Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center
Shabbat Hol Hamoed/ April 19, 2003
Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty
of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel.
A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies,
Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center,
and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet
under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's
International Center for Jewish Identity.
Prepared for Internet
Publication by the Computer Center Staff at Bar-Ilan University.
Inquiries and comments to:
Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible,
Shabbat Hol Hamoed/ April 19, 2003
The Song of Songs and Human Relations
Dr. Ruth Wolf
Department of Criminology
The Song of Songs, read on the intervening Sabbath of
Passover, is a primary source for examining parameters of union and love between
a couple. The nature of this book is unclear: is it secular love poetry, or
perhaps a work intended to be read allegorically from the outset? While the
traditional Jewish approach is to view the Song of Songs as an allegory for the
relationship between G-d and Israel, even as allegory, there is significance in
the mashal, the example, and the paradigm utilizes the love between a man
and a woman.
Below we shall examine whether the modern psychological
notions on mature love relationships in a couple are also to be found in the
Song of Songs. We shall try to establish what parameters have a bearing on the
success of the marriage, what qualities are required in the partners in order to
build a good relationship, and which of these qualities find expression in the
Rabbi Abraham ben David (Ba’alei ha-Nefesh, p.
15) emphasized: “Therefore a man ought to love his wife as himself,
respecting her, being merciful to her, and protecting her as he would protect a
part of his own body; likewise, she must serve him, respect him, and love him as
herself, since from man was she taken.” The qualities emphasized here are
love, respect, mercy and protection – parameters that also pertain to
close friendship between two people. The wholeness in the relationship of man
and woman is both physical and spiritual, emphasizing the duty of the spouses to
respect and look after each other.
In the Song of Songs the beloved woman says, “His left
hand was under my head/ His right arm embraced me” (2:6). This verse
conveys not only physical contact but emphasizes qualities that pertain to the
realization and satisfaction of love between friends, feelings of warmth,
support, security and belonging.
The Song of Songs contains much physical imagery of a lover
and his beloved, as well as descriptions of the beloved: “I am dark, but
comely, ... Like the tents of Kedar,/ Like the pavilions of Solomon”
(1:5); “Beautiful as the moon,/ Radiant as the sun” (6:10);
“Your lips are like a crimson thread” (4:3); “Ah, you are
fair, my darling,/ ah, you are fair,/ With your dove-like eyes!” (1:15),
to cite but a few examples. There are also passages that are descriptive of the
lover’s strength and outward beauty: “His legs are like marble
pillars/ Set in sockets of fine gold” (5:15); “Swift as a gazelle or
a young stag,/ To the hills of spice” (8:14); “He is majestic as
Lebanon,/ Stately as the cedars” (5:15). These picturesque passages
emphasize the motif of desire and beauty, important in love.
The Song of Songs also describes the passion of a man and
woman in love. Yet at the same time the Song of Songs emphasizes the wish of the
beloved to bring her heart’s chosen to her mother’s home, to bring
to fulfillment the love relationship between them in a mature and
family-oriented manner: “I would lead you, I would bring you/ To the
house of my mother,/ Of her who taught me” (8:2).
Interlaced with verses expressing love play are verses
relating to the deeper significance of the relationship between lovers, such as
“If only I could be with you as with a brother” (8:1). This text
brings out the mature, emotional nature of love, not tied to exclusively to
physical attraction. In this love the woman seeks a fraternal relationship with
her beloved, a relationship of special emotional closeness.
Hand in hand with the unique depiction of the lovers’
beauty goes imagery reflecting their essence. “I delight to sit in his
shade” (2:3) brings out the beloved’s expectations of her lover as
symbolizing protection and strength. The perception of the lover as a protector
is also expressed in the imagery, “He browses [lit. a shepherd] among the
lilies” (6:3), like a shepherd looking after his flock and perceived as
guiding his flock, concerned for their welfare. Thus we see that beauty and
physical strength alone are not sufficient for love; the essence of the lover
– the role that he/she plays – is also significant.
The parameters mentioned in the Song of Songs as describing
issues in a couple’s relationship are stressed as important in
psychological literature as well. Maslow (1974) emphasized that to love and be
loved is a basic need of human beings, just like the need for belonging,
appreciation, security and self-fulfillment. Rabin (1995) listed ten parameters
necessary for a mature relationship between a man and a woman: warmth –
friendship, deep and sincere feelings between a couple; caring – a feeling
of concern; understanding that one’s partner is prepared to help in time
of need; expression of affection – love is expressed in a variety of ways,
including verbal and non-verbal expression of feelings; acceptance – a
sense of unconditional acceptance by one’s partner, even when there are
disagreements and friction, the feeling is that each spouse gives the other a
sense of deep security; empathy – understanding the other’s
emotions, including sensitivity to the other’s points of weakness,
vulnerability, and awareness of these points, as well as empathy in the sense of
truly attempting to see the world from the other person’s point of view;
intimacy – a state in which partners are open to sharing with the other
their feelings, apprehensions, beliefs, fears, aspirations and deepest desires,
sometimes even the most closely hidden, as well as sharing ideas, thoughts,
feelings, whether they are accepted or not; friendship – seeing
one’s partner as a true friend; contentment – bringing one’s
partner happiness and pleasure; support – a feeling that partners can
rely on one another, giving and supporting when needed, but also being able to
lean on one’s partner for support in hard times; closeness –
enjoying quality time together, wanting to live in close proximity with one
another, sharing experiences together.
Gordon (1992) emphasized the role of communication in forming
proper, loving relations between partners. For her, intimacy means open and
honest communication between a couple. Having undisclosed expectations and
hiding information is hurtful to a relationship. A sense of closeness and
affection between partners is achieved precisely by being candid, relying on the
other, and placing one’s trust in the other.
Satir (1988) related to problematic couples as couples who
lack a friendly relationship, since spouses are first and foremost friends.
This friendship is formed out of relations of respect, in which each partner
retains his/her own value of self while preserving the other’s value of
self. Satir stressed that healthy communication between partners is possible if
each one is attentive to his/her own needs and uniqueness, and realizes his/her
wishes even within the partnership.
Satif recommended that couples speak the language of the
heart. She maintained that some couples translate this language into weakness.
Many couples, according to her, communicate cerebrally, via thought and
cognition, and ignore the language of the heart – emotions. Emotional
communication of this type should draw a couple closer. It includes sharing
one’s feeling with the other, whether these feelings are pleasant or
unpleasant. The other can also be understood by means of feelings.
Brandon (1980) argued that romantic love occurs when there are
mutual bonds and friendship between partners. Parameters such as concern for
the other, respect of the other, understanding, giving and assistance to
one’s partner are essential to establishing and maintaining love between a
A life of sharing between partners is possible when there is a
bond between the two. Friendship, respect, reciprocity, equality, probity and
other traits help this bond. This emotion, this bond, requires work. One must
invest effort in a relationship. It says in the Bible, “Hence a man
leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, so that they become one
flesh” (Gen. 2:24). This union, which the Bible refers to as a man
“clinging” to his wife, is the main meaning of love, and the power
of giving is the dominant force in this bond. The ability to love is the
ability to give, to bestow on another.
The wholeness of a person finds expression in realizing a
relationship of partnership. It has already been said that a man and a woman
form a single, complete unit: “Rabbi Eleazar said: Any man who does not
have a woman is not a man, for it is said, ‘Male and female He created
them, ... and He called their name man’” (Yevamot
63a). This wholeness is made possible by mutual concessions accompanied by
preservation of each partner’s individuality within the context of the
couple’s relationship. Written long before the descriptions of love in
modern psychological literature, the Song of Songs presents a fine
representation of mature love.