Thursday, October 20, 2005

Shir HaShirim 1:4 And Frolicking Together

Shir Hashirim 1:4 reads:

ד מָשְׁכֵ֖נִי אַֽחֲרֶ֣יךָ נָּר֑וּצָה הֱבִיאַ֨נִי הַמֶּ֜לֶךְ חֲדָרָ֗יו נָגִ֤ילָה וְנִשְׂמְחָה֙ בָּ֔ךְ נַזְכִּ֤ירָה דֹדֶ֨יךָ֙ מִיַּ֔יִן מֵֽישָׁרִ֖ים אֲהֵבֽוּךָ׃

which is rendered correctly by the JPS translation as:

ד מָשְׁכֵנִי, אַחֲרֶיךָ נָּרוּצָה; הֱבִיאַנִי הַמֶּלֶךְ חֲדָרָיו, נָגִילָה וְנִשְׂמְחָה בָּךְ--נַזְכִּירָה דֹדֶיךָ מִיַּיִן, מֵישָׁרִים אֲהֵבוּךָ. 4 Draw me, we will run after thee; the king hath brought me into his chambers; we will be glad and rejoice in thee, we will find thy love more fragrant than wine! sincerely do they love thee.
Rashi, following the lead of the trup, separates the first three words into מָשְׁכֵנִי and אַחֲרֶיךָ נָּרוּצָה. Many moderns (e.g. Gordis, Hakham), unfortunately, do not, but rather have מָשְׁכֵנִי אַחֲרֶיךָ and נָּרוּצָה. Besides being against the trup, it is against the strong dagesh in the nun of נָּרוּצָה, which is derivative of the trup - for the unstressed open syllable ךָ at the end of אַחֲרֶיךָ desires to be closed, and is indeed closed, by the geminate nun created in the word נָּרוּצָה, but this will only happen when the next word is not separated off by a disjunctive accent. Here, we have a conjunctive accent, the munach, but were we to separate as do the moderns, we would place the disjunctive accent of tipcha on the word אַחֲרֶיךָ instead, such that we would not get gemination of the nun.

It is obvious why the moderns redivide this, though it is a shame that there is nary a mention that they are thus going against the traditional cantillation, even where elsewhere they do note it. This is because the syntactical division caused by trup is an unappreciated art, and people (perhaps even these modern scholars) did not recognize how the trup functioned here.

Why did they redivide this? As I mentioned above, it is obvious. They assume that there are two players here, the beloved (= the woman) and her lover. אַחֲרֶיךָ נָּרוּצָה means "we will run after thee," and the woman is speaking to her lover. The implication would be that multiple people would run after her lover, which makes no sense -- especially since this matches מָשְׁכֵנִי, Draw me. Thus, divide it differently, and render: מָשְׁכֵנִי אַחֲרֶיךָ = Draw me after thee, and נָּרוּצָה, We will run, making the two actors in נָּרוּצָה the beloved and her lover.

Surely the Masoretes who established the trup were aware of this, so why did they divide as they did? A few answers are possible:

1) Unlike most moderns (excluding Hakham here), who assume that Shir HaShirim is love poetry, and that is its only meaning, the traditional Jewish understanding of the book it that it is (also or exclusively) allegorical, detailing the love relationship between Hashem and the Jewish people, alluding to various events in Jewish history as part of this relationship. If the beloved equals the nation of Israel, it is entirely proper, on the allegorical level, to refer to the the actions of the beloved in the plural, even as it causes some slight confusion on the level of the plaintext story1.

2) Michael V. Fox (a modern scholar) compares Shir haShirim to Egyptian love poetry, and notes that in ancient Egyptian love poetry, many time the girl will suddenly be referred to in the plural. Thus, here we may say the same. My opinion of the matter is that one should not be put off in the least by thinking this is a forced interpretation, only to be appealed to when backed into a corner. If this is a feature of ancient love poetry, then it is a legitimate feature, not an argument of last resort, and one should not reinterpret the verse otherwise in order to avoid this from happening. Especially since the division as given by the trup produces better parallelism, as I will detail shortly. Further, are we not sort of forced into this position by the later occurrence in the verse of נַזְכִּירָה דֹדֶיךָ מִיַּיִן - "we will find thy love more fragrant than wine2?"

3) In fact, I think that the plural is intended, and on the plaintext level at that. The plural refers not to many running after the lover, but rather to the beloved and her lover running after the lover's lead. Further, it is the jussive - "Let us run after you."

In truth, we are faced here with a Biblical parallelism. מָשְׁכֵנִי means "Draw me," and "after you," or "to you" is implicitly there. It is entirely unnecessary to write מָשְׁכֵנִי אַחֲרֶיךָ. Meanwhile, אַחֲרֶיךָ נָּרוּצָה is also a request, "let us run together, following your lead." Together, these form a hendiadys of sorts - it is a request that they frolic and gambol together, holding hands, he in the lead and she trailing after him. Their frolic together leads somewhere - as the verse continues, הֱבִיאַנִי הַמֶּלֶךְ חֲדָרָיו, נָגִילָה וְנִשְׂמְחָה בָּךְ.a3

This wonderful parallelism is lost when the phrase is subdivided to make נָּרוּצָה stand alone. The phrase מָשְׁכֵנִי אַחֲרֶיךָ is redundant, and the sudden running together bears much less of a relation to her being drawn to him. Therefore, I would call for the preservation of the division as given by the trup.

1: Note that one should not confuse allegory and its interpretation with what is commonly called
peshat and derash. If Shir HaShirim is allegorical, then the interpretation of the allegory is the peshat.
2: Though note that it should perhaps be rendered "we will inhale thy love, more fragrant than wine." Regardless, the plural and singular issue remains.
3: Note also the shift to third person to describe her lover as hamelech, in the midst of second person speech - this is poetic form, parallel to the lead-in in verse 2: יִשָּׁקֵנִי מִנְּשִׁיקוֹת פִּיהוּ, "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth."

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