This mystical hymn to the Shabbat was composed by the kabbalist Rabbi Shlomo HaLevi Alkabetz (c. 5260-5340), teacher and brother-in-law of the famed kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Cordovero. Rabbi Alkabetz was one of the esteemed members of the Safed circle of scholars and mystics, which included Rabbi Yosef Caro, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero and Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, the holy Ari. The author signed his name - Shlomo HaLevi - in the acrostic formed by the first letter of the first eight stanzas of the hymn.
One of the themes of the hymn - preparing oneself to greet the Shabbat - is based on the Talmud’s account of how the Sages would welcome the Holy Day (Shabbat 119a): Rabbi Chanina would wrap himself in his cloak and say, “Come, let us go and greet the Shabbat Queen.” Rabbi Yannai would don his robe and say, “Enter O bride! Enter, O bride! ”
First stanza and refrain
Come out my Beloved, the Bride to meet;
The inner light of Shabbat, let us greet.
The Shabbat, the seventh day of the week, is the manifestation of the seventh sefira - malchut. Since malchut also corresponds to the Jewish people and to the Shechina, the hymn may be interpreted as not only referring to the Shabbat, but also alluding to the Jewish people, to the sefira of malchut and to the Shechina. Furthermore, transformation of the workaday world into the holy Shabbat mirrors the redemption of the Shechina and the Jewish people from exile. The hymn thus looks forward to the time when even during the week we will experience the same holiness as we experience on the Shabbat.
...even during the week we will experience the same holiness as on the Shabbat
The holy Ari included this hymn in his edition of the siddur, and thus it eventually became an integral part of the Shabbat liturgy of Jewish communities everywhere.
Come out: The Ari zal would go out into the fields around Safed on Friday afternoon and receive Shabbat there. The fields, the place of work during the week, correspond to the lower worlds, Beriya, Yetzira, and Asiya, and specifically to the outer dimension of each of these worlds. Each day of the week corresponds to one of the seven sefirot with which the creation was initiated and is sustained - Sunday corresponds to chesed, Monday to gevura and so on. Shabbat, therefore, corresponds to the seventh sefira - malchut, also called Shechina. During the week malchut does its work of gathering (birur) the sparks embedded within the lower worlds. These sparks are then elevated on the Shabbat.
My Beloved; the Bride: On Shabbat malchut, referred to here as the Bride, becomes elevated to the very highest levels. However, in order for this to happen, malchut must first be stimulated and energized by zeir anpin, referred to here as “my Beloved.” Thus, zeir anpin must “come out” to the fields to meet malchut, the Bride. When malchut has been elevated, and the Shabbat has already been received, the fields then correspond to chakal tapuchin kadishin.
Only the seventh day was without a partner. G‑d then promised the Shabbat that the Jewish People would be its only partner
Bride: In the beginning of creation, every day of the week, except Shabbat, had a partner. Day 1 and 4 are linked in the formation of light and the creation of the luminaries; days 2 and 5 are linked in the formation of water and their being gathered into seas; days 3 and 6 are linked in the creation of earth and its vegetation. Only the seventh day was without a partner. G‑d then promised the Shabbat that the Jewish People would be its partner. Therefore, the Jewish People go out to greet the Shabbat just as a groom goes to meet his bride.
The inner light of Shabbat: When malchut is infused with light from the six sefirot comprising Zeir Anpin and it becomes elevated, it is referred to as pnei Shabbat - the inner dimension of Shabbat - that now begins to shine forth.
Let us greet: When Zeir Anpin infuses malchut with light, it also receives an additional measure of sanctity and blessing via bina of Atzilut. It is therefore stated in the plural - both Zeir Anpin and malchut - welcome the inner light of Shabbat.
Please click here to find more on the hymn Lecha Dodi, and other meditations and prayers of Shabbat.
"Reprinted with permission from KabbalaOnline.org. Copyright 2003 by Ascent of Safed.
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