Shabbos – the Sacred Seventh Day – is especially suited for song, as it is written: “A psalm, a song for the Shabbos day” (Psalm 92:1).
The biblical term “chassidim” refers to those who serve the Creator and all creation with love and devotion. The “Sefer Chassidim” – attributed to Rabbi Yehudah HaChasid - is a classical work on Jewish ethics and conduct which was written in the thirteenth century, and its teachings help us to become true chassidim. This work cites the tradition that when the Creator “blessed the Seventh Day” (Genesis 2:3), He blessed it with joyous song (Section 1147). There is therefore a custom to sing many songs on Shabbos, especially during the meals, and each of these songs reveals another aspect of the Jewish vision. Through these songs, we become chassidim who express our love and yearning for our Beloved, Who will lead us to redemption and shalom in the age that is called, “the day that will be entirely Shabbos and tranquility for life everlasting” (Mishnah Tamid 7:4). Each Shabbos gives us a “taste” of this future age. In this spirit, I will cite the following excerpts from some of the poetic songs which are sung at the Shabbos table on Friday night.
1. “Let us now invite Her - the Shechinah - with a newly-laid table, and with a well-lit menorah that casts light on all heads.” (Askinu Seudasa/Azamer Bishvachim by the Arizal, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria)
A source for the above verse can be found in the Midrash which teaches that when we prepare for the arrival of Shabbos in the manner described above, the Shechinah says, “This is My dwelling!” (Yalkut Reuveni on Exodus 31:16)
2. “Tranquility, joy, and light for the Jews, on this day of Shabbos, day of delights.
…They will merit much good, those who take pleasure in it – with the redeemer’s coming, for the life of the World to Come.” (Menucha V’Simcha)
3. “How beloved is your tranquility; You are the Shabbos Queen, therefore we run toward You, ‘Come O Royal Bride.’
…A semblance of the World to Come is the Shabbos day of tranquility. All who delight in it will merit much joy; from the birth pangs of the Messiah they will be rescued to relief. May our redemption flourish, so that grief and sighs may flee.” (Mah Yedidus)
4. “This day for Israel is light and joy – Shabbos of tranquility. Heart’s beloved of the shattered nation, for suffering people an additional soul; for a troubled soul it removes moaning – Shabbos of tranquility.
…Renew our Sanctuary, remember the ruined city; Your goodness, our Savior, grant to the saddened one who spends the Shabbos in song and praise – Shabbos of tranquility.” (Yom Zeh L’Yisrael by the Arizal)
5. “My soul thirsts for God, for the God of life; my heart and flesh will sing joyously to the Living God.
…For everything I shall glorify You, every mouth shall acknowledge Your Oneness; for You open Your hand and satisfy all the living.
Remember the love of the ancients – thereby resuscitate the slumbering dead. And bring near the days when Jesse’s heir shall live.” (Tzamah Nafshi by Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra)
6. “O Creator, Master of this world and all worlds, You are the King, who reigns over kings.
Praises shall I prepare morning and evening, to You, O Holy God, Who created all life: holy angels and the children of humankind, beasts of the field, and birds of the sky.
Great are Your deeds and mighty, humbling the haughty and straightening the bowed. Even if a person lived thousands of years, he could not fathom the extent of Your powerful deeds.
God to Whom belongs honor and greatness, save Your sheep from the mouth of lions; and bring Your people out from exile – the people that You chose from all the nations.
To Your Sanctuary return and to the Holy of Holies – the place where spirits and souls will rejoice. And they will sing songs and praises in Jerusalem, city of beauty.” (Kah Ribon Olam by Rabbi Moshe of Najara)
7. “May the Temple be rebuilt; the City of Zion replenished. There shall we sing a new song, with joyous singing ascend.” (Tzur MiShelo)
The rebuilt Temple “will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples” (Isaiah 56:7); thus, in this new age, we will call upon all humankind to join us in singing this new song to Hashem – the Compassionate One, as it is written:
“Sing to Hashem a new song; sing to Hashem everyone on earth.” (Psalm 96:1)
Those who join us in singing this new song will also be called “chassidim” – those who serve with loving devotion, as it is written:
“Sing to Hashem a new song; His praise is in the assembly of the chassidim.” (Psalm 149:1)
As Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains:
This psalm calls upon us to sing “a new song” – the song of the new future day – when not only the Jews, but also all the others who will then come near to Hashem with devotion, will form one great assembly of chassidim.
May we soon experience the song of these chassidim in the age which will be entirely Shabbos and tranquility for life everlasting.
Have a Good and Sweet Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
1. In the above psalm which mentions “the assembly of the chassidim,” Rabbi Hirsch translates “chassidim” as “those devoted in love.”
2. The followers of the Baal Shem Tov, a leading Torah sage of the eighteenth century, became known as “chassidim”; moreover, the movement that grew out of his teachings became known as the Chassidic movement. Among other things, this movement gave added emphasis to Torah teachings regarding the spiritual power of song. Rabbi Aharon of Karlin, one of the greatest figures in the earliest period of the Chassidic movement, wrote the words to a Shabbos song which is sung by many chassidim today on Friday night, and it opens with the following words: God – I long for the sweetness of Shabbos (Kah Echsof).
3. The following book on the Shabbos table songs and the Grace after Meals offers both a translation and a commentary: “Zemiros and Birchas Hamazon” (Art Scroll). For further information, visit the ArtScroll website: http://www.artscroll.com/linker/hazon/home