Berach Dodi (Make Haste My Beloved)

Yesterday I discussed how to make one’s Seder more Zionistic with bringing in the theme of us returning to the Land of Israel with the Fifth Cup of wine. Today I want to talk about a section of the Passover liturgy that is Zionistic but which we do not read in our congregation: Berach Dodi (ברח דודי), which means “make haste my beloved.”

Berach Dodi is a series of piyutim (liturgical poetry) based of Shir HaShirim, the Song of Songs. Shir HaShirim has a number of references to Israel, such as “I am black but you are comely, O Daughters of Jerusalem,”[1] and “This is my beloved and this is my friend, O Daughters of Jerusalem.”[2] For the rabbis who wrote the piyutim, this is not the relationship between two human lovers but rather between G-d and Israel. The final verse of Song of Songs, where Berach Dodi comes from, reads “Make haste, my beloved, and be like to a gazelle or to a young deer upon the spice-laden mountains.”[3] This is a strange verse to be sure! We are certain about the meaning of the end of Eicha (Lamentations), when we ask for G-d to return to us and to restore us as in the days of the Temple. We are certain of the end of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) when we are told the one thing we must listen to is to fear G-d and keep His commandments. In contrast, the beautiful love poetry of Song of Songs ends with a cliffhanger: the two lovers apart, with one beseeching the other to return at gazelle speed.

Rabbi Akiva, a staunch defender of the Song of Songs at times when other rabbis wanted to remove it from the biblical canon, proclaimed “All the ages are not more precious than the day Israel received the Song of Songs. All the Scriptures are Holy, but the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies!”[4] He also viewed the Song of Songs as a story about the love between G-d and Israel. As such, the separation between G-d and Israel came to be understood as Israel being in exile. Therefore, the final verse is Israel entreating G-d to return as swiftly as possible so that their relationship can be reunited.

Now enters the rabbinic prayers of Berach Dodi.[5] These are requests for G-d to return to us in the Messianic Age. As in the prayer for the first day of Passover “Make haste, my Beloved, and bring the Messiah before the appointed deadline blows by.” The second day’s prayer is no less urgent, imploring “Make haste, my Beloved, to Jerusalem Your abode. If we have strayed from your path, please peer at us through Your lattice and save the poor and bruised people.” The final member of the triumvirate, the piyut for Shabbat Hol HaMoed Pesach (the intermediate Sabbath of Passover) reads “Make haste, my Beloved, to the site of our Temple.”

Why on Passover do some congregations read these prayers? Perhaps it is to remind us of the harsh affliction we felt as slaves in Egypt and that while we have been freed from that, we are still in exile. We need G-d to bring about the Messianic Age, to bring Torah and truth into the world. By reading these piyutim in Shacharit right before we praise G-d for being “Redeemer of Israel” and begin our silent Amidah, we are remembering that we were redeemed once from slavery and yearning that so too do we pray to be redeemed from worldly exile, entering an age of peace.

Do these poems continue to hold meaning for us with the creation of the State of Israel? Some would certainly say yes because even though we have the land of Israel, we do not have the peace and knowledge of the one true G-d that the Messianic Age would bring. Others would say that instead of focusing on worldly exile, we should place the emphasis on redemption, seeing all the wonderful advances that have been created in the Land of Israel and how they lead us to a brighter future. Whatever the case may be, there is still an important place for a prayer like “Make Haste My Beloved,” “Berach Dodi.” How often do we take things for granted, going about our business as usual without a sense of urgency-at least until we feel a fire under us that pushes us forward? How often do we revel in the comforts of our Long Island homes when not recognizing that just down the road there are people who do not have the basic necessities of life? How often do we take our days for granted until a life event shakes us to the reality of the finitude of our lives. Instead of just calling for G-d to make haste, we need to do so as well, living with a sense of purposeful urgency. As we yearn to feel G-d’s presence in our lives, so must we act in a way that demonstrates our active attempts to connect with something greater than ourselves to make our world into a better place.

As we continue to celebrate our Passover holiday, let us strive to wake up and break the chains of exile that we put upon ourselves. May we live each day with purpose and vitality, striving to bring G-d’s presence into our relationships with everyone we touch. As we celebrate our own freedom, let us recognize all those who are enslaved in the world and actively work to make a difference in making them free. May we also recognize the forces to which we are enslaved to and strive to free ourselves from them. In so doing, may we truly have a meaningful and enjoyable holiday, a Hag Kasher V’Sameach.

[1] Song of Songs 1:5

[2] Song of Songs 5:8

[3] Song of Songs 8:14

[4] Mishnah Yedayim 3:5

[5] The prayer recited on the first day was written by Rabbi Shlomo HaBavli of Italy, the second day’s is by his student Rabbi Meshullam ben Kalonymos and the one read on Shabbat Hol HaMoed is by Rabbi Shimon HaGadol of Mainz.

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