Personal Redemption and Shabbos

This post is dedicated in memory of Etya Sarah bat Yitzchak ha-Levi. May it be an aliyah                                                               for her neshama.
By Shoshana Rosa

The crowning jewel of Kabbalat Shabbot (greeting the Shabbos) during Friday night prayers is Lecha Dodi, a poem written by sixteenth century kabbalist, Rav Shlomo Alchabetz in Tzfat, Israel. The song reads like a one way conversation between the poem's narrator to his "Beloved" whom he is asking to accompany him while he goes to greet the Shabbos queen

The narrator of Lecha Dodi is easy to interpret: he represents the Jews; who the "Beloved" represents, on the other hand, has undergone much speculation. There are those who have concluded that "my beloved" is a reference to G-d while others think it is simply one's friends being asked nto accompany one to go greet the Shabbos. The Shabbos queen is Shabbos herself whom Judaism refers to as either a bride or queen.

The theme of Lecha Dodi is redemption. The following story is about a young man finding his personal redemption with the help of a Lecha Dodi
Coming home from Ramalah 
A true story
by Zev Roth

On a quiet street in Jerusalem, Dan wished the Rav of his shul (synagogue) a good Shabbos, shook hands with a few fellow shul goers and headed for the exit. He wanted to get home in time to recite Kiddush (blessing over wine before a Friday night meal) for the family.
As he approached the door, however, he spun around and started eyeing the people filing out. He scanned the shul for newcomers. Perhaps there was someone who needed a place to eat? "Who's that sitting by the side wall?" he murmured. "I know almost everyone here, and I don't believe I've seen him before."
Dan approached the young man and scanned him with an experienced eye. Dungarees, backpack, dark skin, curly black hair. He looked Sephardi, maybe Moroccan.
Dan took a moment more for introspection and then, he was moving toward the boy, hand extended in welcome. "Good Shabbos. My name is Dan Eisenblatt. Would you like to eat by my house tonight?"

The young man's furrowed brow cleared and he broke into a smile. His teeth gleamed "Yeah, thanks. My name is Machi," he volunteered. The young Sephardi picked up his backpack, and together they walked out of shul.
Several minutes later they were all standing around Dan's Shabbos table. As soon as the family started singing Shalom Aleichem, Dan noticed that his guest wasn't singing along. "Maybe he's shy, or maybe he can't sing," he surmised. When the guest caught Dan looking at him, he gave another one of his toothy smiles and followed along, lagging but trying his best.
After the meal began, the guest relaxed somewhat, but he still seemed a bit fidgety. For the most part, he was silent. Dan worked to keep the conversation general, trying to make his guest feel as at home as possible. He centered his remarks around the weekly Torah portion, a safe topic, mixed in with small talk about current events.
After the first course (fish), Dan noticed the curly haired young man leafing through his songbook. The host smiled, "Is there a song you want to sing? I can help if you're not sure about the tune."
The guest's face lit up. "There is a song I'd like to sing, but I can't find it here. I really liked what we sang in the synagogue tonight. What was it called? Something dodi."
Dan opened his mouth and paused. He was on the verge of saying, "It's not usually sung at the table," but then he caught himself. If that's what the kid wants, he thought, what's the harm? Aloud he said, "You mean Lecha Dodi. Hang on, let me get you a siddur (prayer book)."
Once they had sung Lecha Dodi, the young man resumed his silence until after the seond course (soup), when Dan asked him, "Which song now?"
The guest looked embarrassed, but after a bit of encouragement, he said, "I'd really like to sing Lecha Dodi again."
Dan was not really all that surprised when, after the third course (chicken), he asked his guest what song now, and the young man repeated, "Lecha Dodi, please." Dan almost blurted out, "Let's sing it a little softer this time. The neighbors are going to think I'm nuts," but thought better of it.
After singing Lecha Dodi for probably the eighth or ninth time, Dan had enough. "Do you want to sing something else?" he suggested.
His guest blushed and looked down. "I just really like that one," he mumbled. "Just something about it -- I really like it."
Later, when they had some time to talk, Dan said, "I was wondering, we haven't had more than a few moments to chat. Where did you say you were from?"
The boy looked pained, stared down at the floor and muttered, "Ramallah."
Dan's heart skipped a beat. He was sure he'd heard the boy say "Ramallah," a large Arab city on the West Bank. He caught himself, though, realizing that he must have heard Ramleh, an Israeli city. Dan said, "Oh, how nice, I have a cousin there. Do you know Ephraim Warner? He lives on Herzl Street."
The young man shook his head, still looking down, "There are no Jews in Ramallah."
Dan gasped. The boy really had said Ramallah. Dan's thoughts started racing. Did he just invite an Arab into his home for Shabbos? Wait a minute, wait a minute, don't jump to conclusions, he told himself. Take a deep breath, let's get this straightened out. Giving his head a quick shake he told the boy, "I'm sorry, I'm a bit confused. And now that I think of it, I haven't even asked you for your full name. What is it, please?"
The boy looked scared for a moment, then squared his shoulders and murmured, "Machmud Ibn-esh-Sharif."
Machmud was looking terrified now; he could tell what Dan was thinking. Hurriedly he said, "But listen! I'm Jewish. I'm just trying to find out where I belong."
Dan stood there speechless. What could he say?
Machmud broke the silence: "I was born and raised in Ramallah. I was taught to hate my Jewish oppressors, and to think that killing them was heroism. But I always had my doubts. After all, we were taught that the Sunna, our tradition, says, 'No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.' I used to sit and wonder, Weren't the Yahud (Jews) people, too? Didn't they have the right to live just as we have that right? If we're supposed to be good to everyone, how come the Jews aren't included?
When I approached my father with these questions he threw me out of the house. Just like that, with nothing but the clothes on my back. By then, my mind was made up: I was going to run away and live with the Yahud, until I could find out what they were really like."
He continued:
"That night, I snuck back into the house to grab my things. My mother caught me. She looked pale and upset, but she was quiet and gentle with me. After a while she got me to talk. I told her that I wanted to go live with the Jews and that maybe I would eventually convert.
Her face was getting paler and paler while I spoke. I thought she was angry, but I was wrong. Something else was hurting her. She whispered, 'You don't have to convert. You're already Jewish.'
"My jaw dropped, and for a moment I couldn't speak. Then I stammered, 'What do you mean?'
"'In Judaism,' she told me, 'the religion goes according to the mother. I'm Jewish, so that means you're Jewish.'
"I never had any idea my mother was Jewish. I guess she didn't want anyone to know. She whispered suddenly, 'I made a mistake by marrying an Arab man. In you, my mistake will be redeemed.' She went and dug out some old documents, and handed them to me. I received a birth certificate and my mother's old Israeli ID card, so I could prove I was a Jew. I've got them here with me, but I don't know what to do with them.
"My mother hesitated before she gave me this as well: 'You may as well take this. It is an old photograph of my grandparents, which was taken when they went looking for the grave of some great ancestor of ours. They went up north and found the grave, and that's when this picture was taken.'"
Dan asked, "Do you have the photo here?"
The boy broke into a grin, "Sure! I always carry it with me." He reached into his backpack and pulled out an old, tattered envelope.
Dan gently pulled the photo out of the envelope. The first thing that stood out was the family group: an old-time Sephardi family from the turn of the century.
Then he focused on the grave they were standing around. He nearly dropped the photo. He rubbed his eyes to make sure. There was no doubt. This was a grave in the old cemetery of Tzfat, and the inscription identified it as the grave of the great Kabbalist and tzaddik Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz -- the author of "Lecha Dodi."
Dan's voice quivered with excitement as he explained to Machmud who his ancestor was. "He was a friend of the Arizal, a great Torah scholar, a tzaddik, a mystic. And Machmud, your ancestor wrote that song we were singing all Shabbos: Lecha Dodi!"
This time it was Machmud's turn to be struck speechless. Dan slowly stood up, still in awe over what had happened. He extended a trembling hand and said, "Welcome home, Machmud.

"Coming home from Ramallah" touched many hearts. People wrote stories and songs about it. The tale also ties in with our mass Exodus from Egypt thousands of years ago. Every year, around Pesach time (Passover), Jews all over are commanded to experience redemption. Some of our Rabbis have interpreted this to mean a personal redemption: freedom from emotional pain, or something as uncomplicated as cleaning out the extra clothes in one's closet. You could go on a vacation, perhaps clear the air in some strained relationships. Either way, spring is here. The flowers are opening up again and it's wonderful to be alive. I hope Machmud's story brings a spring to your step.

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