Can’t Buy Me Love: Shabbat Hol HaMoed Pesach 2017

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Do you believe that “love conquers all”? Is it the driving force of the world? Alternatively, is it, perhaps, the driving force of all that is positive in the world?

As we continue our celebration of Passover this Shabbat, it is customary to read at least part of the Song of Songs, a text that is simultaneously romantic and challenging.

The Pitch: “‎Vast floods cannot quench love, nor rivers drown it. If a man offered all his wealth for love, he would be laughed to scorn.” – Song of Songs 8:7

Swing #1: “‎[This verse] is speaking of individuals like Hillel and Shevna, as when Rav Dimi came to Babylonia he said: Hillel and Shevna were brothers; Hillel engaged in Torah study and remained impoverished, whereas Shevna entered into a business venture and became wealthy. In the end, Shevna said to Hillel: Come, let us join our wealth together and divide it between us; I will give you half of my money and you will give me half of the reward for your Torah study. In response to this request a Divine Voice issued forth and said: ‘If a man offered all his wealth for love, he would be laughed to scorn.’” – BT Sotah 21a

Swing #2: “The point of this aphorism is that love is beyond all material value, and cannot be bought for any price. Hence anyone attempting to buy love would be considered a fool. An alternate reading – the man who gives up everything for love is mocked by an uncomprehending world – seems less fitting in this context: the poet is praising the greatness of love, a cosmic force, not bemoaning the small-mindedness of human beings.” – Ariel Bloch and Chana Bloch, The Song of Songs: A New Translation

Swing #3: “The frank and unabashed avowal of love throughout the book reaches its impressive climax here where it is described as a mighty force, the very flame of God. Thus the basic truth underlying the Song of Songs is emphasized, that natural love is holy.” – Robert Gordis, The Song of Songs and Lamentations: A Study, Modern Translation and Commentary

Late-Inning Questions: Why do our commentators feel the need to remind us that love is priceless? Do we sometimes make the mistake of thinking otherwise? If so, how and when do we do so?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We hope your Seders were meaningful and enjoyable. It was a privilege to once again lead our congregational Seder. Thanks to our staff for organizing a smooth evening, and to those in attendance for your camaraderie and enthusiasm. And congratulations to Hannah Lieberman for finding the Afikoman!

The Big Inning at the End: Tomorrow is Jackie Robinson Day, and the 70th anniversary of the first game in which Robinson, who broke the Major Leagues’ “color barrier”, played for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson’s dignity and courage in the face of many racist players and fans remain important examples to us all.

Shabbat Shalom! Moadim L’Simcha!