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Shir ha-Shirim XVII Part One: Sefirah 31

“For Your loved ones are better than wine.” We have learned elsewhere (Avodah Zarah 29b): Rabbi Yishmael asked Rabbi Yehoshua as they were walking together: “Why did the Rabbis prohibit the cheese of non Jews?” He replied, “Because they set it with the rennet of a Nevelah, the corpse of an animal that wasn’t slaughtered according to Halachah.”


Rabbi Yishmael said, “Is not the rennet of a burnt-offering a more serious matter than that of a Nevelah, and yet the Rabbis said, “A Kohen who is not squeamish can burn it raw? What is meant by “burn”? He can swallow it.”

Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish explained: They treated it like a dirty cup; hence he may derive no enjoyment from it, yet he is liable for trespassing Sanctified items.

He said to him, “If so, why did they not forbid any use to be made of it (as we do with anything associated with idol-worship)?”

Rabbi Yehoshua took him to a different topic: “Brother Yishmael, how do you read, ‘For dodecha (your love – masculine form) is better than wine,’ or, dodayich (feminine form)?”

Rabbi Yishmael replied: It cannot be the feminine form because the subsequent words throw light on it, “Your (masculine suffix) ointments (shemanecha) have a good fragrance.”

Why did Rabbi Yehoshua not answer Rabbi Yishmael’s question?

Rabbi Yochanan said: Because they had only recently forbidden it, and Rabbi Yishmael had yet to achieve the status of one to whom the specific reasons of a decree can be revealed.

Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta and Rabbi Chaggai speaking in the name of Rabbi Shmuel ben Nachman: It is written, “The lambs will be for your clothing [kevasim lilvushecha](Proverbs 27:27).” It is written Kevashim: when your students are young, suppress (michabesh) words of Torah in their presence; when they have grown up and become scholars, reveal the secrets of Torah to them.

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai taught: “Now these are the ordinances which you shall set Tasim before them (Exodus 21:1).” Just as a treasure, Simah, is not disclosed to everyone, so too the teaching of Torah.

Rabbi Hunah asked, and Rabbi Chama bar Ukvah challenged: If Rabbi Yehoshua only wanted to change the topic, he should have distracted Rabbi Yishmael with one of the five words in the Torah about which the Sages were unclear how to read ((Yomah 52a), namely, “s’eit (Genesis 4:7),” “Arur (49:7),” “machar (Exodus 17:9),” “meshukadim (25:34),” “v’kam (Devarim 31:16). [Why did Rabbi Yehoshua challenge Rabbi Yishmael with a verse that is clear rather than one of these five that are not?]

“S’eit,” Are we to read, “If you do well, shall it not be raised (Genesis 4:7),” or, “You will carry your sin if you do not raise your offering”?

Rabbi Tanchumah said: I have another: Do we read, “And the sons of Jacob came in from the field when they heard it (Genesis 34:7),” or, “When they heard it, the men were grieved”?

Rabbi Yitzchak said, “And I (Moshe), God commanded (Devarim 4:14),” there are some things which He committed to me alone, and some which He committed to me to transmit to His children.

Rabbi Illa said: (Rabbi Yehoshua used this verse to distract Rabbi Yishmael because it includes the explanation of why he could not fully answer the question: “Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth, for your loved ones are better than wine,” may also mean, “let Him seal my lips,” hinting that not everything may be revealed.] There are some things on which the lips are sealed. For example: One verse says, “Your word I have laid up in my heart that I might not sin against You (Psalms 119:11),” and another verse says, “With my lips have I told all the ordinances of Your mouth (Verse 13).” How can we reconcile these two verses?

As long as Irah haYa’iri, King David’s teacher (II Samuel 20:26) was alive, then, “Your word I have laid up in my heart,” [he remained silent before his teacher] but when he departed, then, “With my lips have I told all the ordinances of Your mouth.” (Shir Hashirim Rabbah 1.2.2:1)

In order to acquire Torah, even to understand a basic decree of the Sages, one must see it as a “Treasure,” that cannot be revealed to all. There must always be a sense of the treasures hidden beneath what a person, no matter how great, perceives or understands.

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