As an apple tree among the trees of the wood…

Posted on April 25, 2024

On the Shabbat of Pesach, we read from Megillat Shir haShirim, Song of Songs. From the collection of Ketuvim in our final section of the TaNaKh, this megillah is a romantic biblical poem that compares young love to gazelles frolicking in the field. So why is it read on the holiday of liberation? What is the connection between Pesach and Shir haShirim?

The other Megillot that we read on their various holidays have a very clear connection to the theme of those festivals. When it comes to Song of Songs, the connection is not quite as obvious. This megillah is traditionally understood to symbolize the love between God and the Jewish people. Passover is a celebration of the freeing of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage.

As with so much of Jewish tradition, there are several explanations to connect these two things:

  1. Spring is the season in which both Pesach and Shir haShirim fall. The text of this megillah paints that seasonal connection very clearly, with animals prancing across a pastoral landscape, flowers and fruits blossoming, and so many more vernal scenes.
  2. Song of Songs is a metaphor for divine love. As Rachel Scheinerman writes: “The saga of the Exodus from Egypt and the subsequent revelation at Mount Sinai is reminiscent of a larger-than-life love affair, complete with forced separation at the hands of a villain (Pharaoh), gallant rescue (the Exodus) and eventual marriage (entering into the covenant at Sinai).”
  3. Shir haShirim is seen as a midrash on the Exodus story, and even perhaps on the entire book of Exodus. With many references to apple trees in Song of Songs, there are some beautiful midrashim on this theme. Specifically, one that drew my attention is the following from Shir haShirim Rabbah: Rabbi Azaria points out that an apple tree takes 50 days to ripen — just as the Israelites received the Torah 50 days after they left Egypt.

May this spring festival, Chag haAviv, help to ripen our souls throughout these next seven weeks. And let us remember the words of Shir haShirim as a metaphor for our individual and communal relationship with the divine.

Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom!