Greeting the Beloved on Friday night

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Tonight will bring one of our First Friday Shabbats — we’ll begin at 6pm with candle-lighting and a potluck, and continue with Kabbalat Shabbat services after dinner, around 6:40.

In addition to the two beautiful melodies from Nava Tehila which we’ll be using tonight (which I sent out earlier this week — Shalom Aleichem and Lecha Dodi), we’ll be singing another of my very favorite Shabbat songs: a medieval love poem by R’ Eliezer Azkiri called Yedid Nefesh.

Our mystics imagined God as the cosmic Beloved, yearning for connection with creation even as we yearn for connection with divinity. Shabbat is the time when we and God meet in love.

Tonight we’ll sing Yedid Nefesh in English, using Reb Zalman z”l’s singable English translation which captures much of the poetry of the Hebrew. “You who love my soul,” the song begins, “sweet source of tenderness…” I am always moved by that way of describing the Holy One of Blessing: not as Lord, not as King (nor as Queen), but as the One Who loves us with infinite tenderness.

This love song imagines that tonight, as we welcome in Shabbat, our tired souls can bathe in divine light and find comfort. “My heart’s desire is to harmonize with yours,” writes R’ Eliezer (as rendered by R’ Zalman.) Imagine our hearts singing in harmony with the Source of All! That’s what our mystics thought that Shabbat is meant to provide.

For those who read music, here’s sheet music for the Yedid Nefesh we will sing tonight: yedid nefesh [pdf] Join us tonight for dinner and/or for Kabbalat Shabbat services where we will receive the face, the presence, of Shabbat; the presence of the divine Beloved; and the presence of the answering love within us which Shabbat can call forth.

Shabbat shalom —

Rabbi Rachel



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