By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Kesubos 60 – Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li
How are you supposed to know? That is what the Gemara asks on the shitah that holds that we have to do a check to see if this baby is familiar with his mother and therefore will not nurse from any other woman. The nafkah minah of course being whether or not we will coerce the baby’s mother to nurse him – even if she is divorced and technically not obligated. In an age where baby formula was non-existent, if she won’t nurse him when he knows her too well already to nurse from anyone else, could spell endangerment to the baby’s life. So she has no choice. She must.
But how do we check such a thing? Well, one such a case actually arose in the time of Shmuel. A woman was divorced and she did not want to continue nursing her baby. So, Shmuel instructed Rav Dimi bar Yosef to carry out an inspection of whether or not this baby knows its mother well enough yet to not nurse from anyone else.
This is what Rav Dimi bar Yosef did. He lined up a row of women, and placed the divorced mother amongst them. Then, he passed the baby close by to each woman. When the baby was passed by its mother, he clearly set his gaze on her, making it obvious that this baby knew full well who its mother is. The mother, apparently out of embarrassment or consternation, tried to avoid her child’s gaze. But Rav Dimi poetically told her, “Raise up your eyes, arise, and bear your child.”
Then the Gemara asks, how would a blind baby be able to recognize his mother? Rav Ashi answers, by scent and taste. The Gemara’s question, though, in of itself is interesting. Who said that a blind baby can recognize its mother? Apparently, Chazal simply took it for granted that every baby must have some way of knowing who its mother is, and now it is just a matter of us discerning the specific mechanism, so that, if necessary, we will know how to check.
If you think about it, a baby’s sense of reality is extremely limited. During the first few days of its life, its ability to see clearly is almost non-existent. A newborn’s cognitive and motor abilities are also exceedingly minimal when compared with a fully functioning child or adult. One of the most amazing things about the first few years of a child’s life is witnessing the absolutely phenomenal, dynamic shift that occurs on both the cognitive and physical levels. This practically paralyzed blind being who has almost no ability to process any sentient thought, grows into a walking, talking, comprehending person!
But, at the beginning, there isn’t much to speak of. At least in the relative sense. Except for one thing. The baby is aware, at least on some level, of its mother. Even that is extremely limited at first. In the very beginning, the baby only knows the breast from whence its milk comes. Slowly, as its senses and mind develops, it comes to recognize that there is a person who is providing that milk. And that person loves him dearly and unconditionally.
In Shir Ha’Shirim, which many have a minhag to say after the Seider, there is a pasuk which usually finds its spot in the limelight around Elul time: Ani l’dodi v’dodi li, I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me. An interesting point to ponder about this pasuk is, what is the starting point of this relationship? Who initiates and takes the first step? Because that is the implication – I am for my beloved, therefore my beloved is for me.
The mefarshim explain that the one talking is Klal Yisrael. So, that would seem to indicate that Klal Yisrael is the one who must initiate the bond of love with Ha’Kadosh baruch Hu. However, if you think deeper into it, you realize that it is the other way around. “Ani l’dodi” – the first point of awareness is one’s own being, “ani”. Then, once the individual has awareness of self, he is able to extend that awareness further to include another, “l’dodi”. But wait! What does the word “dodi” mean? It means “my beloved”. What emerges, then, is that the second step of awareness is that there is someone who loves me. The person talking did not do anything – yet – to create that love. It is just there.
Just like a baby whose consciousness is developing as it is lovingly cradled in its mother’s arms, and being nourished from that which is an outgrowth of that intense love. As the baby’s awareness of self expands, it eventually comes to realize that there is a “dodi” here. It is someone who loves him so powerfully and completely unconditionally that is the one who is constantly providing him with life.
That leads to the next stage, “v’dodi li”. Once the baby has grown to the point that he can actually recognize the beloved that is holding and caring for him, he is able to reciprocate and reflect back that love. A smile, a coo, a deep gaze of the eyes. Of course, when that happens, the tremendous outpouring of love from that baby’s beloved is magnified exponentially. The baby’s ability to relate to that love draws it out at a much greater intensity. V’dodi li.
When Klal Yisrael develops an awareness of the essential fact that Ha’Kadosh baruch Hu is their beloved, the One who selflessly cares for and constantly provides for them, who loves them so powerfully and unconditionally, then it brings to a state of “v’dodi li”. Because we become able to reflect back that love and relate to it, we experience a much more intensified expression thereof.
On Pesach, particularly during leil ha’seider, we celebrate and relive the process of bondage and redemption. In Mitzrayim we were constricted by meitzarim, seemingly impenetrable, chokingly-restrictive boundaries. It was not only our bodies that were in exile, our neshamos were as well. Chazal reveal to us that the geulah from Mitzrayim was akin to a baby being released from the confining chamber of the womb. When Ha’Kadosh baruch Hu took us out of Mitzrayim, He wasn’t giving us just physical freedom, He was also restoring to us the freedom of our spirits which had previously been shackled. Once released, we began being able to feel once again. To really be aware of ourselves and the world in which we find ourselves.
And, slowly slowly, we began to be able to cultivate our awareness of Hashem. The One who ceaselessly provides and cares for us – even when we are not really aware of it. “Anochi aireid imcha” – Hashem went down into the depths of the galus with us, kavayachol. Although we could not fully be aware of it, He was right there with us the whole time. Even in the worst throes of our suffering.
The climax of Pesach is Shiras Ha’Yam. In a brilliant flash of light, Klal Yisrael’s consciousness was raised to previously unattained levels. We understood. Everything made sense. So we sang with love to the One who is our beloved.
Pesach is zman cheiruseinu. It is the time in which we can tap into the inner reserves of our inherent greatness of spirit. We can experience a maturation and development of our ability to be aware – both of ourselves and of the One who gives life. It is a time when there is a siyata d’Shmaya to break beyond the constricting boundaries of small mindedness and insensitivity. A time when we can begin to see that there is a Dodi there who is providing us with everything we have, and continues to care for us even in the worst of situations, R”l.
This past year has been one of many tears and heartache for Klal Yisrael. It is not easy. We intensely yearn for the time when Hashem will grant us the ultimate cheirus and all the dark and ominous clouds will dissipate into harmless wisps of wind. In the meantime, we do our best to develop our consciousness and connection with Him; and show Him that, no matter what, we are aware that He is our Dodi, our eternal unconditional beloved, and we try to reflect back that love so that we can experience it ever stronger, v’dodi li.
Rabbi Yehoshua Berman serves as the Rosh Kollel of Kollel Reshet HaDaf in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. In addition to having authored Reflections on the Parsha, Rabbi Berman regularly delivers shiurim on Halacha and Hashkafa, writes comprehensive chazara questions (in Hebrew) for the advanced Daf Yomi learner, and weekly words of inspiration from the Parsha. Rabbi Berman can be contacted at email@example.com.