The Talmud (Shabbat 116a) describes how the sages would greet Shabbat: “Rabbi Chaninah would wrap himself in his cloak and say: ‘Come, let us go and greet the Shabbat Queen.’ Rabbi Yannai would don his garments and say: ‘Enter, O bride! Enter, O bride!’”
This passage is the basis for Rabbi Shlomo Halevy Alkabetz’s (Israel, c.1500 - 1580) Lecha Dodi, Come My Beloved. This popular liturgical hymn captured the spirit of the Kabbalists in Safed, who would go out into the fields on Friday afternoon to greet Shabbat.
Interestingly, only the first two stanzas and the last stanza of the poem refer directly to Shabbat. (Verse 1: Guarding and Remembering Shabbat. Verse 2: Shabbat as the ancient source of blessing. Verse 9: Greeting Shabbat). The other six verses speak of the Jewish people’s longing for redemption. The connection of Shabbat and redemption is based on the Talmudic dictum (Shabbat 118b) that states: “If all Jews were to observe just two Shabbatot properly, the final redemption would occur.”
It is the refrain, however, that is best-known. Lecha Dodi Likrat Kallah, P’nei Shabbat N’kabbelah - Come my beloved, to greet the bride, let us welcome the arrival of Shabbat. The depiction of the Shabbat as a bride is based on a well-known Midrash: “Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai taught: Shabbat pleaded to the Holy One, blessed be He: ‘All [the other days] have a partner, while I have no partner!’ God responded: ‘The Jewish People will be your partner.’”
Depicting Shabbat as bride to the Jewish people is a beautiful way of describing the people’s relationship to the Seventh Day. Just as a groom goes to great lengths to make his bride feel special, so too, Jews constantly seek to enhance and beautify the celebration of Shabbat.
Lecha Dodi is sung or recited on Friday night in almost every synagogue around the world. Plan ahead and find out which synagogue near you is participating in Shabbat Across America/Canada and join them on Friday evening, March 20, 2009..