On Shabbat of Chol HaMoed Pesach we read from the beautiful love poetry of Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs/Song of Solomon). Our tradition understands this poem as an allegory for God’s love affair with the Jewish people. Just as a lover reads each line of a love note carefully, even reading between the lines, our rabbis read spiritual insights into and out of this poem. The poem presents the beloved as having been “brought into the house of wine.” (2:4) What is the meaning of this?
Rashi comments that “house of wine” refers to the Tent of Meeting in the Tabernacle, where the details and explanations of the Torah were given. What connection between wine and Torah study could Rashi be thinking of? The Talmud points out that the gematria (numerical value) of “wine” is 70, which corresponds to the 70 sages of the Sanhedrin, who had the privilege of revealing the inner meanings of the Torah. Wine reveals secrets, including the secrets of the Torah. The Tent of Meeting was the place those secrets were revealed.
Wine can be a lubricant for discussion and the uninhibited exchange of ideas. Perhaps this is why we are instructed to imbibe cups of wine at the Seder, and to spread them out rather than drink them all at once. Interspersed with the drinking is the expounding upon the Exodus from Egypt. The wine can “liberate” our thinking, and thus enrich our conversation. The Gaon of Vilna noted that the gematria of “wine,” 70, is also the number assigned to the ultimate number of interpretations of Torah, the “Seventy Faces of Torah.” By sharing a “Le-Chaim!” with God, we couple our celebration of freedom with God’s loving embrace, and may merit to access the full meaning of the Torah.
Have a liberating Pesach,
Rabbi Mitch Levine