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Songs of Love and Freedom

04/02/2021 04:05:22 PM


            Shabbat Shalom. The Torah portion for this week is a reprise of Parashat Beshallach, which we read in our regular calendar readings just about two months ago, tells the story of the parting of the Sea of Reads, the Song of the Sea, and the final moments of redemption of the Israelites from Egypt. This holiday, we also read another sort of song - the Song of Songs. Every Jewish festival has its own Megillah: Esther for Purim (of course), Ruth for Shavuot, Ecclesiastes for Sukkot, Lamentations for Tisha B’Av, and Song of Songs for Passover.

            Song of Songs is a love poem, midrashically understood to be about the union between God and the people of Israel. The words are unambiguously erotic and never mention God. Though Shavuot is the holiday that traditionally celebrates the “marriage” between God and the people of Israel, the seasons mentioned in the megillot are the reason Shavuot gets the Book of Ruth (which depicts the wheat harvest time that occurs in the beginning of summer) and Pesach gets Song of Songs (which depicts springtime). However, I do think there’s another common theme between Passover and Song of Songs: the freedom to love who you love.

            We have very little to tell us how the slavery in Egypt affected the Israelites’ love lives. We know they had marriages, as the Torah tells us clearly that Moses’s parents were married to one another, and we know that the Israelites gave birth at rates that alarmed the Egyptians, which might give us some clue into their romances. On the other hand, we can assume that there was no intermarriage, at least not with the Egyptians, and likely not with the “mixed multitudes” until after the Exodus (I think if they had married in, they wouldn’t still be considered “mixed multitudes” when they left Egypt with the Israelites).

            The lovers in Song of Songs often hint at their love being illicit. The couple is not yet married, and the woman’s older brothers seek to protect her from the man, believing her to not yet be ready for adult love. There are possible indications that there is a class difference as well, when she expresses shame at her sun-darkened skin that prove her hard work in the fields while repeatedly calling him her king and insisting how universally desirable all the maidens of Jerusalem find him. They rendezvous in fields and vineyards, and sometimes have trouble finding one another. But their love is considered sacred enough to represent that of God and the people of Israel, and to be canonized in our holy scriptures.

            As we celebrate our freedoms this Pesach, we must take a moment to recognize who among us is still not fully free to love who and how they love. While miscegenation laws are a thing of the past and marriage equality for same-sex couples was federally recognized several years ago now, there is still certainly those who hold prejudiced views against interracial couples or families and there are still many states that allow housing and employment discrimination against LGBTQ people and families. Recently passed in the House and still sitting in the Senate is a bill that pushes to include sexuality and gender identity into the Civil Rights Act of 1964, broadening the scope of equal rights for all Americans. Perhaps using the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s resources to send a message to your senators would help you honor the deeper themes of our Chag HaCheirut (Festival of Freedom) and the holiness of love of this holiday’s megillah. Additionally, many disability activists, include queer disabled people, insist that marriage equality isn’t really existent until people can marry without fear of losing their disability benefits. I am not aware of any action on this topic, but perhaps it is another thing to advocate for within the Reform Movement’s broad Audacious Hospitality efforts, along with our own local efforts to ensure that all families and couples feel welcomed and safe in our communities, regardless of the mixes of races, religions, genders, and sexualities that comprise their family units.

            May we all be free to love who we love, may we be free to celebrate the love around us however it can be found, and may all love be understood as a reflection of the Divine. Amen, Shabbat Shalom, and Chag Sameach.

Sun, September 26 2021 20 Tishrei 5782