Kabbalas Shabbos — an explanation of it

There is a concept called “Tosafa L’Shabbos”.  Rather than slide into Shabbos breathless, harried and possibly late, we add a bit of time to usher in Shabbos.  The added time is also there for another reason.  No stark divide ought to be there between Shabbos and weekdays for we want to proclaim that the influence and spirit of Shabbos directs us and pulls us through the week toward spirituality.  Therefore, we add a bit of time before and after the legal Shabbos time to bring Shabbos beyond its parameters. You know when coloring with pastels, you can color in a small box and then “smudge it” beyond the lines of the box.  That is what we are doing with Tosafa L’Shabbos, bringing the color and flavor beyond its borders

 At the time when we start Kabbalas Shabbos, when we start the first prayers Friday evening, it is during the “Tosafa” time, the added time.  The first things we say are six Psalms lifted from Tehillim which correlate to six days of the week that precede this moment.  The Psalms said are 95,96,97,98, 99 and 29.  All refer to the end of times when a new reality will give us a “Yom Shekulo Shabbos” a time where it is all about spirituality. 

 Having said the six Psalms, we now take a pause and say a Kabbalistic formula/prayer written by Rabbi Nechunia ben Hakana.  It consists of 42 words of which the initials form the 42-letter name of G-d.  The prayer entreats G-d to remove all obstacles and barriers that might be blocking the pathway from us to Him and to ensure our prayers have direct access.

 We now head into the Lecha Dodee.  The Lecha Dodi was written by Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz in the mid 1500’s.  Yet, he was not the one who devised this concept of ushering in Shabbos like a bride.  The Talmud (Shabbos 199a) describes how the Tana’im (great Torah sages) would get dressed in luxurious clothing on Fridays and say, “let’s go out to greet the Shabbos Kallah”.  They then would head out and usher in their beloved Shabbos.  However, it wasn’t until Rabbi Shlomo penned this prayer, that we had this formal song to usher in Shabbos.  Once he wrote it, it became accepted across all segments of the Jewish community.  Yet, since this was not a part of prayer established by previous generations, there is the custom in many places that the Chazan doesn’t intone it from this usual place of recital.  Rather, he picks a different location in Shul to sing out the Lecha Dodee.  In certain communities, the prayer was not said inside the shul (for example, the Kabbalists in Tzefas would go into the fields to sing it whilst the German Jews would go into the courtyard of the Shul).

 Right after singing a welcome to the exalted Shabbos, we read Psalm  92 which  is attributed to Adam HaRishon – -the one that begins “Mizmor Shir L’yom  HaShabbos” [“Let us sing a song to the day of Shabbos].  Adam had messed up big time and thought his relationship with G-d was completely ruined through his sin.  Then he got the gift of Shabbos, and Adam burst into song, thankful for the fact that one day, each week, he’d get a a taste of all he’d lost, that taste of Gan Eden.  In the times of the Bais HaMikdash, this was the psalm that the Levi’im would sing for Shabbos.

 Okay, we’ve done Six Psalms before Lecha Dodee, one Psalm thereafter.  But, wait, there is that 8th Psalm that we say now, Psalm 93.  Seven days a week = 7 Psalms.  What’s the eighth one doing here?  In a previous post I had once mentioned this concept.  7 is the count of our current world.  Seven days of the week, seven primary colors, seven notes in song.  However, when G-d heralds in the Messianic stage, we are told there will be an 8th note in song, one more beautiful than all seven existing ones.  8, you see, is beyond this world, to the realm of the next world.  Which is why, if you read Psalm 93, we are praying for that Messianitc time to arrive.

 Having extended Shabbos into our previous week by doing the Psalms, having welcomed in Shabbos like a beloved guest with the Lecha Dodee, having said the Psalm of the day, and having declared how much we want an existence that is all Shabbos, well then, it time to move forward, to hear the declaration of Borchoo, the beginning of our formal evening prayers and the official communal start of Shabbos.

 Have a great Shabbos, my friends!


and, if you want a musical interlude before Shabbos, this is amazing:



About jewishspectacles

Jewish Spectacles-the kind you look through, not the kind you create!
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