Last Updated 2.2.24
The Cause of Exile
What exile actually is, according to Jewish mysticism, to chasidus, to kabbalah, is the entire world, the entire universe, every creation, in a state of misalignment, in a fractured consciousness, in a state where we are not aligned and plugging into the stream of the truth of Ein Od Milvado, there is nothing besides, from the Infinite One, expressing himself, herself, itself, in an infinite number of ways of and forms in this multidimensional quantum universe that it has created, and most specifically inside each and every single one of us, through each and every single one of us, from the highest level of ours souls that remain above in the quantum dimensions, with the Gods-eye view of things, all the way down to the piece of our soul that is now incarnate here, as us within our parameters, our stories.
The above quote underscores the reality that the “misalignment of exile” impacts multiple aspects of existence, with opportunities for repair all along the way.
Shir Hashirim can be read in several ways that relate to this:
- G-d and humanity, the result of Adam and Chavah/Eve being expelled from Gan Edan. This includes the aspect of the feminine being diminished (Gen. 3:16)
- G-d and the “Children of Israel,” who are largely in a diaspora, away from the land of Israel
- G-d and the soul, while we are living in this world of concealment
In all cases of exile, the “status quo” is not conducive to healing, and is unsustainable. Exile has purpose, and that which occurs (and is required) is a means to its end. This is key to understanding Shir Hashirim.
The most accepted interpretation and the one with the most literature related to it, is that related to Israel. This will be at the center of our own ‘commentary,’ though broader applications are found from all there is to learn.
One particular cause of exile for Israel, is sin among the people. Unifying our background articles of the Temple, Shekinah and Israel. This includes evil thoughts without resorting to acting on them. Not surprisingly, this passage directly connects to the Shekinah and moon:
Said R. Jose: ‘Is not evil (ra) the same as wickedness (resha)? He said: No. A man is called wicked if he merely lifts his hand against his neighbour without doing him any harm, as it is written, And he said to the wicked one, why wilt thou smite thy neighbour?, the future tense (wilt smite) implying that he had not yet done anything to him. But only he is called evil who corrupts his way and defiles himself and the earth, and so lends force to the unclean spirit which is called ra (whence it is said that all their thoughts were for evil). Such a one will never enter the heavenly palace nor gaze upon the Shekinah, for by this sin the Shekinah is repelled from the world. We know this from Jacob, who, when the Shekinah departed from him, concluded that there was some stain attaching to his offspring, on account of which the unclean spirit had acquired strength and the light of the moon had been impaired: for this sin defiles the sanctuary. If on this account the Shekinah departed from Jacob, how much more certain is it that it will depart from one who corrupts his way and defiles himself, so giving power to the unclean spirit. Hence when a man defiles himself he is called ra.
Another aspect of sin related to Israel, is the impact when committed inside the land of Israel. This is said to drive off the Shekinah, which is equivalent to exile:
When Israel sinned and defiled the land, they, as it were, drove the Shekinah from its place, and it went to another place, and therefore other nations were allowed to rule over the land. For no angel has control of the land of Israel, but only God. When Israel sinned and burned incense to other gods in the Holy Land, the Shekinah was driven from its place. And other gods were associated with it, and so other nations obtained dominion and the prophets died out, and all the higher grades ceased to rule, and dominion was not withdrawn from other nations, because they drew the Shekinah to themselves. Hence in the time of the second Temple the rule of the other nations did not cease, and even less so in the period of the Exile, when the Shekinah found herself among other nations where other chieftains exercise dominion, deriving their sustenance from the Shekinah, which has consorted with them.
This passage spells out three (increasingly worse) ways that Israel can fail and keep themselves in captivity:
“Thy camp shall be holy” …. We have learnt that for three things Israel are kept in captivity: because they pay scant respect to the Shekinah in their exile, because they turn their faces away from the Shekinah, and because they defile themselves in the presence of the Shekinah.
Aside from Israel specifically, every time a person goes against G-d, he/she moves more toward their own ‘exile.’ This can happen more than once in someone’s life. Conversely, prayer, meditation, observance, all of which are part of teshuvah (return), bring us out of it.
The Purpose of Exile
Only the misfortune of exile can provide the in-depth understanding and the overview into the realities of the world.
This text from Proverbs relates to the idea of attaining ‘wisdom’ through ‘misfortune’:
My son, despise not the discipline of the Lord, and do not abhor His chastening, for the Lord chastens the one He loves, as a father placates a son. Fortunate is the man who has found wisdom and a man who gives forth discernment.
Several things regarding exile (critical to remember when reading Shir Hashirim) are for certain:
- G-d’s desire is connection with us and return to the right path
- Judgment and correction, within a state of exile, work toward His purpose
- There is a time-limit to exile, personally and globally
- G-d’s pledge regarding the end of exile for Israel is in writing – the Torah
As bad as exile can be, the alternative (gehenna/geninnom) is far worse. The suffering endured in exile atones for mistakes:
EXCEPT THEIR ROCK HAD SOLD THEM AND THE LORD HAD DELIVERED THEM UP (Deut. 32:30) Why so? Because Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful (v. 18), and the divine adornments are not in their proper place. R. Judah said: “The rock here is Abraham, who said, ‘Let Israel be condemned to exile rather than to Gehinnom’, and God consented, so that whenever Israel sin they are sent into captivity and their enemies rule over them.” R. Judah said: “Why did Moses reprove Israel thus in this song? Because they were about to enter into the land where the Shekinah would dwell in their midst.” R. Isaac said: “When the prophet said,” The Lord hath a controversy with Judah, and will punish Jacob according to his ways” (Hosea 12:2)
This is the kabbalistic understanding behind a mysterious verse in the Torah:
“For Isaac loved Esau because he had a taste for game.” (Genesis 25:28) … Could it possibly be, that Isaac our father, for whom the Shekinah never parted for a moment, could love someone as completely wicked as Esau? How is that possible? Rather, this verse speaks of a great essential meaning of the Torah. Know that Isaac, our father, peace be with him, could envision the future and he saw that the children of Jacob would sin and enrage YHVH, may He be blessed, and the judgments of Hell would be their inheritance. When Isaac saw that Israel was in the exile of Esau, he was glad, and he said: “Exile atones for sin.” And he said: “Yes, I love the tribulations of Esau, so that they should bring liability to Israel and their harsh judgment shall be finished in the exile of this world, hence, the verse, “For Isaac loved Esau because he had game trapped in his mouth.” What does it mean, “the game was trapped in his mouth?” He saw that the children of Jacob would be trapped by the judgments of Hell. He saw this and was saddened. When he saw the exile of Edom, however, and he saw the game of Hell trapped in the mouth of Esau, he was happy and said: “Exile atones for sin.” Thus it is written, “Israel was holy to YHVH, the first fruits of His harvest. All who ate of it were held guilty; disaster befell them (Jeremiah 2:3).
Sha’are Orah (5th gate) Rabbi Yosef Gikatilla
With regard to exile, there are two phases to redemption (both in the grand scheme and in different phases of history and individual lives). The first of these is called ‘pekidah,’ which carries with it the idea of time and making connection:
“It’s vital to understand that [during pekidah] the revelation of God’s hidden face (hester panim) is only present at the deep [subconscious] level of the collective soul of the people of Israel. It’s not open and revealed at that time, and even further, even that great inner revelation lasts only for a period of time; it’s temporary, though it makes its impact, and then retreats until … It’s first impact is that it lifts the Shechinah (the grand collective of Kenesset Yisrael) from the dust … And don’t think that nothing is accomplished during pekidah, for there is profound rectification … still, it is followed by a period of darkness, a darkness that leads to a progressive diminution of Torah, a [national, spiritual] weakness. (Isaiah:10-11, 18)
Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf, Covid Ha’atzmaut: The Shofar in Our Hearts (1)
This interim time of Israel’s exile, and its correction, connects to the idea of the relationship between a husband and wife, which is reflected in the dialogue of Shir Hashirim:
”In Hebrew, The Book of Numbers is called Bamidbar, ‘In the Desert”. It has an additional name: The Book of Counting, because it relates to the counting of the Children of Israel. The Hebrew word for counting, pekidah, also alludes to the intimate relationship between husband and wife. The entire book tells of the tension in the intimate relationship between God and Israel. This tension must be rectified and sweetened to become pekidah (intimate relations), a rectified relationship between God and Israel.
Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, “Bamidbar: The Book of Numbers”
A main point is that the diminished capacity of the ‘feminine’ in exile, be that alluding to the Shekinah, Israel, humanity, women specifically (Gen 3:16), or the soul – is temporary. In fact, the return will be greater than the original state.
Aspects of the Exile
Hashem sent us into exile to elevate the hidden sparks but He didn’t send us here alone. He gave us the Shekinah and Her holiness to keep us connected on High.
Tikkun Shekinah, Reb Moshe Steinerman
Even in a state of exile, Israel’s connection to Hashem is continual, via the Shekinah, who is ‘exiled’ with them. This is seen in the word Shechinah itself, as it relates to both, shachen, which is a ‘neighbor,’ and shochen, meaning “to dwell within.”
For whenever Israel is in exile the Shekinah accompanies them, as it is written, “Then the Lord thy God will return (v’-shab) with thy captivity” (Deut. 30:3). According to another explanation, “The angel of his presence” signifies the Shekinah, which accompanies them in exile. Hence in the Scripture the words “and I have remembered my covenant” (Exodus 6:5) are immediately followed by “and now, behold, the cry of the children of Israel is come unto me; moreover, I have seen” (Exodus 3:9). It is also written, “And God remembered his covenant” (Exodus 2:24), referring to the Shekinah, “with Abraham.”
As discussed earlier, the 4-letter name of G-d (YHVH) aligns with the four Worlds of Existence. The lowest of these worlds (Asiyah) is that of our present reality, and is associated with the emanation of Malkhut, the Shekinah, lower Jerusalem, etc.
The state of exile of the Shekinah, is expressed in terms of the final letter of the name (Hey) being ‘exiled.’ The concept of return, teshuvah, may be read “tashuv hey,” literally, “returning the letter Hey”:
The Holy One, blessed be He, swore that he would not enter the heavenly Jerusalem save after Israel had entered the earthly Jerusalem, as it is said: “I am the holy one in the midst of thee, and I will not come into the city” (Hosea 11:9). That means that so long as the Shekinah is here in exile the Name on high is not complete, the arrangements of the Divine Powers are not properly affected, and, if it were possible to say so, the Holy Name is left impaired.
The attribute of Malkhut/Kingdom, is associated with King David. (2) The return of the letter Hey (above), and the Shekinah’s return from exile, are synonymous with the return of the Kingdom, which was promised to King David:
Because this attribute travels with the people of Israel in exile, we pray that “the kingdom of David Your anointed be returned to its place.”
Sha’are Orah (1st gate) Rabbi Yosef Gikatilla
When Israel is in a state of exile, one of two main conditions take place (which are alluded to in the chapters of Shir Hashirim):
- If they seek teshuvah and gravitate to the Torah, they only encounter some degree of physical misfortune. By distancing themselves from the ways of the nations, Israel “pays the price” alone. This is the less serious state.
- It they forsake Torah while in exile and willfully assimilate into the nations; this is spiritual degeneration and worse evil befalls them. In this case, the Torah joins in bearing witness against them (to the degree of the transgression.)
In either case, the same Torah bears witness to the promise of their relationship to Hashem:
“I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.”
Shir Hashirim 6:3
The level to which the Shekinah has impact, even when not in exile, can vary, even due to the transgression of others among B’nei Y’srael:
AND HIS BRETHREN WENT TO FEED THEIR FATHER’S FLOCK IN SHECHEM. R. Simeon said: The dots on the top of the particle ‘eth’ in this sentence indicate that the Shekinah accompanied them by reason of their being a band of ten. (They were only ten because Joseph was not with them and Benjamin remained at home on account of his tender age.) Hence, when they sold Joseph they were in the company of the Shekinah, and, furthermore, they associated the Shekinah with them in their oath (not to reveal the affair of Joseph); and until the fate of Joseph became known, the Shekinah did not rest on Jacob.
Even someone at a high level of righteousness can experience this, due to a moment of doubt:
When Jacob said to his sons, “I will tell you what will befall you in the latter end of days”, a kind of sadness came over him and the Shekinah departed. His sons, however, raised their voices and said, “Hear, O Israel, etc.,” and Jacob answered, “Blessed be the name of his glorious kingdom for ever and ever”, and on this proclamation of the unity the Shekinah returned to its place.
A lesson here (one seen through Shir Hashirim) is that two states can be ‘present’ at once. We can be both apart from G-d (in a sense and for a reason) yet also remain together (via His promise of return).
This is important when reading Shir Hashirim as it presents both a diminished ‘feminine’ aspect, but within the greater context of “Ein Od Milvado” – there is not other power (besides Hashem) The lack of ‘connectivity’ between the feminine voice in the text, and G-d, is not evidence of any permanent limitation (not should this be the focus when reading). Rather it one of the future promise and hope. This is a correct and ‘futuristic’ view one should have.
This is especially seen in the verse (6:3) that is associated with the month of ELUL, as the four letters are the acronym for Ani Le’dodi V’dodi Li (“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine”) which is a MUTUAL song of praise, though in exile, speaks as her true essence.
In all other songs either God praises Israel or they praise Him. In the Song of Moses [at the Red Sea] they praise Him, saying, This is my God, and I will glorify Him (Ex. 15:2). In the Song of Moses [before his death] He praises them, as we read, He made him ride on the high places of the earth (Deut. 32:13). Here, however, they praise Him and He praises them. He praises them: Behold thou art beautiful, my beloved (1:16), and they praise Him: Behold thou art beautiful, my beloved, verily pleasant (1:17)
– Midrash Rabbah Shir Hashirim 1:11
The Moses-Solomon Connection
The Zohar offers another aspect to the exile and significance of Shir Hashirim. The Shekinah is in a state of ‘limbo’ between two worlds. She is apart from the (heavenly) King and is also apart from the people. Thus, there are two different connections that need to be made. The Zohar explains the roles of Moses for one and Solomon for the other (also alluding to the concept of the moon being diminished). The text of Shir Hashirim alludes to both actions in places.
The Solution to the Exile
In all the places, the male chases the Nukva (female) and awakens the love toward her. But here it turns out that she awakens the love and chases him, as it is written, “Set me as a seal upon your heart.” (Song of Songs 8:6) Usually, however, it is not to the Nukva’s credit to chase the male. Indeed, this is an unclear matter and a sublime thing, hidden in the treasures of the King.
– Baal Sulam
The above passage/idea is unusual as it indicates a pro-active response from the female (‘nukveh’) which is generally known for a more passive/receptive status (i.e., Malkhut). However, every emanation, partzuf, person, etc., has the capacity to act in multiple dimensions, as everything is made in the complete “Image of G-d.”
This tells us that the feminine (Israel) can be actively involved in bringing about the redemption. In fact, it/we must take on an active role. This is known as itaruta d’ltatah (Aramaic), the “awakening from below.” This action, on the part of the ‘bride,’ stirs up the corresponding awakening from above, called itaruta d’layla.
There is no itaruta d’layla, no Awakening from Above, until there is first an itaruta d’ltata; for the itaruta d’layla requires a yearning from below.
G-d Himself has arranged it so that when we move, He ‘follows.’ This is a deeper understanding of this verse:
Hashem is your guardian. Hashem is your shadow.
It’s up to us and there are many tasks, each one presenting itself according to Hashem’s plan and timing:
“The Shechinah does not gather them except as a result of the actions of those below … the job is left for us to do. Every spark is precious and must be raised out of the klippot. And each one must be elevated through our using free choice to do good. Until we finish our awakening from below, the sparks cannot be fixed, and Mashiach as it were, cannot come.”
“Divine Presence in Exile,” Shabtai Teicher
The first step on the part of the people is having the correct desire – itself an aspect of our Creator’s ‘desire’ or ‘will’ (ratzon) preceding the Creation:
“Please arrive and have mercy on Zion, for it is time to mercifully favor her; for the destined time has come. Because your servants lovingly desire her very stones, and cherish her dust.” (Psalms 102:14-5) Reflecting on these verses, Rabbi Yehudi Halevi says at the end of the Kuzari, “The only way Jerusalem will be rebuilt is if the children of Israel intensely long for it, so much so that they express their love for her stones and dust.”
– Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf, Covid Ha’atzmaut: The Shofar in Our Hearts
What it takes follows the established means of heart, soul/mind and strength (Deut. 6:5):
The final stage of creation, that which merges into and with history, is the union of the Little Face with the Divine Partner, or in kabbalistic terms, Zeir Anpin and Nukveh (groom and bride)… This is a union that is temporary and completely dependent upon the good actions, thoughts, and feelings of sentient beings…”
Kabbalah of Creation, Eliahu Klein
Once the arousal from below begins in earnest …
Special help from Heaven is given when gathering in the exiles at the beginning of the Redemption.
Kol Hator, chapter 3
The Shir Hashirim-Esther Connection
There are several interesting connections found between the books of Esther and Shir Hashirim, that relate to this project:
- Both texts involve the people in a type of exile
- There is a main masculine character and a main feminine one
- There is some action that the female must take for a better situation to arise
- These actions relate to an “arousal from below” (on the part of the people)
- Both result in an intensification of the commitment to follow Torah despite the challenges of exile
- In both texts, the people are involved with a foreign entity (a palace and a ‘vine’)
- References to wine/intoxication go beyond the physical aspect
- The names Esther and Shoshana (‘rose’ in Shir Hashirim) share the numerical value of 661
- Neither book has any of the “names of G-d” in it
“Indeed, in the days of Mordechai and Esther, the Jews were far from deserving salvation, they had utterly despaired of redemption, and the events of the time unfolded in a gradual, natural fashion, without the fanfare of great miracles or any other indication that what was actually taking place was the stirrings of a salvation of historic proportions. In fact, as an indication of how obscure Divine involvement was at the time, the name of God is never even mentioned in the Book of Esther.”
Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf, Orthodox Union
A very deep concept at the heart of both books is the ultimate connection between “beginning and end” (aleph & tav, alpha & omega, etc.) those being the emanations of Keter (crown) and Malkhut (kingdom).
This connection is more ‘hidden’ in Shir Hashirim, and is expressed in a specific manner in the book of Esther:
“The word keter (crown) only appears three times in the whole Tanakh and all three are in the Book of Esther and always in the phrase “keter–malchut” which hints to a powerful kabbalistic practice, called yichud (unification/singularity).”
Keter-Malchut, Sarah Yehudit Schneider
As with all seeming disunity, the “break in the connection” between Keter and the Shekinah, though ‘real,’ is only from our perspective. (We’re here to find our way back to that reality.) A reminder of this is found in the common blessings beginning with Baruch ‘Attah:
Although the Shekinah is in exile, do not think that She is, God forbid, separated from Keter, this is not so, God forbid, as you cannot find Keter that is not united with it, even less, you cannot find the unity of Malkhut without the union of Keter with Her. In every place where the First is found, also the Last is found, which means as the first adheres to the last, as it is impossible to attribute the number first to anything if not in relation to the last thing to it, as if there is no last, it is impossible to say first. We learn from it, that the first things is united with the last thing, that immediately when the first thing is known, also the last one is known, too, and the last one is found within it, and is not separated from it. So too is the issue of Keter and Malkhut, as they are forever not separated from each other, as they are always united with each other … so we find that they are near each other in accordance to the secret of Barukh ‘Attah, even though they are distant (from each other) by ten ranks as this is the secret of unity.
Rabbi Shabtai Sheftel Horwitz, Shefa’ Tal 64c, as sited in Moshe Idel (below)
The interpretation of the blessing “Baruch Attah,” is that the first term refers to the absent divine entity, while ‘Attah refers to this present one, which is referring to disclosure or revelation.
The Privileged Divine Feminine in Kabbalah, Moshe Idel
The aspect of ‘action’ regarding the arousal from below in the lowest emanation of Malkhut, is a reflection of the highest sefirah of Keter.
The following explains how each spiritual level ‘reveals’ the one above it, be it the Worlds of Existence, sefirot, partzufim or “level of interpretation.” However, as the “original goal” in the mind of Hashem is the last thing to come to fruition, there is a unique relationship where the last emanation of Malkhut/Kingdom (which includes our world of physicality & action) is the true expression of the very first one, Keter/Crown:
“It should also be noted that the revelation of keter is in chochmah. Chasidus is the effusion of new radiance from the innermost level of keter, the crown or highest of the sefirot. Kabbalah corresponds to chochmah, the following sefirah. Each spiritual level in the order of descent of creation is revealed in the subsequent level: The top point of the letter yud [representing keter] is revealed in the yud; similarly Yechidah is revealed in Chaya; ratzon (will) is revealed in chochmah, etc. But the intensity and essence of keter is expressed only through physical action.”
On The Essence of Chasidus, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson
Which is behind this statement from a preeminent kabbalistic text, which reflects the previously mentioned idea of the “return of the letter Hey” (the end) to its place:
Their end is in their beginning and their beginning in their end.
– Sefer Yetzirah 1:7
On to the Text!
Whether “Mordechai or Haman” better describes your life right now, this project is for you. It’s about Hashem’s timing and help is always there, we just need to remember that.
This text sums up our four background articles:
“Where is the lowest of worlds? You’re in it. This is the world of total otherness, a world where there dwell creatures that have no sense of anything else other than this world. Some even sense that they themselves are the masters of this world, or even that nothing else exists other than themselves. It is a material world: Things couldn’t get more discretely tangible, more self-absorbed, more otherly, than they are down here.
Which is why the Shechinah descends within this world: to seek out those most precious sparks, to rescue them from their shells of darkness, to reconnect them to their Source above so that they become once again meaningful and divine—all through us, Her agents, so that this world and this life of ours plays out as not just another zero-sum game, but as an investment with incomparable returns. In that search, Her destiny becomes wrapped up in theirs, wrapped up in darkness and in confusion. So much so that She cannot redeem those sparks without redeeming Herself. And in that struggle, as we will see, She redeems not only the sparks, but the darkness itself…
This world cannot be healed and transformed except by those who dwell within it. Allow the Infinite Light to shine into our world unshielded, and there is no world—it would vanish as a shadow before a bright light. Tikkun means keeping the world standing while repairing from within—as one might renovate a home without disturbing its inhabitants. The ultimate tikkun is a harmony of a world that can contain Infinite Light and yet remain a world. To do that requires something that is of the world and yet beyond it. It requires a captive. And so the Shechinah, and our souls that are sparks of the Shechinah, place themselves in voluntary captivity so they can do the job from inside.”
“Exile of the Shechinah and Descent of the Soul,” Tzvi Freeman
- The article this is from is based upon “Secrets of the Redemption” (Ma’amar HaGeulah) by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (the Ramchal). This book is now fully back in print and may be the most important commentary for this generation.
- During Sukkot, each of the seven days is associated with one of the lower seven sefirot and a Biblical figure. In order, Chesed/Abraham, Gevurah/Isaac, Tiferet/Jacob, Netzach/Moses, Hod/Aaron, Yesod/Joseph and Malkhut/David.
How you can take part in the Shir Hashirim Project!
At the moment (before dealing with the text) we have four “background articles.” As people contribute more information and ideas, there may be more articles, including breaking up these four into separate pieces. This is the first phase of the project.
- Read the four background articles, then read the text of Shir Hashirim (or the other way around) to see what thoughts come to mind.
- Use the search terms (below) and your imagination to find relevant ideas.
- If something connects to anything you have read, or videos you’ve seen, send us the link with what to look for. Please state where the specific reference is in the article/video as time does not permit long reads/views.
- If what you are thinking of is an original concept or theme, write to us here or visit our Facebook group to post, and explain what you are pondering and we will go from there!
- OUR EMAIL: info@Matrix4Humans.com
- FACEBOOK: www.Facebook.com/groups/Devekut
KEY SEARCH TERMS FOR THIS ARTICLE: chasidus, singularity, concealment, exile, purpose, atonement, tikkun, repair, Israel, Shekinah, pekidah, judgment, Elul, Ani Le’dodi V’dodi Li, arousal from below, Purim, Esther, Keter, return, feminine, elevation, Ze’ir Anpin, Nukvh, bride, groom, divine
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