Kabbalat Shabbat

By: Samantha Hulkower

Friday night prayers are different than other days of the week. Because we light Shabbat candles at least 18 minutes before sunset (and 40 minutes before in Jerusalem), there is a relatively long period of time where it's Shabbat, but we can't daven the Amida, because we have to wait for a certain period of time (traditionally for 3 stars to be seen in the sky) before it's officially considered the new day. Jews came up with a beautiful way to be in shul and celebrating Shabbat before they can say the specific night prayers: these are the collection of psalms, songs, and poems that together make up Kabbalat Shabbat (kabbalat referring to the Hebrew word kabbalah, which means to receive, and refers to the fact that we are taking in Shabbat).

While there were always tunes for the various Kabbalat Shabbat songs, it was Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach who really popularized the idea of a spiritual, moving prayer service. Today, all over the world, you can walk into a shul and find 'Carlebach' style services - which just means the regular prayers put to Reb Shlomo's tunes.

They prayer service starts off with Psalm 95 - "L'chu neranina, Come, let us sing" - which is a fitting way to begin a Carlebach service! The Psalms continue in order up to number 99. Mainly, they are talking about G-d's sovereignty over the world, and looking forward to the day when the whole world will see that. Then it moves back to Psalm 29 - this usually has an upbeat tune, and everyone in shul stands to sing. At this point in the service, people are starting to get pumped that it's Shabbat. In more spiritual shuls, people will continue singing the tune, even when the words are over, and begin dancing. Next, is a kabbalistic poem that I find tends to be skipped in the US, but is mostly read in Israel - Ana B'coach.  At just 42 words, you can tell it's telling more than what is simply written on the page. I'm not going to try and decode it for you, but I can tell you that the words begin with the letters of the secret 42 letters of the Name of G-d, so yeah, that's mystical!

The zenith of the prayers is Lecha Dodi. Written in the 16th century by Rabbi Shlomo Halevi Alkabeitz, it means literally in Hebrew 'Welcome my Beloved' - and it is really a poem about Jews greeting Shabbat like it was their collective bride. It's very beautiful and you can see the full text of the poem here.

The Kabbalat Shabbat service ends with Psalms 92 and 93. Number 92 begins, "A psalm, a song for the Sabbath day." So it's easy to see why it's found here. The next two lines of the psalm are commonly sung on Shabbat - "Tov lehodot Lashem, ulzamer lesimcha elyon. Lehagid baboker chasdecha, vemunascha bailaylos." It means: It is good to thank G-d, to sing to His exalted name. To tell of His kindness in the morning and His faithfulness at night. Finally, Psalm 93 ends with the promise that good will overcome evil, a promising way to close this moving service, and move on to the traditional evening prayers.  

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