Kabbalat Shabbat

Six year old Jacob approached me on the bima following a recent Friday night Family service. “This is what it is all about,” he proclaimed, “this is the way it should be, and this is the way it will always be someday.”  Intrigued, I asked him what he meant.  “Everybody sings together,” he replied, “and everyone’s getting along. It’s peace.” I thought, “He really gets it.”  Jewish tradition views the Shabbat as a foretaste of the messianic age – a perfected world toward which all history is directed.  “This world is only like the eve of the Sabbath, whereas the world to come will be like the Sabbath itself,” says an ancient Midrash. 
There are six psalms before Lecha Dodi, corresponding to the six days of creation.  The central theme of the Kabbalat Shabbat service is enthronement of G-d as sovereign of the world upon the completion of Creation.    These psalms can also be seen as having messianic overtones.  In the world to come, we will say to one another, “Come, let us sing to G-d, the Rock of our deliverance (Psalm 95). Psalm 96 envisions all the families of nations acknowledging G-d’s power and justice, along with nature – the earth the heavens, the sea, the forests and the fields.   And so forth – Psalm 97 – G-d sits enthroned, let the world rejoice;  Psalm 98 “G-d’s might has been triumphant, revealing supreme power to all;” Psalm 99, “G-d sits enthroned, the nations tremble.  Psalm 29, which we are about to sing, has a seven-fold repetition of the word – “kol”—”sound”—which connects it to the Sabbath structurally as well as thematically.
Then we sing “Lecha Dodi” which compares the Sabbath to a bride.  There is a lovely midrash which says that the Sabbath day came before G-d with a complaint.  Every day of the week has a mate, said the Sabbath to G-d.  Sunday has Monday, Tuesday has Wednesday, Thursday has Friday – but I have no mate!  The Holy One said to her, “Israel will be your mate.”  When Israel came before G-d at Mt. Sinai, G-d said to Israel, “Remember what I said to the Sabbath: ‘Israel will be your mate’.” Thus the command, “Remember the Sabbath lkodsho” – that is, to enter into kiddushin, or marriage with it.  Not coincidently, a wedding is the other time when we Jews experience a taste of the world to come.  In fact, the entire prayer is filled with Kabalistic allusions to a perfected world where G-d will reign supreme.
Following Lecha Dodi we have two psalms, which form one unit.  Before the 16th century, when the Kabbalists of Safed developed the Kabbalat Shabbat service, the Sabbath evening service began here.  It too portrays an ideal world, where the “righteous shall flourish like a palm tree and grow tall like a cedar in Lebanon.”  The Kabbalat Shabbat service concludes with psalm 93 and the theme of G-d’s sovereignty over all the universe, for all of time and beyond.
Safed, the city where the Kabbalat Shabbat service was developed is on our itinerary for our CBS trip to Israel in June.  At 2,790 feet, it is the highest city in Israel.  In 1569 the great Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria came to live there, and we will be able to visit his grave. The compiler of the Shulchan Aruch, Rabbi Joseph Karo, also lived in Safed, as did the author of Lecha Dodi, Shlomo Alkabetz, in the 16th century. Sefad commands magnificent views east to the Golan, north to the Hermon and Lebanon, west to Mt. Meron and the Amud Valley, and south to Tiberias and the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). We will visit medieval synagogues, stroll around the artist quarter, explore historical sites and breathe the cool mountain air which has nurtured the spiritual powers of generations past and present.  Hope you can join us.