The Song of Songs

The use of Hebrew as our spoken language makes the teaching of Yoga in Israel unique, as this is the language in which the Bible was written. In my teaching, I have chosen to present ideas and phrases from ancient Jewish sources in order to add a dimension to the understanding of spiritual development. I hope that this presentation will give an insight into the longing for an encounter with that which lies beyond the grasp of the mind.

There is a belief in Judaism that man’s soul transcends higher worlds at night, during sleep. In the course of spiritual work, the soul desires to experience during daytime similar qualities of night and sleep. The spirit and the soul desire to meet one another.

The biblical Song of Songs deals with these themes and may be read as an allegory, teaching that they are connected to the secrets of love, so its reading can guide us into the realization of spiritual life. The echoes of Song of Songs in Jewish prayers and teaching may help us in recalling the qualities of night and awakening to the spirit and the soul. Similar to writing down the details of a dream in order to recall during daytime, one is reawakened to the soul and the spirit.

In Song of Songs, King Solomon represents the world of spirit, while the beloved represents the soul. She brings him to her chamber and he brings her to his; where equality is reached, their coupling is perfect.

The text calls us to attention: “I charge you daughters of Jerusalem … stir not up, do not awake my love till he pleases”. The heart alone is not yet sufficient in order to reach the will. Only through the will of mature, ripe love, and not by means of the mind’s will, can the encounter take place.

The soul is active by nature, and the follower’s dilemma is how to reach a spiritual awareness in which the mind is asleep while the heart is awake. The heart does not think as the mind. It is attentive to the voice of inspiration. The heart does not think like the mind does – it is capable of hearing the voices of spirit and inspiration.

Common awareness cannot lead us into imagining such a state, since we fall asleep or our souls wonder. Only the state of an awakened heart opens the path along which the encounter may happen: “I rose up to open to my beloved and my hand dropped myrrh and my fingers with sweet smelling myrrh upon the handles of lock”. Now we are crossing the threshold.
The fountain of love exists in all the worlds, but it is sealed and locked. It is our duty to open the path leading to it.

Since man’s expulsion from Eden, the human soul (described at the beginning of Song of Songs as “look not upon me because I am black”), cares for everything around her: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground … for dust … thou art and unto dust shalt thou return”. She cultivates the vineyards: “My mother’s children (notice that she does not say ‘my brothers’) made me the keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard have I not kept”. She cares for others, while neglecting her own soul, her own vineyard.

The time comes in which she seeks her lover: ”Tell me O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon”. She hears the call which announces other possibilities in life, and it is the voice of the spirit: “The voice of my beloved! behold”. And the voice says: ”Rise up and come away”.

The soul, which is invisible to the eye, is like a ”dove in the clefts of the rocks”. She can not reveal her real essence: ”Black, sun bath looked upon me” is not her true nature. During daytime she is ”as the lily among thorns”, a Cinderella, while at night she is a queen.

The Garden of Eden provided the prerequisite circumstances for a psychic spiritual encounter are rooted. There lies the reflection of real life; there, life can come to fruition. The text posits an answer to the question of the expulsion from Eden. It allows a recovery from the fall and relocates man in Eden.

The lover’s voice is saying: “For lo the winter is passed, the rain is over and gone and then flowers appear on the earth … rise up and come away …” The life period that had hidden the true essence is now over. The aim is to bring into life a quality that allows one to remember .In the text, one passes the threshold and enters the garden, the place of blossom and blooming, where the flower of the soul can flourish. There the human soul acquires its own higher sources, the spiritual reality whence she has come. She seeks and finds the lover, and creates the initial contact: “By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth. I sought him but I found him not”. The search takes place in the city (the material world), where the guards go around on patrol and their role is to keep away from the gate those whose time to cross the threshold has not arrived yet.

In the first encounter between him and her, she brings him to her home: ”Brought him into my mother’ house, and in the chamber of her that conceived me”. The mother’s place is the soul’s home. The cosmic mother is always situated in the background, behind the screen.

In chapter 4, the king (world of spirit) dwells with her (the soul), and we get to know her through his eyes. The chapter ends by stating the king’s motive for needing the encounter: “A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse: a spring shut up, a fountain sealed … a fountain of gardens, a well of living waters”. The next chapter becomes possible only after these verses. We have to remember who the speaker is. It is God’s voice. So how can there be anything sealed or locked away from him?
There is no literal answer in the text itself, unless we assume that the fountain, the water source is situated here, and it can only be reached through the means of a heavenly marriage. Thus we can infer that the world of spirit needs the body, the physical world.

Chapter 5 presents the secrets of the process and the merging; the mystical marriage itself, as the king stands, observing and beholding, looking and describing her beauty. As part of creation, a new fountain springs into being: it is the renewal of the spirit, as well as the soul, as they meet. Their renewal is the motive and the cause of their union. The fountainhead of life is located behind those locked walls of the soul: “A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse” and he, the spirit, finds his life source in her.

The text develops as a dialogue, exploring these altered states of awareness. It describes the entrance into the Garden of Eden and the first encounter as a mutual penetration of soul and spirit. This is the initial super-sensual state: “I sleep and my heart waketh”; a state in which I am asleep in terms of whatever concerns the mind, unable to perceive sensory messages, while at the same time the heart remains aware. Awareness is transferred from the mind to the heart.

The heart is the center, where spirit and soul merge.

After the reunion the text says: ”I opened to my beloved but my beloved had withdrawn himself and was gone: My soul failed when he spoke. I sought him and I found him not”. The stage is set, the soul is ready, but then she cannot find him. This is the heart of the encounter. In the ordinary perception of the mind, there is disappointment. How can the encounter and union proceed while the beloved has disappeared while speaking? If, from her point of view, the meeting has not taken place?
“The watchmen that went about the city found me, they smote me, they wounded me the keepers of the walls, took away my veils from me”. She is back to the physical world. But then text then gives a heavenly and transcendental description of him by her. It seems that she does know him very well …

As we step out of the experience and return to a common state of mind, the experience seems illusive and transient. It has already passed away. The minute description of the lover results from a super-sensual struggle. The post-encounter experience is perceived as a wound and a loss. The encounter itself is perceived as a momentary, transient lightning. The record of that encounter is the result of a post-encounter recollection process, which takes place in a different state of awareness. The recollection itself is an element of the flow of inspiration.

After the encounter and its recollection and commitment to memory, the soul now knows what it seeks.

In our physical practice, the more we repeat our actions, the better we get. But that is not how the soul works. Acquiring spiritual skills is the other way around. Any further attempts to reconstruct that experience will be more difficult than in the first time. Hence the phrase “Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seral upon thine arm” and the connection between head, heart and hand in laying Tefilin. We wish to cultivate a certain mood, to nourish a unique state of mind that will assist us in remembering and to strengthen the powers of the heart.

“For love is strong as death, jealousy is cruel as grave”. Experiencing love is not without suffering. One has to remain loyal to love in order that love will remain loyal to her or him; otherwise, it turns into jealousy deep as hell.
We must start anew, make a new beginning from a place of “contented, willing love”, where love does not turn into jealousy.

To summarize,

  1. Once the experience is reached, an encounter takes place. One has to experience that it is transient and that it has passed away, and return to life once the heavenly feast is over. The short interval is perceived as such in terms of the physical world, but the experience itself is everlasting.
  2. We live in a reality of ‘having this as well as that and this while that’. Preparation for the transition into another state and the transition itself take place at the same time. The Song of Songs does not mislead us, as it describes the ‘this and that’ – the experience being simultaneously ephemeral and eternal.
  3. The sense of the threshold is repeatedly emphasized in The Song of Songs.
  4. The masculine element is elusive and transient. It has no independent life on its own. The feminine element is the one that is fertilized, impregnated, gives birth; she is the one that bears the fruits of love across time. She is the one who seeks him out, and he is not the one who is wounded by the watchmen. She is a source of life for him, and he bestows on her the meaning of life and a sense of direction.
  5. The soul may survive without the spirit but the spirit cannot survive without the soul.

The essay is based on lectures by Dr Yeshayahu Ben Aharon and is published with his kind permission.

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