The Divrei Torah in this section have been translated by Rav Reuven Ungar, Director of Alumni Affairs
By: Rav David Lebor
Recently there has been talk concerning a "culture war". Thank G-d, there is no war; however a fierce argument-even a struggle- is being waged. The struggle relates to specific halachot, and to the public domain (farhesya) of the State of Israel. A central point of contention is the attitude towards, and understanding of, the role of culture and the arts.
The relationship between man and woman provide a fertile battle zone in this "culture war". In his introduction to Shir HaShirim (included in Olat Ri'iya), Rav Kook discusses the role of the arts in general, and provides us with a key to understanding this area in particular.
The Maskilim (literally, the "enlightened ones") claimed that Shir HaShirim should be comprehended in accordance with the simple reading (pshat) of the text; a love story between a man and a woman. They claim that Chazal were uncomfortable with this understanding, and consequently explained the text as a parable to the love of the Jewish People towards Hashem. The Maskilim claimed that the view of Chazal stemmed from a narrow outlook. Because Chazal were not "worldly", they were incapable of feeling the simple love of people and the natural phenomena mentioned in Shir HaShirim.
Rav Kook absolutely negates such an approach. He maintains that the arts fulfill a necessary function. Certain forces are submerged within the human psyche that must be expressed. The arts facilitate this; in the case of Shir HaShirim it is accomplished via the medium of literature. Some concepts cannot be expressed via the arts. Positive values are to be expressed. The bad and the ugly may not pollute the public spiritual health. "Freedom of expression", and the "right of the public to know" are not ultimate values.
Feelings of love and affection between man and wife are healthy and positive. Within proper guidelines they can be expressed in the arts and literature. We learn in Tanach about Yaakov and Rachel, David and Michal. In Judaism there are no taboos; rather there is modesy. Why did Chazal refrain from reading Shir HaShirim according to pshat?
Rav Kook maintains that the approach of Chazal towards Shir HaShirim is not merely plausible; it is imperative. How could one sum up the central message of the Tanach (the all-time bestseller) in one line? The depiction of the relationship between Hashem and man-namely, the love that exists between Hashem and the Jewish People. Yet, no volume of the Tanach directly addresses this issue. Rather, it is usually dealt with via exhortations from the prophets when people strayed from the proper path of obeying Hashem. Thus, Shir HaShirim is dedicated to this all-encompassing theme- the relationship between Hashem and the Jewish People.
Human love is utilized to depict the most exalted form of love- that between The Holy One, Blessed be He and the Jewish People. Rav Kook relates that the Maskilim had never experienced the tremendous experience of love of Hashem; thus they were incapable of comprehending (and certainly not accepting) Chazal's understanding of Shir HaShirim.
Fear of Heaven (Yirat Shamayim) and adherence to halacha are the prerequisites to engage in the arts (for people who are technically and spiritually proficient in the relevant areas). With the proper preparation and guidelines, individuals express themselves in the arts and fulfill their share in perfecting the world in the Majesty of Hashem.
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