27 March 2020

‘Too long have you dwelt in
the valley of tears. He will
shower compassion on you’

‘Come, my Beloved, to greet the bride, and let us welcome the Sabbath’

Patrick Comerford

As the sun sets at the end of this week, I find my self turning to the traditional Jewish hymn Lekha Dodi, which originates among the Sephardic communities in Thessaloniki, and its encouraging words in these difficult times:

Too long have you dwelt in the valley of tears.
He will shower compassion on you

The hymn Lekha Dodi ( לכה דודי‎) is a Hebrew liturgical song recited at dusk on Fridays, usually at sundown, in the synagogue to welcome Shabbat prior to the evening services. It is part of the Kabbalat Shabbat or ‘welcoming of Sabbath.’

The opening words Lekhah Dodi mean ‘Come, my Beloved,’ and this is a request of a mysterious ‘beloved’ that could mean either God or one’s friend or friends to join together in welcoming Shabbat, referred to as the ‘bride’: likrat kallah (‘to greet the [Shabbat] bride’).

When the last verse is being sung, the entire congregation rises and turns west facing the setting sun, or facing the entrance of the synagogue, to greet Queen Shabbat as she arrives, as did the mystics in the fields of Tzefat.

Inside the Monasterioton Synagogue is the only surviving, pre-war working synagogue in Thessaloniki … Rabbi Shlomo ha-Levi Alkabetz, the author of ‘Come, my Beloved,’ was born in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This traditional song was composed in the 16th century by Rabbi Shlomo ha-Levi Alkabetz (ca 1500-1576) from Thessaloniki who later became a Kabbalist in Safed.

As was common at the time, the song is also an acrostic, with the first letter of the first eight stanzas spelling out the name of the author.

The song draws from the rabbinic interpretation of the ‘Song of Songs’ in which the maiden is seen as a metaphor for the Jewish people and the lover (dod) is a metaphor for God, and from Nevi’im, the prophetic writings in the Bible, that use the same metaphor, including Isaiah’s prophecies of consolation, together with Talmudic and Midrashic ideas.

The poem depicts the people 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.

Among the Sephardim, the hymn is sometimes chanted to an ancient Moorish melody that is much older than the text. This is melody of Shuvi Nafshi li-Menukhayekhi, composed by the Spanish Jewish doctor, poet and philosopher, (Judah haLevi (1075/1086-1141), also known as Yehuda Halevi or ha-Levi, or Judah ben Shmuel Halevi, who died nearly five centuries before Rabbi Shlomo Halevi Alkabetz. In this rendering, carried to Israel by Spanish refugees before the days of Alkabetz, the hymn is chanted congregationally, the refrain being employed as an introduction only.

In some Ashkenazic synagogues the verses are ordinarily chanted at elaborate length by the hazzan or cantor, and the refrain is used as a congregational response. However, in most Ashkenazic synagogues, it is sung by everyone together to any one of a large number of tunes.

In his footnotes in the Authorised Daily Prayer Book (p 266), the former Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, describes this song as ‘a work of surpassing beauty, speaking in turn of Shabbat, Jerusalem, the Jewish people and the Messiah, before returning in its last verse to the Shabbat again.’

The full nine verses of this song are found in the Authorised Daily Prayer Book (pp 266-271). Sephardic congregations based in the Jerusalem and Aleppo rites omit verse 4 and verses 6 to 8, as they make reference to agony. Many Reform congregations omit verses 3, 4, 6, 7 and 8 that refer to messianic redemption.

Come, my Beloved, to greet the bride,
and let us welcome the Sabbath

‘Observe’ and ‘Remember’ in a one act of speech,
The One, the Only God made us hear,
The Lord is one and His name is one,
For renown, for splendour, and for praise.

To greet Sabbath, come let us go,
For of blessing she is the source,
From the outset, as of old, ordained:
Last in deed, first in thought.

Sanctuary of the King, royal city,
Arise, go forth from your ruined state.
Too long have you dwelt in the valley of tears.
He will shower compassion on you.

Shake off the dust, arise!
Put on your clothes of glory, My people.
Through the son of Jesse the Bethlehemite,
Draws near to my soul and redeem it.

Wake up, wake up,
For your light has come: rise, shine!
Awake, awake, break out in song,
For the Lord’s glory is revealed on you.

Do not be ashamed, do not be confounded.
Why be downcast? Why do you mourn?
In you the needy of My people find shelter
And the city shall be rebuilt on its hill.

Those who despoiled you shall be despoiled,
And all who devoured you shall be far away.
Your God will rejoice over you,
As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride.

Right and left you shall spread out,
And God you will revere
Through the descendant of Peretz,
We shall rejoice and we shall be glad.

Come in peace, O crown of her husband;
Come with joy and jubilation,
Among us the faithful of the treasured people.
Enter, O bride! Enter, O bride!

Sunset in Askeaton this evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Praying through Lent with
USPG (31): 27 March 2020

A monument to Jewish partisans and resistance to the Nazis and Fascists in Rome (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I was supposed to be visiting the Church of the Province of Myanmar, the Anglican Church in Myanmar (Burma) this week on behalf of the Anglican mission agency USPG(United Society Partners in the Gospel).

The outbreak of Covid-19 or the Cornona virus pandemic meant that visit has been cancelled, and instead I planned to visit Lichfield for these three days (26-29 March) for a self-directed retreat. I had hoped to stay at the Hedgehog at the top of Beacon Street, at the corner of Stafford Road and Cross in Hand Lane, and to follow the daily services in Lichfield Cathedral or the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, which have been my spiritual home for almost half a century and have shaped my expressions of Anglican spirituality.

All these plans have been postponed or cancelled, one after another, due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, throughout Lent this year, I am continuing to use the USPG Prayer Diary, Pray with the World Church, for my morning prayers and reflections. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and the end of the Holocaust, so I am illustrating my reflections each morning with images that emphasise this theme.

I am a trustee of USPG, the Anglican mission agency that partners churches and communities worldwide in God’s mission to enliven faith, strengthen relationships, unlock potential, and champion justice. It was founded in 1701.

This week (22-28 March 2020), the USPG Prayer Diary is focussing on Pakistan, human rights, slavery and the churches in Myanmar and Morocco, with a particular focus on Myanmar today and tomorrow.

These themes were introduced in the Prayer Diary on Sunday by Bishop Humphrey Sarfaraz Peters, Bishop of Peshawar Diocese and President Bishop, Church of Pakistan.

Friday 27 March 2020:

Let us pray for the Church in Myanmar, for God’s help with all the challenges it faces as it continues to grow and be a beacon of hope for the people of Myanmar.

Readings: Wisdom 2: 12-22; Psalm 34: 15-22; John 7: 1-2, 10, 25-30.

The Collect of the Day:

Lord God
whose blessed Son our Saviour
gave his back to the smiters
and did not hide his face from shame:
Give us grace to endure the sufferings of this present time
with sure confidence in the glory that shall be revealed;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Lenten Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

A half-open door in the chapel in Saint John’s Hospital in Lichfield … part of my planned retreat for three days that has been put on hold (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Continued tomorrow

Yesterday’s reflection