This is the secret of Shabbat. This is Shabbos [malchut/Shechinah], that unites with the secret of One, so that He [Zeir Anpin] should dwell upon Her through the secret of One. The prayer of Shabbat eve is the Holy Throne of Glory united with the secret of One so that the supernal Holy King, shall dwell upon er.

When the Shabbat enters, she [malchut] unites [with Zeir Anpin] and separates from the Other Side. All the judgments pass away from Her, and She remains united with the holy light and becomes adorned with many crowns before the Holy King. All the dominions of anger and the instigators of judgment flee, and there is no other dominion in all the worlds.

And Her face shines with the supernal light and becomes adorned with the holy nation below, for they all become adorned from Her with new souls. Then the prayer begins of blessing Her with joy, with shining face and saying, 'Bless the blessed G‑d;' the particle 'Et' before G‑d is definite [and hints to malchut], in order to open our address with a blessing.

The Secret of Shabbat

The Hasidic prayer liturgy created a sensation in its day by departing from the traditional Ashkenazic custom, instead adopting the order of prayer of Spanish and Oriental Jewry. But the Hasidic rite for Shabbat contains two additional prayers found neither in Ashkenazic nor in Sefaradic prayerbooks: namely, reciting Psalm 107 (Hodu) before Mincha on Friday afternoon, and inserting the Zoharic passage known as Kegavna, (Zohar II: 135a-b) wherein Shabbat is depicted as the great unifying principle, between Kabbalat Shabbat and Ma’ariv.

The former custom was evidently introduced by the Ba’al Shem Tov himself, who also wrote a Kabbalistic commentary on this psalm known as Sefer Katan. Indeed, this is one of the handful of writings extant from the Ba’al Shem Tov himself; almost everything we know of his teachings is taken from his words as quoted by his disciples in their books.

The origin of the practice of reciting Kegavna after Lecha Dodi and the two psalms for Shabbat is slightly more ambiguous, but to the best of contemporary scholarship it originated in the circle sometimes referred to as "pre-Hasidic Hasidim", the Kabbalists who gathered early in the 18th century in the kloiz in the Galician city of Brody (or Broide). Moshe Halamish notes that clear references to this passage in connection with Kabbalat Shabbat appear in Yesod ve-Shoresh ha-Avodah, Hemdat Yamim and R. Immanuel Hai-Riki’s Mishnat Hasidim. In any event, by the second or third generation of Hasidism the custom seems to have spread to all Hasidic circles and the passage is printed in all Hasidic prayer books.

The central image here is of unification, both above and below. The supernal unification of the various sefirot represented is identified with the simple unity of the light of the Infinite, prior to the process of differentiation and separation involved in the process of Creation. Below, however, it corresponds to Shabbat, which in Kabbalistic thought is also equivalent to Malchut = Shechina = Knesset Yisrael, all of which unify below.

Shabbat is thus the mystery of oneness. This is also seen in terms of sexual imagery, as unification of the Holy King (Tiferet) and the Shechina (Malchut).

The Shabbat as time of unity is also marked by cessation of all the inner conflicts and tensions within the universe. All powers of wrath and masters of judgment flee and no alien power reigns in all the worlds. The world, which is ordinarily a field of conflict between the powers of love and graciousness and those of wrath, is for one day ruled completely by harmony and love, a kind of foretaste of the Messianic future.

This idea also finds liturgical expression in the universal custom of omitting the verse "vehu rachum" (Psalms 78:38), ordinarily recited just before Barchu on weekday evenings, which mentions sin and transgression. The mere mention of sin, even in the context of its forgiveness by a merciful and compassionate God, is banned on Shabbat!

[From my teacher and colleague R. Yehonatan Chipman.]

BeRahamim LeHayyim: What does this mean to you, and why is it revealed to you now?

Bracketed annotations from Metok Midevash and Sulam commentaries
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