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The Systems of the Jewish Year

The Bond of All Mothers (Shir Hashirim)

By Rabbi Sender Haber

In Shir Hashirim, the girls of Jerusalem are encouraged to go out and see the crown that King Shlomo’s mother made for him on the day of his wedding.

According to the Medrash, King Shlomo’s mother never made him a crown. This crown is a reference to the Mishkan which we – the Jewish people - created for Hashem.

During the time of the Roman empire, the Caesar once decreed that it was illegal to keep Shabbos, to marry, or to circumcise. Rav Shimon bar Yochai and Rav Elazar ben Rav Yosi travelled Rome to meet with the Caesar. When they arrived, the Caesar’s daughter had gone insane and the Caesar had already sent for Rav Shimon Bar Yochai to come and cure her. Sure enough Rav Shimon Bar Yochai whispered something into the princess’s ear and she was cured of her illness. Out of gratitude, the Caesar allowed Rav Shimon Bar Yochai into the royal archives where he promptly located the anti-Semitic edicts and ripped them up.

The Talmud tells us that originally Rav Yosi did not want to allow his son Rav Elazar to accompany Rav Shimon Bar Yochai on the trip. He said, ‘you wouldn’t dare ask my father to allow me on the trip’, to which Rav Shimon Bar Yochai responded that nobody would have dared to ask his father – Yochai – either. In the end Rav Shimon bar Yochai promised Rav Yosi that his son would not be harmed. At one point on the trip Rav Elazar acted disrespectfully but Rav Shimon bar Yochai could not punish him because of his promise

The Medrash on Shir Hashirim writes that Rav Shimon bar Yochai asked Rav Elazar if perhaps his father had an explanation of the ‘crown that King Shlomo’s mother made for him’. Rav Elazar explained that the word ‘Umah’ or nation, can also be read as ‘Ima’ – mother. We refer to our relationship with Hashem as that of a daughter or a sister, but our relationship with Hashem can also be like that of a mother. This was manifested in the Mishkan where Hashem allowed us to create a dwelling place for Him and make requests of Him. This was the ‘crown’ that we made for G-d.

Rav Shimon bar Yochai kissed Rav Elazar and said, ‘it was worthwhile to be here in Rome just to hear that explanation of the verse.

It seems to me that Rav Shimon bar Yochai was very disturbed by the Caesar’s willingness to tear up a decree just for his daughter. Perhaps he was also struck by the concern that Rav Yosi had for his son. How could it be that human beings will do anything for their children and yet Hashem had allowed us to become so downtrodden and so persecuted under the Romans.

Rav Elazar bar Yosi’s explanation was perfect. It is true that when we sin we seem to lose even out ‘daughter’ status, but when we improve our actions our relationship with Hashem can rise to that of a sister or even a mother. A daughter expects her mother to ask anything of her an we have a right to do the same.

These were the words that comforted Rav Shimon bar Yochai.

Sources: Rashi on Shir Hashirim, Meilah 17b, Shavuos 35b

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