Describing our relationship with G‑d, King Solomon, wisest of all men, wrote, “I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me; who grazes among the roses,”1 a curious statement if ever there was one. The first half of the verse is perfect and symmetrical. I love G‑d and He loves me. Beautiful. Powerful. Uplifting. Inspiring. But what is this about a grazing among roses, how does that fit in?

On the subject of the rose, why is it that the beautiful rose grows only among thorns? Can anyone explain why such beauty resides in the prickliest of bushes?

Harsh Beauty

It was a harsh morning, overcast and gray, as I drove through lush fields and rolling hills. I could barely see through the fog and bemoaned my luck to be out on this ugly morning. Then I noticed a silo standing upright in the cold mist; its ramrod posture conjured up an image of sheer endurance and unyielding determination.

Raw and harsh realities are not without beauty, I reflected, and began to view my surroundings through a fresh set of lenses.2 I peered through the fog and took note of the land's familiar features. The stables, race track, silos and farms were all familiar to me, but in the cold mist they were somehow different; they took on a new dimension — one of character and strength.

Beauty is not always packaged in soft petals and yielding curvesIt was then that I finally understood why the thorns belong among the roses. At first glance it seems a contradiction, but when you peer through the veil, you find that thorns are not only prickly little plants, they are also symbols of strength and protection. Beauty is not always packaged in soft petals and yielding curves; sometimes it is reflected in the strong lines of character and determination.

The rose is symbolic of the pious, but the thorn represents the penitent. It is not only the upright and righteous who have a place in G‑d's world; sinners and penitents do too. Sins are prickly, and they wound the soul, but sin also opens the doors to regret, resolve and reconciliation — the harshest, but also the highest form of beauty. The rose inspires; the thorn resolves. The rose offers love; the thorn, strength. Viewed through the proper prism, the rose and the thorn fit hand in glove.

"I am to my Beloved and my Beloved is to me." At first we thought it a symmetrical statement; upon reflection we are not so sure. My Beloved is perfection; I am fallible, corruptible and sometimes even contemptible. King Solomon thus concludes his poetic verse with the words, "who grazes among the roses." My Beloved might be rose-like and I, thorn-like, but like a rose among thorns, we belong together.

The Three-Scoop Ice Cream

Let us delve a little deeper and see if we can find any further insights from the rose-thorn metaphor.

Close your eyes and imagine a three-scoop ice cream cone. Laced with delectable caramel, the three scoops are of your favorite flavors. The cone is heaping with extra toppings, and the ice cream melts on your tongue. You walk outside and bask in the warm sunlight as the ice cream drips from the cone and coats your fingers with sweetness.

Stop now and ask yourself how the ice cream came into existenceIf you, dear reader, have an inkling of desire for ice cream, you're probably salivating by now. Stop now and ask yourself how the ice cream came into existence. If you are a believer, you will say that it was created by G‑d. You will agree that a divine spark resides within the sugar and cream and that that spark creates and recreates the ice cream at every moment.3

Allow me a question: Did you consider this divine spark when you first read my description of the ice cream? As the image of the three-scoop cone took root in your mind and temptation began to form, were you at all attracted to its divine spark? Were you alert to the fact that it was actually the divine spark in the ice cream that was drawing you in?

If you are anything like me, I suspect the answer is no. Yet when you think about it, you will see that the divine spark did reel you in. Let us remember that your body was attracted to the refreshing, delicious, melting ice cream, but your body is not a living thing; it is merely a container. It is your soul that endows your body with life. If your body felt the attraction, then it must have begun with your soul. What attracted your soul? Does your soul like ice cream too? No. It is the divine spark inside the ice cream that attracts your soul.

Of course your soul can find that divine spark in a bland slice of spelt bread as easily as in the ice cream. To your soul, the housing of the spark, the particulars of the dish are irrelevant. Those concern only your body. Your body chose the ice cream; your soul was pulled to the divine spark within it.

Every pleasure in this world trickles down from the source of all pleasures — G‑dNow consider this: Every pleasure in this world trickles down from the source of all pleasures — G‑d. Just as the body ingests nourishing food, digests it, extracts the nourishment and expels the refuse, so does creation at large. G‑d radiates divine light, which is absorbed by the heavenly bodies, digested by the angels who extract the divine and sacred elements to be used in the Torah and leave the mundane and prosaic leftovers for the physical delights of the human and the other inhabitants of our material world.

Material pleasures are the discarded refuse of supernal and G‑dly delights. The ice cream contains two components of divine presence: The spark, which is an unfiltered and unmitigated divine radiance, and the delicious physical sweetness, which is a faded glimmer of divine light left over after myriads of veils, filtrations and concealments.

Another way of putting it is that the rose – the divine spark – is embedded among the thorns – the physical delights that cannot measure up to the supernal.


The first letters of the four words Ani l'dodi v'dodi li, Hebrew for "I am to my Beloved and my Beloved is to me," form an acronym for the word Elul, the last month of the Jewish year. It is a month of reflection and introspection, a month when we prepare for the New Year.

It is during this month that we are meant to discern the rose from the thorns and get our priorities straight.4 It is during this time that we are meant to realize that our fixation on the ice cream prevents us from appreciating the divine spark. It is during this month that we are meant to illustrate through our actions and repentance that the thorn is not an end for itself, but merely a setting for the rose.5