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In the Fever of Love
An Illumination of the Song of Songs

by Rabbi Shefa Gold

illustrations by Phillip Ratner

“A delightfully risky book! Shefa Gold, songstress and prophetess, here dares to reveal her heart, soul, and body in an intimate, erotic elaboration on the Song of Songs. But more than that: she audaciously proposes a Judaism whose ten commandments are mandates to love.”
Jay Michaelson, author of Another Word for Sky: Poems and God in Your Body: Kabbalah, Mindfulness and Embodied Spiritual Practice

You don’t have to be a mystic to enjoy Rabbi Shefa Gold’s new commentary on the Song of Songs, but it may make you into one. Rather than address herself to the reader, she speaks directly, and passionately, to God, The Beloved. She invites us to share in her conversation with life itself, with the mystery that wells “at the center of every molecule, at the heart of my being.” This book breathes new life into the ancient practice of both Jews and Christians to read the Song as an allegory of the love between God and human beings.

Some mystical teaching takes us away from this world. Shefa belongs to that deeper stream that invites us to plunge into the heart of ordinary life, and find the Holy there. Ordinary love becomes a primary doorway to the God who says, “Choose life” as it is, not as we might like it to be. Everyday experience becomes the winnowing, purifying path beyond the ego’s defensive isolation into our deepest capacities for love and right relationship.

The rich, poetic text can be used for pondering, praying, and perceiving life in a deeper way by people of any faith, but remains deeply rooted in Judaism’s down-to-earth approach to the world.

Shefa brings a modern psychological awareness to this ancient text, which values as “grist for the mill” not only the virtues, but also the shadow side of our soul. Our passion to be “fully ourselves” and “live life to the full” is claimed as a doorway into God, if we can but see that, in all things, God is seeking to embrace us more fully. “How shall I embrace this life that I have been given?” she asks. The answer? Embrace life fully, both the light and the dark.
In interpreting “I am dark and beautiful,” for example, she includes our mistakes, regrets, our quarrel with life and argument with the world. Even in these, “dark beauty” shines. What could be truer to the tradition of Jacob/Israel, who wrestled in the dark with a stranger who turned out to be God. The “wilderness” of the text becomes the modern wilderness of aloneness. The “garden” becomes the totality of life, “both its awesomeness and its awfulness, all of it.” “Sleep” becomes our media-driven, trance-like conformity. What is essential—and this has always been the mystic’s message—is to find in the midst of life’s tumult “a center of calm, my still and spacious, waiting, open heart.”

Only from this place can the Beloved’s hidden presence become manifest.

For those who want specific directions, she appends ten “commandments” from the Song (actually, twenty, since each is bi-partate) which can be maxims for daily living.

The Rev. Robert Corin Morris,
Episcopal Priest,
Executive Director of Interweave,
author of Wrestling with Grace
and Suffering and the Courage of God.

From the Author
­“The whole Torah is Holy,” says Rabbi Akiva, “but the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies.”

When it came time to decide which of the ancient books would become part of the canon for Israel, there was a stormy argument about this beloved text, sometimes called “The Song of Solomon.”

The objections were numerous:

The name of God is absent from its pages; its words were lustily sung in every tavern. Not only does it glorify sexual love but the lovers were clearly not married! Further, it celebrates Nature and the pleasures of the body.

Yet, despite all these arguments, the opinion of Rabbi Akiva (a great mystic and an important religious leader in the 2nd century) held sway, and the Song of Songs was preserved as one of the holy books of Torah.

Judaism is a great storehouse of treasures. And it is a vital, dynamic, living conversation that spans the globe and the centuries. Every generation inherits the accumulation of text, music, commentary, law, custom, recipes, and secret wisdom. And it is the responsibility of each generation to experience revelation: to fully receive, interpret, and add to the treasure. Further, we are charged to pass it on to the generation to come—in a form more relevant and more alive to our present-day challenges and sensibilities. In this way, the storehouse is constantly renewed, and will stand for all time, a witness to everything that has passed before and a guide to what comes next.

The Torah commands that we love God “with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our might.” We are commanded to “love the stranger” and “to love our neighbor as our own selves.” And we are asked to receive God’s love in the form of Torah, community, history and the wonders of Nature. These commandments to love are at the heart of Torah. They constitute the most simple, and the most complicated, challenge to living a holy life.

The Path of Love is the attempt to meet the challenge of learning to love and be loved. It is the most rigorous spiritual path of all.

Stepping onto the Path of Love, I am faced with every resistance, every illusion, every obstacle to self-realization. The Great Work is suddenly laid out before me in startling detail. In the words of the Song, “I was asleep but my heart was awake. Listen! My lover is knocking.”

The Song sings to all whose hearts lie awake, waiting to be roused by God, our true love, Who is knocking and Who calls us to become ourselves and to be connected in sacred union with all of Creation and with the Source of All. God is knocking with the reality of each moment. I am not always open to hearing the call: Sometimes the truth of this moment is distorted when desire compels me to reach out for what’s next and thus miss what is right in front of me; or when I am so preoccupied with the past or my ideas about what should be, that I miss what is.

My initiation onto this Path of Love requires that I wake up and stay present to the truth that is spread before me, to the miraculous garden of my ongoing re-birth. It requires that I open my heart to the “Other.” It demands that I acknowledge and face squarely every obstacle to love’s fulfillment. Those obstacles are my defenses, built by the false self out of layers of fear and the illusion of my separateness from God and Creation.


About the Author
Rabbi Shefa Gold is a leader in Aleph: Alliance for Jewish Renewal and received her ordination both from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and from Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi.

She is the director of C-DEEP: The Center for Devotional, Energy and Ecstatic Practice in Jemez Springs, New Mexico and around the world.

Shefa composes and performs spiritual music, has produced ten albums, and her liturgies have been published in several new prayerbooks. She teaches workshops and retreats on the theory and art of Chanting, Devotional Healing, Spiritual Community Building, Meditation, and trains Chant Leaders in Kol Zimra, a two year program for rabbis, cantors and lay leaders. She is also on the faculty of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality.

Shefa combines her grounding in Judaism with a background in Buddhist, Christian, Islamic, and Native American spiritual traditions to make her uniquely qualified as a spiritual bridge celebrating the shared path of devotion. She is the author of Torah Journeys: The Inner Path to the Promised Land, released in 2006.

More information, including her teaching schedule, can be found at http://www.RabbiShefaGold.com

 

“A daring and original commentary to the Song of Songs.”
Arthur Green, Dean of the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College

“For Shefa Gold, the Song of Songs is—as Rabbi Akiba said—a Holy of Holies. It is at once God’s word to us, ours to God, and the loving words of human lovers to each other. Readers of In the Fever of Love will be inspired and led deeper into their own souls by her shimmering interpretations.”
Alicia Ostriker, author of For the Love of God: The Bible as an Open Book

“Rabbi Akiba said that if we had not been given the Torah we could live according to the teachings of the Song of Songs. He did not tell us how to do that, but when he uttered these words he must have seen that Shefa Gold, in the far future, would tell us how to live by the light of love.”
Yitzhak Buxbaum, author of The Light and Fire of the Baal Shem Tov.

“Shefa Gold opens for all of us a path to open-hearted awareness.”
Sylvia Boorstein, Author of Happiness is an Inside Job: Practicing for a Joyful Life

“A delightfully risky book! Shefa Gold, songstress and prophetess, here dares to reveal her heart, soul, and body in an intimate, erotic elaboration on the Song of Songs. But more than that: she audaciously proposes a Judaism whose ten commandments are mandates to love.”
Jay Michaelson, author of Another Word for Sky: Poems and God in Your Body: Kabbalah, Mindfulness and Embodied Spiritual Practice

“An amazing, loving and poetic commentary on this sacred text. A wonderful and awakening experience.”
Rabbi David A Cooper, author of God is a Verb

 

Rabbi Shefa Gold's teaching schedule is maintained at http://www.rabbishefagold.com/schedule.html

Only $14.95. (NJ residents: add 7% sales tax.)

Resources:

The Ten Commandments of the Song of Songs

 

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