Latest update: May 19th, 2013
Question: Why do we read Shir HaShirim on Pesach? Also, why do we generally read it on the Shabbat of Chol HaMoed as opposed to the first days of Pesach? Finally, why don’t we recite a blessing over the reading of Shir HaShirim as we do for Megillat Esther?
Answer: Rabbi Yisrael Chaim Friedman (Likutei Maharich, Seder Chol HaMoed Pesach, pages 38-39) states as follows, citing the Rema (Orach Chayim 490:9): “And it is the custom to read Shir HaShirim on Shabbat of Chol HaMoed Pesach” because it speaks of the redemption of our people from Egypt, as is written (Shir HaShirim 1:9), “L’susati b’richvei Paroh dimitich rayati – With My mighty steeds who battled Pharaoh’s riders I revealed that you are My beloved.”
Rabbi Friedman continues, again based on the Rema, “And if the first day of Pesach occurs on Shabbat or Sunday, so that there will be no Shabbat occurring during the days of Chol HaMoed since Shabbat will fall either on the seventh or eighth day of Pesach, then Shir HaShirim is read on either of the last two days of Yom Tov – whichever one is Shabbat.”
Rabbi Friedman writes further: “And the reason that it is read specifically on a Shabbat is as the Pri Megadim (Orach Chayim ad loc.) explains: ‘Shir HaShirim [allegorically] talks of the day that will be completely Shabbat – yom shekulo Shabbat.’ ” Nevertheless Shir HaShirim is not read on a Shabbat which occurs on the first days of Pesach, the Pri Megadim explains, since we already say many piyutim in the prayer for dew (“tal”) on those days, and saying Shir HaShirim would place an excessive burden upon congregants and their families, diminishing simchat yom tov. Therefore, we wait for a different day to recite it.
The question is: Where in Shir HaShirim do we see a connection or reference to Shabbat? Additionally, why can’t we read it on one of the Yom Tov days, which also possess a Shabbat element?
Rabbi Eisentein (Otzar Dinim u’Minhagim, entry for Shir HaShirim, p.414) comments: “It is our custom to recite Shir HaShirim every Erev Shabbat since we prepare ourselves to honor the Shabbat queen. Therefore, we recite praises of the (Shabbat) bride, which are mentioned numerous times in Shir HaShirim. Also, Shir HaShirim is an allegory of the love between the one who bestows (Hashem) and the one who receives (Knesset Yisrael). Shabbat is the agent that connects Knesset Yisrael to their Father in Heaven. It is therefore said to increase and strengthen the attachment and devotion between them.”
The Vilna Gaon (in his commentary to Shir HaShirim) comments on the verse, “Kol dodi hineh zeh ba me’daleg al he’harim me’kapetz al ha’gevaot – The voice of my beloved! Behold, it came suddenly to redeem me, as if leaping over mountains, skipping over hills” (2:8), that the words “The voice of my beloved! Behold, it came” refer to the promise that we heard from Moshe that G-d will come and redeem us. The Vilna Gaon notes that this verse is the main opening of Shir HaShirim. King Solomon writes “kol dodi” because there are four olamot, or worlds: the present world, the world to come, the days of Moshiach, and the era of the resurrection of the dead.
(Indeed this is referred to in the conclusion of the pizmon “Hakol Yoducha” that we say in the birkat kriat Shema of Shachrit on Shabbat: “Ein aroch lecha Hashem Elokeinu ba’olam hazeh, v’ein zula’techa l’olam haba, efes biltecha go’alenu limot ha’moshiach, v’ein domeh lecha moshieinu l’tchiyat ha’meitim – There is no comparison to you Hashem, our G-d in this world; and there will be nothing except for you, our king, in life of the World to Come; there will be nothing without you, our redeemer, in the days of Messiah, and there will be none like you, our savior; at the resurrection of the dead.”)
The Gaon explains that if we delve into this verse in Shir HaShirim (2:8), we will find these four worlds. (We can perhaps suggest that this verse was the inspiration for Rabbi Eliezer Kalir’s liturgical poem of “Lecha Dodi likrat kallah” which we chant every Friday night.)
We thus clearly see the Shabbat connection in Shir HaShirim, which is why we must read it on Shabbat. Indeed, the three latter olamot mentioned by the Vilna Gaon all relate to Shabbat, as the Gemara (Berachot 57b) states: Shabbat is one sixtieth of the world to come.
Now, even though Yom Tov is at times referred to as Shabbat, nevertheless it is on a lower level than an actual Shabbat since it does not possess the same level of sanctity. It is only referred to as Shabbat in terms of shvita mi’melacha – a day when we are proscribed from performing labor (although on yom tov we may perform labors necessary to prepare our Yom Tov food; the Ramban [Leviticus 23:7] explains that included in this exception are labors that serve our general festival pleasure).
As regards to the reading of the five megillot and their related blessings, Masechet Soferim (14:3) states as follows: “When reading Ruth, Shir HaShirim, Kohelet, Eichah, and Megillat Esther, one recites beforehand the blessing of ‘…al mikra megillah – [Blessed are You…who has commanded us] to read the megillah’ even though it is among the Hagiographa (Ketuvim).” (The mishnah adds this last statement due to the halacha cited in the mishnah that immediately follows (14:4): “One who reads from the Hagiographa is required to say, ‘Blessed are You…who has commanded us to read from the Holy Writings (Kitvei HaKodesh).’ ”
The Nachalat Yaakov, the main commentary to Masechet Soferim, cites a dispute (ad loc.) about this matter among halachic authorities. The Rema, for example (Orach Chayim 490:9, quoting the Beit Yosef), notes that our custom is not to recite a blessing on any of the megillot other than Megillat Esther.
The Nachalat Yaakov explains: “This ruling is probably due to the fact that these other megillot are [generally] not written on [and read from] a scroll. Rather, they are read from a book that includes other books of Scripture. In earlier times, when megillot were written on scrolls, we read the blessing beforehand, as Masechet Soferim suggests.”
Rabbi Yosef Grossman (Otzar Erchei HaYahadut, p. 39) offers the following reason for not reciting a blessing on Megillat Eichah: “We read it from a book and not from a scroll as we would other megillot, and thus we do not say ‘al mikra megillah’ beforehand. The scribes were not accustomed to write it [on a scroll] since we hope and look forward each day to the possibility that our Tisha B’Av mourning will be transformed into a day of joy and happiness, with no further need to read Eichah.”
Shir HaShirim, however, gives us much pleasure. It would seem then that we would be required to recite a blessing before its reading.
In the final analysis, Rabbi Grossman cites the Vilna Gaon who rules that one should read from a scroll and make a blessing accordingly. However, since today by and large most people do not read from a scroll, we follow the Rema’s ruling and do not make a blessing. This is the nearly universal practice.
Is the lack of a blessing an indication that this special reading is not so important? Surely not. We see from the Gemara (Berachot 15a) that if one did not recite the appropriate blessing before performing a mitzvah, the performance is nevertheless considered accomplished.
In the merit of proper observance of the laws and traditions of Pesach, may we merit the Moshiach speedily in our days so we may fully observe Pesach in the rebuilt Jerusalem.
Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
About the Author: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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