The theme of this year’s Shabbos Project is “Keeping it together for Israel.” This was not the original branding for the tenth annual event but after the horrific terror attack on Simchat Torah, 7 October, Chief Rabbi Goldstein decided to dedicate the Project in honour of Israel. The Hamas pogrom took place on the Holy Shabbat and this is our opportunity to ‘reclaim’ Shabbos after it was so savagely desecrated. I have given thought to many connections between Shabbat and the Land of Israel. The most obvious is the mitzvah of shemittah, the Sabbatical year (Vayikrah 25:2-4), “Speak to the Children of Israel, and say to them: When you come into the land that I am giving you, the land shall rest a Sabbath to the Lord. Six years you will sow your field, and six years you will prune your vineyard, and you will gather its produce. In the seventh year, it shall be a sabbatical rest for the land, a Sabbath for the Lord; your field you shall not sow, and your vineyard you shall not prune.” Just as we work for six days and rest on the seventh, so too, the Land of Israel works for six years and rests on the seventh. But this is not a direct connection – shemittah is a type of Shabbat but it is not the weekly Shabbat. Moreover, the mitzvah of Shabbat, unlike shemittah, applies everywhere, not only in the Land of Israel. Is there perhaps another connection?

Last Friday night, it dawned on me that we speak about the Land every Shabbat evening in the poem Lecha Dodi. This poem, which enjoys universal acceptance in all Jewish communities, was composed by the kabbalist Rabbi Shlomo HaLevi Alkabetz (circa 1500, Salonika – 1576, Safed) in the sixteenth century. I have visited his resting place several times. Lecha Dodi is a beautiful rhyming composition full of Biblical language and imagery. Its chorus, “Come, my Beloved, to greet the bride; let us welcome the Sabbath” is based on a passage in the Talmud (Shabbat 119a): “Rabbi Chanina robed himself and stood on the eve of Shabbat at sunset and said, ‘Come, let us go and welcome Shabbat the queen.’ Rabbi Yannai donned his robes and said, ‘Come O bride, come O bride.” At the end of the poem, the congregation stands up, turns towards the door of the shul and sings, “Come O bride, come O bride” as if welcoming a bride of flesh and blood to her chuppah. Apparently, Rabbi Alkabetz and his contemporaries, including Rabbi Yosef Karo, the author of the Code of Jewish Law, and Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, the great kabbalist known as the Arizal, would venture out into the fields of Safed at sunset on Friday night to greet the Shabbat queen.

The poem is constructed of nine stanzas. The first letter of each stanza, excluding the ninth, forms the acrostic “Shlomo HaLevi”, the poet’s name. One would expect the theme of each stanza to be the Sabbath but this is not the case. Only stanzas one, two and nine speak about Shabbat. The first verse speaks of how God, who is “one and His name is one”, commanded the Jewish people concerning Shabbat in the Ten Commandments using the twin verbs “observe” and “remember.” The second stanza calls on us to go out and welcome the Shabbat for she “is the source of blessing” that was created “from the outset – last in deed [but] first in thought.” Shabbat came at the end of the six days of Creation but she was not an afterthought.  On the contrary, her existence was ordained from the beginning. In the ninth verse, we welcome Shabbat, “the crown of her husband” to “come in peace” with “joy and jubilation, among the faithful of the treasured people.” The remaining stanzas speak of “the desolate condition of Jerusalem and the Jewish people in his [the poet’s] day. Using language drawn from Isaiah, he turns first to Jerusalem, then to the Jewish people, then to the land of Israel, itself, summoning them to shake off their grief and rouse themselves to new glory.  These verses radiate the hope born of faith, the victory of joy over despair.” (Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, of blessed memory, Koren Siddur pages 320-1).

The relationship between Shabbat and redemption is found in the Talmud (Tractate Shabbat). Failure to observe Shabbat can lead to destruction and exile as Abaye taught (ibid 119b), “Jerusalem was destroyed only because people desecrated the Shabbat in it, as it is stated (Yechezkiel 22:26): “And from My Shabbatot they averted their eyes, and I was profaned among them”. On the other hand, observance of Shabbat can lead to redemption, as Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai taught (ibid 118a), “If only the Jewish people would keep two Shabbatot in accordance with their halakhot, they would be immediately redeemed, as it is stated (Isaiah 56:4): “So said God to the eunuchs who will keep My Shabbatot”, and it is written after that (verse 7): “And I will bring them to My holy mountain [and will let them rejoice in My house of prayer].” I believe it was this teaching that led the author of Lecha Dodi to dedicate most of the poem to the future redemption of Jerusalem, Israel and the Jewish people.

Rabbi Alkabetz employs powerful imagery and beautiful language when speaking to the city, the people and the land. To Jerusalem, he says: “O royal city that housed the Sanctuary of the King; enough of your dwelling in a valley of tears, for in His compassion He will have mercy upon you!” To the nation, he proclaims, “My people, arise from the dust and stand erect! Put on your garments of glory in the company of the descendant of Jesse of Beith Lechem [i.e. the Mashiach] whose redemption will soon be with us.” To the land, he calls, “No longer will you be embarrassed or humiliated; why are you depressed and why are you distraught? For in you will the impoverished of My people take shelter, and soon will the city be rebuilt over its ruins.” Of the enemies of the Jewish people, the poet states, “Those who have devastated you will themselves be destroyed. All who consumed you will be banished far away. [But] your God will rejoice over you as a groom rejoices on account of his bride.” 

I conclude with the powerful remarks of Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch (Germany, 19trh century, commentary on the Siddur. Emphasis is my own): “All of terrestrial life, with its misery and woe, with its care and distress, retreats before the serene majesty of the Sabbath, and the eyes of man, reflecting his contented smile, sense the nearness of the grace of his Father in Heaven who, with a tender look of approval rewards him for having delivered up to his Maker, for a period of twenty-four hours, the struggle and strife of the week. But even as all the pain and sorrow of the individual recede before the holy Sabbath, which brings comfort and hope to every wounded heart, so the Sabbath also transforms the sad and sorrowful outlook as regards Yisrael’s collective fate as a nation into glorious vistas of hope and consolation… This is the confident hope which each Sabbath awakens within us anew. Zion will not be deceived in its trust, nor will she be found unworthy of the fulfilment of the hopes she fostered. Even now that she is in ruins, Zion still remains the mother of her people, consoling and comforting its remnants. In vain do ruthless tyrants seek to destroy her; they will all perish, but Zion and Yisrael will live on. In due time the attacks of the nations against her will cease and the ancient covenant which God made with Zion long ago will come into view once more serenely and in all its glory. All the rest of mankind to the left and to the right of Zion shall then join her, and, once the sovereign power of God will be revealed through Zion’s resurrection for all to see, joy and serenity will hold triumphant entry on earth.”

Lee, Chani Merryl and Naomi join me in wishing you Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Liebenberg

Link to Rabbi’s YouTube message for the parsha:

Share with your community
No Comments

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.