Monday, June 21, 2010

Searching out the foxes.

Catch the foxes,
the little foxes
that spoil the vineyards,
for our vineyards are in flower.
אֶֽחֱזוּ־לָנוּ שֽׁוּעָלִים
שֽׁוּעָלִים קְטַנִּים
מְחַבְּלִים כְּרָמִים
וּכְרָמֵינוּ סְמָדַֽר
Song of Solomon 2:15

Instructions on searching out the meaning of a text. We absolutely must understand the plain meaning of the text, but we should also be ready to turn it and turn it, and discover new, additional meanings as well. (From the Maggidic blog here - ht Midrash blog)

The Midrash blog notes one form of searching out the text: begin the discourse with a “distant” scripture... which is used to shed light on the text being interpreted. This example also uses a parable.

1. We absolutely must understand the plain meaning of the text.

What have foxes to do with the Song? The word occurs 7 times in the Hebrew Scripture. The vineyard in the Song is the place where the lovers live and work. One may be forced to keep the vineyards of others and not able to keep one's own (Song 1:6). The Beloved is like a vineyard (Song 1:14). The foxes spoil the vineyard, the place of love (Song 7:12). One may have many such vineyards but in the end it is
כַּרְמִי שֶׁלִּי לְפָנָי 
 My vineyard that is mine is before me. 
(Song 8:11,12 vineyard is an inclusio for the whole poem.) How will I tend it?  Psalm 63
O God you are my God
I will seek you early
My life thirsts for you
my flesh faints for you
in a land dry and languished failing in waters
for your loving kindness is better than life
and those who seek to destroy my being
they will go to the nethermost parts of the earth
they will vanish by the hand of the sword
they will be a portion of foxes

2. Now turn it and turn it

While the enemies of Israel are round about, and can be interpreted as foxes (as my old Jerusalem Bible does - rather bluntly as if no other interpretation was possible), the troubles of a life are closer than geography.

In the Song, the foxes (shu`alim) occur twice in one verse and the Shulamite twice in one verse. This too can be seen as an inclusio around the word of peace (shalom). The beloved herself must learn to care for her own vineyard and must not be like a fox.

Twice only is fox referred to in the New Testament, the king Herod is such (Luke 13:32) and the foxes are said to have holes while the son of man has nowhere to lay his head (Luke 9:58, ||Matthew 8:20). The Herod family is generally thought to be Idumean, but this note might indicate otherwise. In any case, the reading of the foxes as political enemies around Israel requires the reading of Israel as the beloved of the Song.

How is the vineyard of the son of man to be kept from the fox?

And he said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to day and to morrow, and the third [day] I shall be perfected.

The perfection achieved is sufficient to the task of catching the foxes (shu`alim) and bringing them to peace (shalom). Let it be then that one read the Song both individually and corporately, both as a love song of the time and as a love song for the present, both as a song of the Beloved for his people then (Isaiah 5:1) and also for the 24 elders who sing the new song now and in the time to come (Revelation 5:9).

But let it be, Beloved, I speak as one, that nothing be lacking.

3. Now summarize with a distant text, then a near text.

The fox is one who brings trouble to the lovers. The trouble cannot be sufficient to destroy love. For Love is strong as death, passion as fierce as the grave. The grave is overcome by the one who gave his life for the life of the world. So the foxes are caught, but they had their reason for giving trouble, that the Shulamite might learn to lean on her Beloved and not on her own strength, nor even on the forceful orders of her brothers. Daughters of Jerusalem, this is my beloved and this is my companion, he is all sweetness.

This is not a simple process...