During the Passover season, Jewish tradition pairs the majestic story of freedom found in the book of Exodus with the intimate love poetry found in the book of Song of Songs. What could possibly connect such disparate quotes as “Let My people go!” (Exodus 5:1) and “Your navel is like a moon-shaped basin, wherein no mixed wine is lacking; your stomach is like a heap of wheat, hedged about with roses” (Song of Songs 7:3)?
For the ancient rabbis, it is all the same drama – the quest for a meaningful spiritual life, as expressed through our most intimate relationships as well as through political and socio-economic conditions. In other words, half of the work involves battle – fighting the forces of oppression, both external and internal. But the other half of the work involves courtship – the subtle art of seduction, romance, play, flirtation, the awakening and wooing of a wild love.
Poet and storyteller Robert Bly writes in his book Iron John about reclaiming our inner Warriors. “Warriorship inside…amounts to a soul alertness that helps protect a human being…from shamers, unconscious swordsmen, hostile people, and greedy interior beings.” This is the work of the Passover story. The Israelite people, inspired by God and led by Miriam, Aaron, and Moses, seek to recover their inner Warriors throughout the entire Torah.
But we are not only Warriors. We are also Lovers. Robert Bly situates the context of the Lovers in a garden, which echoes the many garden and other nature features of Song of Songs. “In the garden the soul and nature marry. When we love cultivation more than excitement we are ready to start a garden. In the garden we cultivate yearning and longing – those strangely un-American feelings – and notice tiny desires. Paying attention to tiny, hardly noticeable feelings is the garden way. That’s the way lovers behave…The most important events in the lives of the great lovers take place in the Garden Not Open to Everyone, and by extension we can say that the most significant events in our soul lives take place in this same garden.”
There is a yearning in both the story of Passover and in the Song of Songs. Enslaved in Egypt, the Israelites finally cry out, and voicing their yearning allows the Warrior to redeem them. The lovers in the garden cry out as well, asking “Where are you? Where have you gone? When will you come back?” Liberation on the one hand, the archetype of universal freedom, and an intimate enclosure on the other, reminding us of the pleasures of particularity.
A midrash (from Shir HaShirim Rabbah) on the verse in Song of Songs ponders with loving attention the many details described. On the word for “mixed wine,” ha-mazeg, it playfully suggests a new name for God: mizga d’alma, the Mixer of the World. One commentator explains that God sustains the world through the mixture of forces and elements in nature. I would add this includes our painfully and delightfully complex human nature. May we rest this Shabbat in fierce and loving awareness of our own inner dramas.
Questions for contemplation:
- Which do you love more, cultivation or excitement? Has it changed over time?
- Share a story when you called upon your inner Warrior. What did you learn? How do you strengthen your inner Warrior without hardening into someone who habitually uses the tools of battle?
- What are you yearning for right now? Is the Warrior or the Lover more appropriate to hearing and acting on your yearning?