Ba-Seter, In the Cranny of the Cliff

At weddings I often sing a few verses from Shir Hashirim, the Song of Songs. As I sing, the couple circles each other seven times, symbolizing bonding on levels seen and unseen. The passage in part speaks in the voice of one love looking for the hidden lover: “In the recess (ba-seter) of the cliff, let me see your face.”

Traditionally we sing the sensual and erotic Song of Songs on Passover. It is good to give it voice in winter as well. This lovely book has been included in our sacred canon as a metaphor of the relationship between God and Israel. However, much of the time it is impossible to know for certain who is female and who male, who Israel or God, the seeker or the sought. The pronouns are often switched.  The voice goes back and forth while the images shift and turn. In our mystical tradition, who is seeking whom between earth and divine is a fluid, fecund and dynamic circle.

Singing Shir Hashirim in the cold, we notice that the life of trees has gone underground and beneath bark. As the weeks wind on and on we will wait with ever deepening longing for the sap to flow again. In this thinly veiled metaphor of our own blood and veins, the difference between us and the trees begins to blur.

The ponds freeze over with frogs and fish in suspended animation. Neither sleeping nor dreaming beneath the ice, these frozen creatures are invisible beneath the ice. We know they are there, awaiting the very regeneration in which we generally do not believe.

The river thickens with flows piling roughly together maybe beautiful maybe jagged. There is evidence still of the moving river below, inexorable currents and tides. I yearn for it to return to me as in days of summer, soft and cool.  Last simmer I dipped my silent paddle into its ringed surface, diligently searching its rocks and crannies, recesses and cliffs. I knew what I would find even when I did not know.

Like the seeds in the frozen earth, the crocuses just under the topsoil, like the buds just inside the tips of branches, and the smile packed away beneath chapped winter skin, the tiny lights that flicker for merely minutes on the chilly menorah, in winter it is as if life itself is in recess, waiting just behind a drawn curtain or closed door.

If we but look up, we would see, behind a steely sky, a sun that burns constant night and day. Who is seeking whom, we cannot answer definitely. Regardless, we continue with our circling, living a faith we hardly know, longing for what is already here.