love poetry is an inappropriate context in which to use God's name. Or so it seems to me.