A Jewish Joke
Q: When G-d plays Tic-Tac-Toe with the Jewish people, which letter does G-d take?
A: The Xs, because "Hashem oz l'amo yitein" ("G-d will give 'Os' / Strength to the Jewish people")
Kabbalat Shabbat "on one foot":
Kabbalat Shabbat is a section of the Friday evening service. It's the very beginning, prior to the evening service ("Arvit" or "Ma'ariv") officially beginning with Barchu. It was developed by the Kabbalists in the city of Sefad (in the Land of Israel) in the 1500s as a way of "receiving Shabbat" (which is what "Kabbalat Shabbat" literally means).
Historical Background of Kabbalat Shabbat
Between 1492 and 1529, Jews were kicked out of Spain, Portugal, Nuremberg, Bavaria, the Papal States, Milan, and Naples. Then in 1520, Suleiman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire conquered Egypt and the Land of Israel from the Mamelukes. This led to a population explosion in Tzfat / Safed as Jews from all over came to this city in the Galilee near Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s grave in Meron. Among those who gathered there was the Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria, known as “the Ari”. Around him gathered other Kabbalists, such as Rabbis Joseph Karo (author of the Shulchan Aruch), Elazar Azikri (author of “Yedid Nefesh”), Moshe Cordevero (the leading Kabbalist before Luria), and his brother-in-law Shlomo Alkabetz. They would all go out into the fields at dusk on Friday, singing psalms and songs to welcome Shabbat; this custom spread to other communities but they did it inside the synagogue just before Ma’ariv / Arvit. Inspired by the text in the Babylonian Talmud (Shabbat 119a:2), Alkabetz wrote “L’cha Dodi” as the centerpiece for this new service, “Kabbalat Shabbat” (“Receiving the Sabbath”). He wrote it as an acrostic using his name for the first 8 stances (Shlomo haLevi). Kabbalat Shabbat became the last universally accepted addition to Jewish liturgy.
Kabbalat Shabbat Itself
Context: Yedid Nefesh was written by Elazar Azikri in the 1500s in Sefad (in the Land of Israel). It describes a deep yearning for G-d. There are two versions of the words, because the original version was lost and later found. The original version has a lot of words that end in “ach” while the version that guesses what the original is has words that end in “cha”. Yedid Nefesh is an acrostic with G-d’s name.
In this poem, the piyuttan (religious poet) has a deep yearning for G-d, similar to that of a person who is in love. When have you had a deep yearning for something? How would developing that yearning for G-d affect your relationship with G-d?
Context: This is Six13 singing Yedid Nefesh, not the original words, and only the first verse.
Context: This is Psalm 95, a nature psalm. The reference to Meribah and Massah is to Exodus 17:7, where the Israelites tested G-d by asking for water right after they had crossed the Sea of Reeds. In that case, G-d told Moses to hit a rock and make water come out. It was an early example of the Israelites asking G-d for things in the wilderness.
The psalm urges us to sing to G-d. How would Friday evening services be different if we only spoke the prayers?
Context: This is the tune composed by Reuven Sirotkin, being sung by Naomi Weiss Weil, the former Ritual Director of Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago (start at 0:27).
Context: This is Six13 singing the Shlomo Carlebach tune for the beginning of this psalm.
Context: This is Craig Taubman singing his version of the beginning of this psalm.
Context: This is Joe Buchanan, a Jewish country musician, singing his version of L’chu N’ranan’na.
Context: This is a tune written by Cantor Pavel Roytman. It is being performed by Cantors Liz Berke and Rachel Brook (left to right) and Todd Kessler on guitar, all of Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago.
Context: This is Psalm 96, a nature psalm.
The question is sometimes asked "How can you ‘sing a new song to G-d’ when it's the same words that we sang last week?". The answer that is sometimes given is that we've become different, so it's like a new cover band singing the same song. What have you learned or experienced in the past week that has made you a different person?
Context: This is Six13 singing the Shlomo Carlebach tune for this psalm, at least the beginning of the prayer.
Context: This is Naomi Weiss Weil, the former ritual director at Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago, singing a common tune for Y’sm’chu Shashamayim (start at 0:36).
Context: This is Craig Taubman singing his version of “Yismechu” (start at 1:30) (for another rendition of the same tune, see here: https://youtu.be/21zH21aYkP4)
Context: This is Nefesh Mountain, a Jewish bluegrass group, singing their version of “Y’sm’chu”.
Context: This is “Yir’am HaYam” from Safam, a Jewish-American rock band. It was released in 1989 on their “Greater Scheme of Things” album. This video is from the 1991 Rutgers Jewish Arts Festival.
Context: This is Psalm 97, a nature psalm.
What do you make of the phrase "light is sown for the righteous, happiness for the upright"?
Context: This is Cantor Jeff Klepper and Rabbi Danny Freelander, the duo known as “Kol B’Seder”, singing their version of “Or Zarua”. To see the same tune being sung with the lyrics and hand motions by Cantor Rachel Brook of Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago, see here: https://youtu.be/HNeljgpu4CQ
Context: This is Zamru, an independent minyan in Princeton, NJ, singing a tune for “Or Zarua” at the end. Though they don’t do it, the tune can repeat to finish the prayer.
Context: This is Six13 singing the first half of the Shlomo Carlebach tune for the end of this psalm.
Context: This is Psalm 98, a nature psalm.
It is possible to see the world through "glasses" in which G-d is active and through "glasses" in which G-d is not active. Looking at your experiences through "G-d glasses", what wonders has G-d wrought in your life, either in nature or in things that have happened to you?
Context: This is Six13 singing the beginning of the Shlomo Carlebach tune for this psalm.
Context: This is Psalm 99, a nature psalm. The "Romemu" lines of the Torah service come from this psalm, where they serve to mark the two sections of the prayer. Note that when it says "G-d is enthroned on 'kruvim' ", the word "kruvim" could mean "cabbages" or "cherubim" but it does not mean "cabbages" here. Fun fact: "Cherubim" is one of the few English words that uses the Hebrew pluralization.
If it was G-d who established equity, then where do we have work to do to reach G-d's goal?
Context: This is Craig Taubman singing his version of Romemeu (start at 0:38).
Context: This is Six13 singing the Shlomo Carlebach tune for the last part of this psalm.
Context: This is Psalm 29, a nature psalm. It is also sung when we return the Torah on Shabbat, though usually to a different tune than is used for Friday evening. Note that the word “Kol” (voice) is in the psalm 7 times, and G-d’s name is in the psalm 18 times, two Jewishly-significant numbers.
What is something in your life for which you could use strength or peace?
Context: This is Spanish-Portuguese Friday evening tune for Mizmor L’David.
Context: This is Six13 singing the Shlomo Carlebach tune, though they stop singing the words pretty early in the tune. The Carlebach tune is in the wrong nusach mode for Kabbalat Shabbat — it is in the “Ahava Rabba” mode, which is petitionary, while it should be in the “Adoshem Malach” mode like the rest of the Kabbalat Shabbat service.
Context: This is another tune for Psalm 29 on Friday evening.
Context: This is a different Spanish-Portuguese version of Psalm 29.
Context: This is how Psalm 29 was sung in the American Colonial era, probably a Sephardic tune.
See this sheet for a specific examination of L'cha Dodi and questions to develop a personal connection to each verse: https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/423883?lang=bi. L'cha Dodi is sometimes preceded by a mystical text called by its first words "Ana B'koach".
Context: This is Psalm 92. When the Levites sang psalms in the Temple, this was the psalm assigned to Shabbat.
The rabbis compared the palm tree to the Jewish people -- just as each part of the palm is used for something, each member of the Jewish people can contribute something. (Bamidbar Rabbah 3:1). What can you contribute to the Jewish people?
Context: This is the Zamir Chorale singing Louis Lewandowski’s (1821-1894, German) version of Tzadik Katamar.
Context: This is a tune for the first part of Psalm 92.
Context: This is the dance version of Tzadik Katamar.
Context: This is Shlomo Carlebach singing his tune for the beginning of the psalm.
Context: This is Psalm 93. When the Levites sang psalms in the Temple, this was the psalm for Friday. There is a cantorial tradition to switch from the “Adoshem Malach” mode into minor at the end of this psalm in anticipation of the nusach switch for Ma’ariv / Arvit.
Have you experienced waves before? How can they help you to understand G-d?
Context: This is a tune for the second half of Psalm 93.
Context: This is the Mourner's Kaddish. It is here as punctuation, indicating that we've reached the end of this section of the Friday evening service.
Who is somebody that you are remembering?
Appendix: An a cappella Carlebach Kabbalat Shabbat Service
Context: This is Kippalive doing a service in harmony.