I recently heard a beautiful version of the song Lecha Dodi (“Come my beloved”) sung during Kabbalat Shabbat on Friday nights, by the a capella group “The Maccabeats”. It was arranged to the tune of Leonard Cohen’s “Halleluyah” and was quite moving. This prompted me to look deeper into this poem written by the famous sixteenth century kabbalist of Safed, Rabbi Sholmo Alkabetz (traditional words and translation retrieved from zemirotdatabase.org; original translation from “The Standard Prayer Book” by Simeon Singer, 1915 in the public domain):

לְכָה דוֹדִי לִקְרַאת כַּלָּה. פְּנֵי שַׁבָּת נְקַבְּלָה

שָׁמוֹר וְזָכוֹר בְּדִבּוּר אֶחָד, הִשְמִיעָֽנוּ אֵל הַמְּיֻחָד
ה’ אֶחָד וּשְמוֹ אֶחָד. לְשֵׁם וּלְתִפְאֶֽרֶת וְלִתְהִלָּה

לִקְרַאת שַׁבָּת לְכוּ וְנֵלְכָה. כִּי הִיא מְקוֹר הַבְּרָכָה
מֵרֹאשׁ מִקֶּֽדֶם נְסוּכָה. סוֹף מַעֲשֶׂה בְּמַחֲשָׁבָה תְּחִלָּה

הִתְנַעֲרִי מֵעָפָר קוּמִי. לִבְשִׁי בִּגְדֵי תִפְאַרְתֵּךְ עַמִּי
עַל יַד בֶּן יִשַׁי בֵּית הַלַּחְמִי. קָרְבָה אֶל נַפְשִׁי גְאָלָהּ

הִתְעוֹרְרִי הִתְעוֹרְרִי. כִּי בָא אוֹרֵךְ קֽֽוּמִי אֽוֹרִי
עֽוּרִי עֽוּרִי שִׁיר דַבֵּֽרִי. כְּבוֹד ה’ עָלַֽיִךְ נִגְלָה

בּֽוֹאִי בְשָׁלוֹם עֲטֶרֶת בַּעְלָהּ. גַּם בְּשִׂמְחָה וּבְצָהֳלָה
תּוֹךְ אֱמוּנֵי עַם סְגֻּלָּה. בּֽוֹאִי כַלָּה, בּֽוֹאִי כַלָּה

Come, my Beloved, to meet the bride; let us welcome the presence of the Sabbath.

“Obse​rve” and “Remember​ the Sabbath day,” the only God caused us to hear in a single utterance​: the Lord is One, and his name is One to his renown and his glory and his praise.

Come,​​​​​​​​​​ let us go to meet the Sabbath, for it is a well-spri​ng of blessing;​ from the beginning​, from of old it was ordained,​—last in productio​n, first in thought.

Shake​ thyself from the dust, arise, put on the garments of thy glory, O my people! Through the son of Jesse, the Bethlehem​ite, draw Thou nigh unto my soul, redeem it.

Arous​e thyself, arouse thyself, for thy light is come: arise, shine; awake, awake; give forth a song; the glory of the Lord is revealed upon thee.

*Come in peace, thou crown of thy husband, with rejoicing​ and with cheerfuln​ess, in the midst of the faithful of the chosen people: come, O bride; come, O bride.

Come,​​​​​​​​​​ my Beloved, to meet the bride; let us welcome the presence of the Sabbath.

*It is customary to stand for the last verse and bow at the words “boi kallah“(come, O bride) as though one were greeting a bride at a wedding.

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There is a famous Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah from Sefaria.org, community translation) 11:8 that discusses the metaphor between the Jewish People and Shabbat in terms of  a Bride and Groom:

In Isaiah (52:1-2) we also see some of the words incorporated in Lecha Dodi (from Sefaria.org, Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures by JPS):

and in Meseches Shabbos 119a (from Sefaria.org, The William Davidson digital edition of the Koren Noe Talmud Bavli) we see that even before the mystics of Safed would dress in white robes and dance in the fields to greet the bride and Queen of Shabbat, we read:

This metaphor continues in the Song of Songs (Shir Ha-Shirim chapter 5:1 from Sefaria.org, The Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures by JPS):

The MIdrash Rabbah for the Song of Songs explains this verse as follows (from Sefaria.org Midrash Rabbah Shir Hashirim, community translation):

“I have come to my garden….Rabbi Menachem, the son-in-law of Rabbi Eliezer bar Avunah, said in the name of Rabbi Shimon , the son of Rabbi Yoseanah, ‘It doesn’t say “to a garden”, but “to My garden”, meaning my original Garden (Gan Eden) , the place that I originally mainly dwelled’. The Divine Presence (the Shekhinah) was not on the earthly, lowest plane, as it is written in Genesis 3:8, ‘They heard the voice of the Lord Hashem walking in the garden’…”

The connection between “l’gani” to “l’ginuni” (interpreted here as a “bridal chamber” by the sages) derives from the meaning of the Hebrew root “gimel-nun-nun” (ganan) meaning “to defend” or “to protect”.

We often read about being protected “under the wings of the Shekhinah”. While “shelter” is usually connected with the word “sukkot” (as in sukkot sh’lomecha; “spread over us the shelter of your peace”), the interpretation of the Song of Songs is a love story between Hashem and the Jewish People.

The shekhinah is a mystical, feminine aspect of Hashem that interacts with us (we will not go into depth here about the anthropomorphic aspects of Hashem) as can be seen in the verse from Sefer Shemot 25:8 (from Sefaria.org, The Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures by JPS):

Notice it does not say to dwell among “it”, but to dwell among “them”, mean that the shekhinah (as alluded to in the word v’shikhanti) so that Hashem can dwell within our souls. For those who follow the path of righteous, we see from Pslam 37:29-31 (from Sefaria.org, The Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures by JPS):

The righteous have the divine presence among them (verse 29). Let us pray that we all become a vessel for Godliness, to perform mitzvot , tikun olam , and make the world a better place. So the next time you sing lecha dodi, go outside (if it is feasible and safe to do so), and greet the Sabbath bride as a Queen!