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Shir ha-Shirim X: Part Nine: Three Books

He wrote three books: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. Which did he compose first? Rabbi Chiya the Great, and Rabbi Yochanan, gave different answers. Rabbi Chiya the great said, he first wrote Proverbs and afterwords The Song of Songs and afterwords in Ecclesiastes. He based his view on this text: “And he spoke 3000 proverbs (I Kings 5:12),” this is the book of Proverbs;“And his songs were a thousand and five,” this is the Song of Songs. Ecclesiastes he composed subsequently.


The The Baraitah of Rabbi Chiya differs from this report. It says that he composed all three together, while according to the previous statement he composed each separately.

Rabbi Chiya the Great taught: Only in the period of his old age did Divine Inspiration rest upon Solomon, and he composed three books: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs.

Rabbi Yochanan said, He first wrote the Song of Songs, then Proverbs, then Ecclesiastes. He argues from the way of the world. When a man is young he composes songs; when he grows older he makes wise remarks; when he becomes an old man he speaks of the vanity of things.

Rabbi Yannai the father-in-law of Rabbi Ammi said: All agree that he composed Kohelet last. (Shir Hashirim Rabbah 1.1: 10)

Although Rabbi Chiya the Great teaches that Solomon wrote all three books in his old age when he received Divine Inspiration, he did not write all three books together, but in the order he listed above. That means that even when Divine Inspiration rested upon Solomon, it gave him the ability to express ideas only as they developed with him him, me being in the order in which he originally had the insights. The Divine inspiration took him back to the beginning, the book of Proverbs allowed him to express all of the ideas there, and then allowed those ideas to inspire him further to compose the Song of Songs. After he expressed this passionate love that developed from the great wisdom of Proverbs, the The blinding Inspiration left him experiencing all that he expresses in Eccelesiates. The Divine Inspiration took him in order, or shall we say, Seder, through his life development.

The Baraitah does not view the three books as developing one from the other; but rather, all three being simultaneously experienced and true.

Rabbi Yochanan insists that the Divine Inspiration was a constant, not just something that he merited in his old age. It was Divine Inspiration that allowed him to express the powerful ideas in the Song of Songs, which in turn led him to the wisdom of Proverbs, and which then led him to the clarity of human limitations expressed in Ecclesiastes.

At first glance we don’t need Rabbi Yannai to point out that all agree that Solomon composed Kohelet last. We already know that. His point is that no matter how the books appeared, the inevitable culmination is the expression of frustration over human limitation as described in Ecclesiastes.

We sit at the Seder engaged in the Pesach story. We discuss numerous stages of Jewish history. We reach all the way back to before Abraham, and we project all the way forward to the time of the Messiah. Are we experiencing each stage independently, each one leading to the next, preparing us, engaging us, teaching us, so that we too can project all the way into the future, or, do we approach the story at one point in our lives, reviewing the stages, reflecting on how each led to the other, with a prayer that all will lead to the great future of the Messiah? Or, is the Haggadah a prayer that the inevitable frustration with human limitation; a prayer that Redemption be completed, that we be free of such limitation and frustration so that we can look forward to the future with hope?

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