Rav Kook Torah

Shir HaShirim: The Four-Fold Song


Why is this song called Shir HaShirim, the “Song of Songs”?

David’s Harp

According to ancient tradition, King David possessed a special harp that he hung above his bed. At midnight, a north wind would come and blow upon it — and the harp would start to play. David would immediately arise and study Torah until the break of dawn. (Berachot 3b).

But what was the music that David’s harp played?

The Zohar notes that kinnor (כִּנּוֹר), the Hebrew word for harp, is made up of the letters נ"ר and כ"ו. The human soul is called נֵר השם “God’s candle” (Prov. 20:27), and כ"ו is the number 26, the numerical value of God’s name.

Thus David’s harp symbolizes the soul’s encounter with God. And its music is a form of prophetic inspiration, uplifting and engaging the soul.

The Zohar further notes that this harp played four kinds of songs, corresponding to the four letters of God’s name. What were these four songs?

The Four Songs

There are many levels of song. Some sing the Song of their Soul. Within their own soul, they discover everything, their entire spiritual fulfillment.

Others sing the Song of their People. They are not content with the limited realm of the individual soul. It is not expansive enough, not idealistic enough. They aspire to greater heights. With sublime love, they cleave to Knesset Israel, the soul of the entire Jewish people. They sing her songs, feel her pains, and rejoice in her hopes. They contemplate her past and anticipate her future. With love and insight, they probe her spiritual essence.

Others allow their souls to expand beyond the Jewish people. They sing the Song of Humanity. They revel in the grandeur of humanity, in the majesty of its Divine image. They seek humanity’s ultimate purpose and yearn for its higher perfection. From this source of life, they draw inspiration for their thoughts and insights, their aspirations and visions.

And some reach out even higher, until they unite with the entire world, with all of God’s creatures, with all of existence. With all of them, they sing the Song of the Universe. About this lofty song, the Sages pronounced, “One who delves in Perek Shirah each day is promised a share in the World to Come.”

The Song of Songs

And some embrace all four songs together. Each song contributes its unique voice. The songs harmonize and revitalize one another. They ring out with sounds of happiness and joy, laughter and gladness, exultation and holiness. These individuals hear at all times the symphony of the four songs — the Song of the Soul, the Song of the Nation, the Song of Humanity, and the Song of the Universe.

Their complete union becomes a song of holiness. It is the song of God, the song of Israel in its full strength and beauty, in its truth and greatness. The name “Israel” (ישראל) corresponds to shir El (שיר א-ל), the song of God. It is a single song, a double song, a threefold song, and a fourfold song.

This fourfold song is the “Song of Songs which is Solomon’s” — the song of the King, the song of the Master of harmonious peace and completeness.1

(Adapted from Orot HaKodesh vol. II, pp. 444-445)

1 Song of Songs Rabbah 3:1. The name “Solomon” (Shlomo) means shalom, peace and completion.