One year I sat around a table at a Passover Seder with a group of women. It was during the war in Bosnia, and we all felt helpless, knowing that the tragedy of genocide was unfolding while the world stood by. As Jews, imprinted with the history of the Holocaust, we felt particularly despairing. As we re-counted the foundational story of our people, the Exodus from Egypt, we were sensitive to its violence, the fact of all those Egyptians suffering from the plagues and the tragedy of their final drowning in the sea. Someone asked, “Don’t we have any other story? Whenever we win, someone else loses. Do we have to win our freedom at the expense of another people?” We were all reminded of the same tragedy playing itself out in the Middle East where both Israelis and Palestinians claimed their autonomy at the expense of the other, where one people’s victory meant the others defeat. “Isn’t there any other way to Freedom?” we asked. “Don’t we have any other story?” As this question hung in the air between us, the silence felt like a great weight, and then the answer dawned.
“We do have another story!” I shouted. I explained that the Tradition calls us to read and study and sing the Song of Songs during Passover. While the Book of Exodus tells the story of our outer journey from slavery to freedom, the Song of Songs tells the inner story. Rabbi Akiva hinted at this when he called the Song, the “Holy of Holies.” Just as the Holy of Holies occupied the very center of the Sanctuary, the Song of Songs stands at the center of the mystery of Freedom.
Freedom in our tradition is not merely a “freedom from”… from oppression, suffering, or servitude; it is a “freedom to”… to be in direct relationship with God our liberator. God says, I brought you out of Egypt to be your God, to be in relationship with you. It is this relationship that makes us free. The moment we cut ourselves off from God, we are back in Egypt; we are back in slavery.
The Song of Songs tells the story of relationship — its yearnings and heartbreaks as well as its triumphs and pleasures. It shouts the glories of love and whispers its secrets. I move easily from the relationship of a people with their God to the complex web of relationship in my life. The Song sends me on the spiritual path of relationship. In relationship all my ideals are tested and I am shown the places of my own fear, immaturity, impatience, pride and bitterness. Intimate relationship reveals to me where I still need work and healing. And it calls forth my greatest courage and love. My absolute best and worst character traits are made clearly visible in the practice of relationship, as well as a vision of what is possible if I were to open to the Great Love.
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