Talmud this Shabbat: Three Love Stories That Are Dark, True, and Ours

In a recent Talmud class, one of our learners observed that beer commercials always show people who are young, hip, fit, healthy, happy, and in love, living and loving life without a care in the world. They drink. They play. They laugh. They barbecue. They enjoy the beach. Happy and perfect.

Why is that not us?

Are we not the beer commercial because we carry the heaviness of Jewish history?

Or are we not the beer commercial because it is not the human condition? Life is not like that. Real people are not like that.

This question-from whence comes the complexity, the weight, the lack of ease-is reflected in a special reading associated with Pesach, day 8. We read the Song of Songs, which is supposed to be a love story, the canonical equivalent of the beer commercial, young lovers in love. But it is not. As we will see the lovers in the Song of Songs can never get it together. They yearn without fulfillment. They seek without finding. Their love is deeply felt and not consummated. The Song of Songs is the opposite of the beer commercial.

We are going to consider Song of Songs in the context of two other love stories, also dark, also true, and also ours– Abraham and Isaac, and Leonard Cohen’s final song, You Want it Darker, in which he says Kaddish for himself, written a few weeks before his death. This song is his midrash both on Song of Songs and on Abraham and Isaac. We will study his lyrics and hear him sing it.

We don’t do easy days at the beach. Because we are Jewish? Or because we are human? What do our love stories say about us?

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,