Special Readings for Shabbat, Pesach VII: Torah – Exodus 13:17-15:26; Numbers 28:19-28:25, Haftarah – II Samuel 22:1-51, Special Reading – Song of Songs (Shir haShirim)

We are celebrating our second Pesach of this pandemic and last Sunday evening had our second online community Seder. When we went into lock down, I thought it would be for a few weeks. Now it has been more than one year. 

This has been a hard year. A year of fear, of anger, of loneliness and of division. 

It has also been a year of hope. A year of finding new ways to stay connected and new ways of caring for each other. A year in which science and medicine developed a viable vaccine at never-before-seen speed. This vaccine gives us hope that we are nearing the end of this pandemic’s terrible reign and the cost we have all paid, in lives lost, in incomes vaporized, in isolation and depression. 

This year Pesach feels like a new celebration of freedom, a celebration of the coming end to the pandemic. This year the seventh day of Pesach falls on Shabbat. We step away from the weekly cycle of our annual Torah reading and have special readings for the holiday. 

In addition to special Torah and Haftarah readings, we also read the Song of Songs, an extended love poem, attributed to King Solomon. The subject of this book is the erotic love between a woman and a man, and it contains some of the most beautiful poetry in the Hebrew Bible or in all literature. 

According to scholars, its inclusion in the Jewish sacred canon was controversial, but Rabbi Akiva ensured its status as a sacred text by describing the story as a metaphor for the love between God and the Jewish people. 

At least that is the stated reason. So why do we read a book about love on Passover, our annual celebration of freedom from slavery? Perhaps it is to remind us that love is the great antidote to much of what ails us, as individuals and a society: isolation, suspicion, anger, fear, intolerance. 

Love is the force that binds people together in relationship. When we feel love for another person, we cannot degrade them, we cannot enslave them, and we cannot mistreat them. 

As we emerge from this difficult and dark time, let us all resolve to reenter the world in love, caring for others, and building a better society than the one we left behind before the pandemic. 

Just as God liberated our people from slavery in love, so may we build a society in which all can be free, founded on love. The Song of Songs can guide our way.

~Rabbi Dean Kertesz