Kabbalat Shabbat in Safed…
Kabbalat Shabbat is Safed.
It’s where, in the times of the Arizal, the weekly Shabbat-arrival ceremony as we know it originated. So I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me that it was Kabbalat Shabbat in Safed, during our recent visit there, when I had a mystical revelation.
I’d stepped out from the guesthouse where we were staying, a bit before sunset late Friday afternoon, looking for a place to pray. I hadn’t gone more than a few yards when some rousing, boisterous, Carlebach singing caught my ear.
Following the muse, I came upon what appeared to be a blue-washed (as in whitewashed) parking garage, where on one of the lower levels a seemingly impromptu congregation had gathered to melodiously greet the Shabbat Queen.
Why not? I figured, and ascended the sloping up-ramp to join them.
To call the crowd eclectic would not do it justice. There were shtreimels of various vintages, jeans and baseball caps, yeshivish black-hats, retro-biblical robes, sharkskin suits, and (most interesting,) various permutations of all of the above. And this was just on the women’s side.
So I joined in, figuring at least I wouldn’t stick out. But as I tried to get into the tunes, which I really enjoy, I soon fell into my usual pattern of ‘inventorying’ (to borrow the Twelve-Step Recovery parlance) the people around me.
By inventorying, I mean sizing up and speed-psychoanalyzing: What’s their background? Their approach to Judaism? Their ‘game’? In short, judging with a capital J.
My usual next move as I’m being swept down this toxic thought-stream is to then pop inside of each of their heads and imagine how they are (or would be) inventorying me, which can really set me off on a big-time self-consciousness jag. ‘Where do I stand on this totem pole?’ I ask myself; ‘What’s my position in this herd?’
But fortunately, before I could go there, a teaching from the Arizal that my wife and I learned on the bus ride there came to mind.
Korach, in his rebellion against Moshe’s and Aaron’s leadership, had claimed that the entire nation is holy and therefore all should serve as Kohanim Gedolim (High Priests). The Arizal taught that while Korach’s ideas were wrong for his times, they touched upon the ultimate truth of the future — that eventually there will be no hierarchy among souls and all will be equal.
I then looked up and suddenly the whole scene had tangibly transformed. No longer in front of me danced a motley crew of Safed eccentrics, but a collection of equally beautiful, equally pure Jewish souls – each of whom happened to be garbed in whatever physical form they had chosen to express themselves in this illusory costume-party of a world.
Then the further insight embraced me that I also was a pure, beautiful, equal soul beneath my costume too!
It seemed to me that they somehow knew I caught on, as the previously ‘other’ and unapproachable faces suddenly flashed me knowing, accepting smiles from behind their masks as I joined the circle-dance of souls and ecstatically leapt and stomped, an equal among many. No more looking down on; no more looking up at (and consequently down on myself).
I’d been released!
But alas, as the Arizal had taught, this dance and state of consciousness was destined for the future and I’d been granted but a heavenly sneak preview. By the evening’s end, Cinderella had left the ball and everyone’s ‘soul-shine’ had again, in my eyes, retreated behind their terrestrial garb. I even started judging again (mostly myself).
But at least now, I knew it was all a charade and whenever future inventories would invade my mind, they’d always be sweetened and attenuated by my…
Kabbalat Shabbat in Safed.