Pesach – Shir HaShirim

During Pesach, we read Shir HaShirim, the song that portrays the bond between Hashem and the Jewish People. Verse 3:6 describes the nations of the world observing the Jewish People in the wilderness, on their way from Egypt to the Land of Israel, and exclaiming: “Who is this rising up from the wilderness like a column of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, and with all the compounds of the perfume merchant?” The Midrash elaborates (Yalkut Shimoni, Torah 890):
When the People of Israel were in the wilderness, they were enveloped with clouds of glory and a pillar of fire. The nations of the world exclaimed in shock: “Who are these [people], whose every move is accompanied by fire? ‘Who is this rising up from the wilderness like a column of smoke?’” The Holy One Blessed Be He replied: “‘[They are] perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, [and with all the compounds of the perfume merchant].’ They have firm posts on which to support themselves – they have the merit of their forefathers.” [The Midrash goes on to link the myrrh, the frankincense, and the perfume merchant’s compounds to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, respectively.]
The Maggid explains this Midrash using an analogy to different types of business ventures. A conservative venture yields a low return, but presents little risk of major loss. A bold venture can yield fabulous gain but also presents serious risk of major loss. Most people do not have the wherewithal to engage in high-stakes ventures. But such a venture is feasible for a rich man whose father is also rich. If the venture succeeds, he will make a great fortune. And if the venture fails, and he loses everything, he can go back home to his rich father.
Now, as indicated in last week’s piece, the Jewish People’s acceptance of the Torah was like embarking on a high-stakes venture. The Maggid elaborates on this theme in his commentary on the Midrash above. By accepting the Torah, the Jewish People formed a bond with Hashem and committed themselves to fulfilling 613 commandments. These commandments gave them the potential to soar to the heavens. Indeed, even before receiving these commandments, the Jewish People rose in stature simply by promising to accept them, with the words “we shall do and we shall listen” (Shemos 24:7). Hashem wrought miracles for them in Egypt and at the Sea of Reeds because He knew that they were headed toward accepting the Torah. Likewise, Hashem granted them clouds of glory, a miraculous well, and manna before they accepted the Torah, because He knew they were going to accept it. And when they did, they rose in stature even more.
But this loftiness came with a risk. As Shlomo HaMelech put it (Koheles 1:18): “With increased wisdom comes increased turmoil.” And we see that Hashem meted out strict justice to the Jewish People for very slight transgressions, such as complaining (see Bamidbar Chapter 11) and the like. This strictness was due to the closeness to Hashem that they had achieved. Indeed, it is written that Hashem’s “environs are very stormy” (Tehillim 50:3), and our Sages infer from this statement that Hashem is exacting with the righteous to a hairsbreadth (Bava Kamma 50a, based on the similarity between the word nisarah, meaning “stormy” and the word saarah, meaning “hair”). In several instances, Hashem poured out His wrath against the Jewish People with a vigor unheard of among other nations.
When other nations saw the great wrath that the Jews incurred by violating the Torah, they criticized them: “How did they have the nerve to take on a venture with such high stakes?” This is what the Midrash means when it describes the other nations exclaiming: “Who are these people, whose every move is accompanied by fire?” These onlookers were pointing out that, just as the Jewish People had the potential to soar swiftly upward by fulfilling the mitzvos, they had the potential to plummet swiftly downward by neglecting them. The onlookers contended that the Jewish People had no justification for risking themselves by accepting so many commandments. To this, Hashem replied: “Do not be taken aback by the Jewish People’s willingness to accept the Torah, for they have firm posts to support themselves on.”
The Jewish People are just like the investor with a rich father in our analogy, for they are the children of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. After the sin of the golden calf and after the sin of the spies, the Jewish People suffered a great fall in fortune. Yet they were not wiped out entirely, for they took refuge in the shelter of their forefathers. Indeed, when Moshe pled for the people after the sin of the golden calf, he invoked the merit of the forefathers (Shemos 32:13). This merit enabled them to recover when they fell.
Chag Kasher V’Sameach!
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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