17 January 2020

‘Bless me with peace,
O messengers of peace’ …
two Sabbath Eve hymns

Welcoming the Sabbath Queen … an exhibition in the Museum of Jewish Culture in Bratislava (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

There is a Jewish legend or story in the Babylonian Talmud (Shabbat 119b) that two angels accompany the Jew from the home to the synagogue on Sabbath Eve.

If the home has been made festive in honour of the Sabbath, with a lamp burning and a table set, the good angel says the good angel says, ‘So may it be also next Sabbath.’ And the evil angel answers, against his will, ‘Amen.’

And if the person’s home is not prepared for Shabbat in that manner, the evil angel says: ‘May it be your will that it shall be so for another Shabbat.’ And the good angel answers, against his will: ‘Amen.’

A hymn dating from the 17th century and based on this legend is traditionally sung on returning home after the Sabbath Eve Service, but has recently become popular also as a synagogue hymn.

There is a version of this hymn in Service of the Heart, the prayer book published in London by the Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues in 1967, and which I use regularly in my daily prayers. In this version, recommended for use at the kindling of the Sabbath lights, the reference to ministering angels’ has been changed to ‘messengers of peace’:

Peace be to you, O messengers of peace,
messengers of the Most High,
of the supreme King of kings,
the Holy One, praised be he.

Enter in peace, O messengers of peace,
messengers of the Most High,
of the supreme King of kings,
the Holy One, praised be he.

Bless me with peace, O messengers of peace,
messengers of the Most High,
of the supreme King of kings,
the Holy One, praised be he.

Depart in peace, O messengers of peace,
messengers of the Most High,
of the supreme King of kings,
the Holy One, praised be he.

A Sabbath Eve story of two angels is told in the ‘Babylonian Talmud’ (‘Shabbat’ 119b)

L’Cho Dodi (לכה דודי‎) is a Hebrew-language Jewish liturgical song recited Friday at dusk, usually at sundown, in synagogue to welcome Shabbat before the evening services, and is part of the Kabbalat Shabbat or ‘welcoming of Sabbath.’

The Sabbath gently steals in with the very beginning of dusk on Friday evening. Traditionally, it is compared with a queen coming to visit her subjects, bestowing peace and serenity.

Earlier this afternoon I was listening to a version of L’Cho Dodi recorded by the Jewish story-teller and folk musician Mike Tabor. L’Cho Dodi means ‘come my beloved,’ and is a request of a mysterious ‘beloved’ that could mean either God or one’s friends to join in welcoming Queen Shabbat.’

While the last verse is being sung, the entire congregation rises and turns to the west towards the setting sun – or towards the entrance to the synagogue – to greet Queen Shabbat as she arrives.

If you think there are Greek echoes in this song, then perhaps it is because it was composed in the 16th century by Shlomo Halevi Alkabetz, who was born in Thessaloniki and later became a Safed Kabbalist.

As was common at the time, the song is also an acrostic, with the first letter of the first eight stanzas spelling the author’s name. The author draws from the rabbinic interpretation of Song of Songs in which the maiden is seen as a metaphor for the Jews and the lover is a metaphor for God, and from Nevi’im, which uses the same metaphor.

The song shows Israel asking God to bring upon that great Shabbat of Messianic deliverance. It is one of the latest of the Hebrew poems regularly accepted into the liturgy, both in the southern use, which the author followed, and in the more distant northern rite.

Inside the Monasterioton Synagogue, the only surviving, pre-war working synagogue in Thessaloniki … ‘L’Cho Dodi’ was composed by Shlomo Halevi Alkabetz, who was born in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Sabbath – L’Cho Dodi (‘Come my beloved’)


Let’s go, my beloved, to meet the bride,
and let us welcome the presence of Shabbat

‘Safeguard’ and ‘Remember’ in a single utterance,
We were made to hear by the unified God,
God is one and God’s Name is one,
In fame and splendour and praiseful song.

To greet Shabbat let’s go, let’s travel,
For she is the wellspring of blessing,
From the start, from ancient times she was chosen,
Last made, but first planned.

Sanctuary of the king, royal city,
Arise! Leave from the midst of the turmoil;
Long enough have you sat in the valley of tears
And He will take great pity upon you compassionately.

Shake yourself free, rise from the dust,
Dress in your garments of splendour, my people,
By the hand of Jesse’s son of Bethlehem,
Redemption draws near to my soul.

Rouse yourselves! Rouse yourselves!
Your light is coming, rise up and shine.
Awaken! Awaken! utter a song,
The glory of the Lord is revealed upon you.

Do not be embarrassed! Do not be ashamed!
Why be downcast? Why groan?
All my afflicted people will find refuge within you
And the city shall be rebuilt on her hill.

Your despoilers will become your spoil,
Far away shall be any who would devour you,
Your God will rejoice concerning you,
As a groom rejoices over a bride.

To your right and your left you will burst forth,
And the Lord will you revere
By the hand of a child of Peretz,
We will rejoice and sing happily.

Come in peace, crown of her husband,
Both in happiness and in jubilation
Amidst the faithful of the treasured nation
Come O Bride! Come O Bride!

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