Friday, May 20, 2011

The Secret Stories of Lecha Dodi

This week you studied Lecha Dodi, Come O Bride, composed by Rabbi Shlomo Ha-Levi Alkabetz.  Rabbi Shlomo was born in Thessaloniki around 1500 and lived in Adrianople and Safed.  He was one of a select group of Kabbalists there, including his famous brother-in-law, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero.
As was their custom, the Kabbalists would dress in white garments and walk through the streets of until they reached the fields on the eastern outskirts of the city.  There they sang six psalms for the six days of creation.  And they sang Rabbi Shlomo’s composition:
   "Lecha Dodi ... Come, my Beloved, to meet the Bride.
    Let us welcome the Shabbos. ... Shake the dust off
    yourself, arise, don your glorious garments - my people ...
    Awake, awake, utter a sing ... The L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd
    is one.  Come in peace, Shabbos Queen!" 

But a neighboring Arab farmer was angered by the tramping past his field, convinced that these mystics were somehow jinxing his lone fig tree, which no longer bore fruit.  He watched them for some weeks and determined the cause of his misfortune: the one they called Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz. 
When he saw the holy man alone one day, the farmer seized the opportunity and murdered the man, burying him beneath the fig tree.   When the tree suddenly became fruitful, it was only a matter of time before the horrible secret came to light.
Fast forward 500+ years to a synagogue in Israel.  A congregant has just invited a stranger home for Shabbat dinner.  The young guest, Machi, is shy and doesn’t say much.  But when asked to name a song he’d like to hear, he mentions that tune they sang in synagogue.  So they sing Lecha Dodi.  Again and again.  And again.
When Machi reveals he’s from the Arab city of Ramallah, his hosts are startled.  “But I’m Jewish,” he says.  He was raised as a Muslim, but when he began to question and defied his father’s authority, he was told to leave.  It was Machi's mother who caught him in a quiet corner,  whispered that she – and he – were Jewish, and pressed a photograph into his hand.  “My grandparents standing in front of a Jewish grave – a great ancestor of ours.”
Machi pulled out the photo; the host looked.  Behind Machi's grandparents, the inscription on the grave was clearly legible.  “Rabbi Shlomo son of Rabbi Moshe Ha-Levi Alkabetz.  Composer of the song Lecha Dodi.”

Shabbat Shalom.
Adapted from Safed: The Mystical City, by David Rossoff, p. 80. and Monsey, Kiryat Sefer, and Beyond by Zev Roth

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