As the sun begins to set, each Friday night, we Jews sing a prayer that expresses our yearning to enter a particular type of time; one that is joyous and elevated, one where we can recall our very best selves.
Known by its first two words, “lecha dodi”, the entire prayer is posed in a metaphor of a groom eagerly awaiting his bride just before she appears to him for her walk down the wedding aisle to their chuppah.
A timeless drama meant to reflect the Jewish people as we eagerly await our own b’sherit, our people’s soul-mate, called Shabbat.
“Come my beloved” our prayer seems to echo, “together our spirits, and our lives, will intertwine… together we will become so much more.”
This prayer was composed in the 16th century in Israel’s cool mountain-city of Safed by the renowned Kabbalist, Shlomo Halevi Alkabetz.
The brilliance of Lecha Dodi is that it has us recall an almost universal, yet unique, experience of waiting for our love, whose arrival will mark the beginning of the best days that we might live.
But Lecha Dodi also expands to something even bigger, for it speaks of what the Kabbalists referred to as ‘Messianic times’, when the world would be safe, and fair, healed and whole.
Sometimes it’s hard for me to place myself in the long range of Jewish history, for I, like you, have limited hours in the day, and days in the week. For most of my life, this prayer appeared each Friday night in a world that was predictable, even if it was flawed.
However, for most of Jewish history, the context for each Friday’s Lecha Dodi was a world of uncertainty, gravity, and even danger.
To be sure, in every era, we can appreciate Lecha Dodi’s message that life has it’s joys, events that we can look forward to, and simchas to appreciate.
But when the world seems upside down, Lecha Dodi shares its most poignant promise; that of a hopeful future, full of family and community, where we can once again experience elation and sacredness together.
What will you experience, this Friday night, when we sing Lecha dodi at Temple Emanu-El?
Will you recall your own wedding day, and the radiance of tomorrow just beyond your sight?
Will this help you remember the very best of times that were, and can be once again?
Or will you draw deeply, like a thirst from a well, on our prophets’ promise that things will get better?
Over the centuries, our voices rise in song and prayer, carrying from Jew to Jew, throughout the ages: “Hit’oreri hit’oreri, Ki va orekh qumi ori / Rouse yourselves! Rouse yourselves! Your light is coming, rise up and shine!”
Lecha Dodi will be there for you. A precious gift. Yours to keep.