Thursday, March 4, 2010

Shield Of Our Fathers

The Talmud (Shabbat 119a) describes the various ways the sages would greet Shabbat, emphasizing particularly the custom of going out into the field just before sunset. This custom is not only the source for the well-known Friday night prayer Lecha Dodi (Come My Beloved), but also the reason for reciting the Friday night prayer known as Magen Avot, Shield of the Fathers.

Unlike the morning and afternoon services, the Amidah is not repeated by the prayer leader (after the congregation has recited it silently) during the evening service. Therefore, the service concludes almost immediately after the silent Amidah.

Because the custom was to gather in a field outside of town, safety became a concern. If the service ended too quickly, then the person who was still completing the silent Amidah, might be left alone. Therefore, the special prayer of Magen Avot was added at the very end of the service...and remained part of the service even after people stopped praying outside the town limits.

The main theme of Magen Avot, which is recited by both the congregation and the prayer leader, is actually an encapsulation of the Friday night Amidah:

By His word, He was the Shield of our ancestors. By His promise, He will revive the dead. There is none like the holy God Who gives rest to His people on His holy Sabbath day, for He found them worthy of His favor to give them rest. Before Him we will come to worship with reverence and awe, giving thanks to His name daily, continually, with due blessings. He is God to whom thanks are due, the Lord of peace who sanctifies the Sabbath and blesses the seventh day, and in holiness gives rest to a people filled with delight, in remembrance of the word of creation.

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