Monthly Bulletin March 2019 - Page 5

Cantor Bruce Halev

CANTOR'S MESSAGE: L'CHA DODI

Sometimes people ask about the meaning of the word kabbalat and if it relates to Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism. The word ‘kabbalah” comes from the word kabel which means to receive, and it is translated literally as “that which is received.” The phrase Kabbalat Shabbat means welcoming or receiving of the Sabbath. Depending on how it is used, the Hebrew word, ‘kabbalah,” has various meanings. Beginning in the 16th century the term “Kabbalat Shabbat,” welcoming the Sabbath, referred to preliminary Friday service before the evening, Ma'ariv service. This service was first introduced by the Jewish mystics of Safed, Israel and was made up of three distinct components: a series of six psalms (95-99, and 29), the poem

L’cha Dodi, and Psalms 92 and 93.

The mystics of Safed were known to go to the outskirts of the city into the fields and to sing psalms of welcome to the Sabbath. This custom soon spread to many Jewish communities. This tradition has also been used at summer camps and I have been to Jewish retreats where part of the Shabbat program was to go into the open field and watch the sun descending. We danced and sang various versions of L’cha Dodi. It is a very powerful experience and you have a real sense of a shift from the mundane of the week, to the uniqueness of Shabbat.

MONTHLY BULLETIN: MARCH 2019

the fields and to sing psalms of welcome to the Sabbath. This custom soon spread to many Jewish communities. This tradition has also been used at summer camps and I have been to Jewish retreats where part of the Shabbat program was to go into the open field and watch the sun descending. We danced and sang various versions of L’cha Dodi. It is a very powerful experience and you have a real sense of a shift from the mundane of the week, to the uniqueness of Shabbat.

The Talmud discusses the Friday evening habits of two rabbis. The text says that Rabbi Chanina would dress in fine clothes, stand at sunset and call out, “Come let us go forth to welcome the Sabbath queen.” While Rabbi Yannai would dress in fine garments and exclaim, “Come, o bride! Come, o bride.” (Talmud, Shabbat 119a).

L’cha Dodi was written by Rabbi Shlomo Halevi Alkabetz a member of the Safed community. Many medieval Jewish poets used acrostics in their work. Rabbi Alkabetz used an acrostic in composing L’cha Dodi. Acrostics may be alphabetical, containing the name of the author, or spell out the name of God. Acrostics served several useful purposes; it made memorizing the poem or piece of liturgy easier thus preventing mistakes in the text and it preserved the name of the author. In L’cha Dodi, Alkabetz composed the poem so that the first letter of each verse (except the last one) spells out his name – Shlomo Halevi.

The first two verses of L’cha Dodi are about the Shabbat, while verses three through eight talk of the rebuilding of Jerusalem, the coming of the messiah, and the redemption of Israel. The last verse reverts back to the theme of Shabbat. L’cha Dodi gives voice to that yearning and desire. These feelings are captured in many songs, poems, and biblical verses. In the Birkat HaMazon, the traditional blessing after eating, an additional song, Shir HaMa’alot gives voice to how it will feel when Zion is restored. It reads: “When the Eternal restores the fortunes of Zion it will be like a dream fulfilled; our tongues, with songs of joy…” (Psalm 126:1-2).