Basya Schechter and Shaul Magid, preparing to welcome congregants to an interactive Shabbat service. (Batya Ungar-Sargon/JTA)

Lecha Dodi

This hymn, sung to welcome the Sabbath, has mystical origins.

Lecha Dodi (‘Come my friend’) is the hymn sung during the synagogue service on Friday night to welcome the Sabbath. The opening stanza reads: “Come my friend, to meet the bride; let us welcome the presence of the Sabbath,” and the other stanzas are in praise of the Sabbath and expressions of hope for the restoration of Zion and the Messianic redemption.

The practice of welcoming the Sabbath as Israel’s bride is mentioned in the Talmud, and on the basis of this the 16th-century Kabbalists in Safed developed an elaborate ritual in which they would go out into the fields dressed in white garments to welcome the Sabbath, identified by them with the Shechinah (a feminine aspect of God).

Solomon Alkabetz, the author of the Lecha Dodi, was a member of this mystic brotherhood and composed the hymn especially for the ritual. The consecutive stanzas begin with the letters of his name to form the nominal acrostic, Shelomo Ha-Levi, ‘Solomon the Levite’.

Lecha Dodi is now recited in all Jewish congregations and various melodies have been composed with which to accompany it. The final stanza reads: ‘Come in peace, thou crown of thy husband, with rejoicing and with cheerfulness, in the midst of the faithful of the chosen people; come, O bride, come, O bride.’

Very few modern writers appreciate that, for the Kabbalists, the “husband” for whom the Sabbath is the crown is, following the doctrine of the Sefirot, the Sefirah Tiferet, the spouse of the Shechinah.

The hymn is now sung, however, with no awareness of the original Kabbalistic nuances. It is the universal custom to turn towards the door when this stanza is sung and bow to welcome the Sabbath.

Listen to Lecha Dodi (courtesy of Mechon Hadar)

Reprinted from The Jewish Religion: A Companion, published by Oxford University Press.

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