Saturday, December 06, 2008

Mystical Siddur IV: Lekha Dodi, Sensual Shabbat

[THE SABBATH BRIDE by Janet and Emmanuel Snitkovsky]
In the past three postings we have examined three prayers found in the siddur that derive from three different Jewish mystical circles: the Hekhalot/Merkavah adepts (angelology), the Hasidei Ashkenaz (Glory visionaries) and medieval kabbalists (name mysticism). In our final example in this topic (we may later talk about Nusach ha-Ari, a prayerbook entirely permeated with mystical commentaries and kavvanot), we consider the most famous of all mystical compositions, Lekha Dodi (Come my Beloved...). This is a work of 16th Century Safed mysticism, for which there is no one overarching theosophy [1]. Several outstanding mystics lived and wrote in the hilltop Galilean town, including Moses Cordovero, Issac Luria, Elijah de Vida, and Abraham Galante. The community was deeply immersed in Zoharic Kabbalah, but it is also the birth place of Lurianic mysticism. The author of Lecha Dodi, Solomon Alkabez, was a contemporary of Moses Cordovero. An ecstatic mystic, he would pursue direct communion with dead sages and saints.

Lekha Dodi is concerned foremost with the task of reuniting (yichud) the fragmented aspects of the godhead, bringing the Shekhinah/Malchut (the feminine aspect of God) out if its exile and ensuring its union with the masculine aspect (variously known as Yesod, Tiferet, or ha-Kadosh Barukh Hu). Shabbat is the most propitious time to affect this union, so this composition is recited at the cusp of sunset Friday at the beginning of Shabbat. Throughout the poem, there are feminine figures - the Sabbath bride, the widowed Jerusalem, even the Jewish people - that are stand-ins for the Shekhinah. As is the case with every mystical prayer we have studied, Lekha Dodi is also an acrostic poem. In this case, the first letter of each stanza combine to spell the author's name - a first in a long Jewish tradition of anonymous liturgical compositions.

Come, my love, to meet the bride, let us welcome the Sabbath [2].
"Observe" and "Remember" in a single utterance, the Unique God made known to us [3].
God is one and His name is one, for renown, splendor, and praise[4].

Come, let us go to meet the Sabbath, for She is the source of blessing[B.T. Shabbat 119a].
From the beginning, of old, it was ordained - [She is the] last in creation, [but] first in [God's] thought [5].

Sanctuary of the king, the royal city - arise! Come forth from the ruins.
Long enough have you [feminine] dwelt in the valley of sorrow - but He will show you mercy.

Shake off your dust, arise! Put on your garments of splendor, my people [6].
Through the son of Jesse, the Bethlehemite [7], draw close to my soul and redeem her.

Awaken! Awaken! Your light has come! Arise and shine! [Isaiah 51:16; 60:1]
Awake, awake, utter a song - the glory of the Lord is revealed on you.

Do not be ashamed or confused. Why are you downcast? Why do you moan?
In you my poor people will be sheltered - and the city will be rebuilt on its ancient site.

Those who despoiled you will become a spoil, and all who would devour you will be far away.
Your God will rejoice over you like a groom rejoices over his bride.

Spread out to the right and the left, and revere the Lord,
through the coming of the son of Peretz we will be glad and exult [8].

Come in peace, crown of Her husband [9], with song, with joy, and with exultation.
Among the faithful ones of the chosen people, come, O bride, come, O bride.

Zal G'mor: To learn more, consult the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism - http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050

[1] Lawrence Fine's Safed Spirituality provides a great sampler of the various writings.
[2] The image of the Sabbath as a bride is characteristic of the erotic theology that undergirds much mystical thought. It has a biblical basis (Hos. 2:4; Isa. 54:5-8, Song of Songs). In this case, the people Israel are the groom (see Gen. Rabbah 11.8), but this nuptial metaphor is applied promiscuously (God and Israel, Israel and Shabbat, Shekhinah and Tiferet, etc.). There is also a gematria woven into this line. The total number of letters is 26, the numeric value of God's four-letter name, which encapsulates the masculine and feminine forces.
[3] the two versions of the Ten Commandments found in the Torah are interpreted to mean God spoke to Israel in such a way as we heard both versions simultaneous. It also plays upon the sexual associations of speech (think of the English word "intercourse") and knowledge (the Hebrew word da'at means both "know" and "copulate"). But then, if we are greeting the bride, who is the "love" [dodi is intimate to the level of eros] that is being addressed with direct speech? Fellow Jews? The divine masculine?
[4] God's unity is most realized within creation on Shabbat (Zech. 14:9; Gen. Rabbah 17.5).
[5] Like the bride at a wedding, who triggers the event, but is the last to enter.
[6] Jerusalem and the people Israel are conflated into one literary bridal image.
[7] The eschatological messiah, a biological descendant of David. But given the popular believe in transmigration of the soul among Safed mystics, this could imply Alkabez believed the messiah will be David reincarnated!
[8]Left and right refers to the sefirot, the diagram of the godhead. In the messianic times (the "son of Perez" refers to the messiah) both the "left and right sides" of God will be harmonized and the universe perfected.
[9] More sexual and kabbalistic double entendre. As a crown receives and encircles the head, so the feminine receives the masculine in exultation and pleasure. The 'crown' also designates the shekhinah and the husband [baalat] refers to Yesod, the sefirotic equivalent of the phallus.


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