Today is day 27 of the Omer as well as Shabat. After a semester-long hiatus I’m back to contributing to my blog project, the Lone Star Sidur Project. Oddly, my least popular posts are those that I most enjoy writing. That is, I love writing about litrugy more than anything else, yet none of you seem to enjoy reading about. Unfortunately for you, this is all about Kabalat Shabat.
Kabalat Shabat is a standardized set of t’hilim (pslams) and piyutim (litrugical poems) set in stone by the kabalists in Tzfat. It consists of, in this order, T’hilim 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, and 29; Ana B’ko’ach; L’chah Dodi; and T’hilim 92 and 93.
As per usual, I have some issues. First of all, I hate mysticism, but Kabalat Shabat is an kabalist invention. For once, I am in agreement with the kabalists. Though I’m no fan of nigunim because they are nothing more than substance-less mood-setters (more on that here, where I wrote about music’s role in t’filah), I like a full Kabalat Shabat. I think that we should go into Shabat in a euphoric way. Music is a great way to put people in that sort of mood. Though that borders on what I would call substance-less, at least Kabalat Shabat has textual content.
When it comes the piyutim, the poems, in Kabalat Shabat, it is a different story. I have no problem with Ana B’ko’ach in principle. It says little of great import, leaving me luke-warm on the subject. Here’s the thing that turns me off about it: go google “ana bekoach.” All you need to do is look at the first five results to see that all Ana B’ko’ach has ever been used for is kabalistic pandering nonesense. Apparently it has 42 words, the first letters of which spell one of God’s secret names. Right. I’m just kind of pissed off by this, but confess that I would keep Ana B’koa’ach because, like I said, I can’t argue with it on genuine principle.
L’chah Dodi is no walk in the park for me either. It has two verses with explicit Messianic references that I consider in need of re-write. The Reform movment however, has traditionally, not surprisingly, reacted to these verses by getting rid of them entirely. They even go beyond this, taking out 5 of L’chah Dodi’s 9 verses, basically crippling the poem. I would leave all of the verses, making only slight changes to two of them. Verse 4 traditionally mentions “At hand is the Son of Yishai (Jesse), of Bethlehem.” This can only refer the restoration of the Davidic line and the personal messiah. I change this verse:
הִתְנַעֲרִי מֵעָפָר קֽוּמִי,
לִבְשִׁי בִּגְדֵי תִפְאַרְתֵּךְ עַמִּי,
עַל יַד הַזְמַן הַעֵידָן מֶשִׁיחִי,
קָרְבָה אֶל נַפְשִׁי גְאָלָהּ.
The troublesome line now reads, “At hand is the time, the Messianic Age.”
Another verse reads in one line, “At hand is the Man, the Son of Peretz,” another refernce to the Davidic line and the personal Messiah. I alter the verse again:
יָמִין וּשְׂמֹאל תִּפְרֽוֹצִי,
וְאֶת אדוני תַּעֲרִֽיצִי,
עַל יַד הַעֵידָן מֶשִׁיחִי,
It now reads, “At hand is the Messianic Age.”
Luckily for the tradionalists among us, the new Reform sidur, Mishkan T’filah, gives us a complete Kab Shab, including all of L’chah Dodi. Here’s the problem: no one is doing all of L’chah Dodi. All anyone knows is the four verses that were in Gates of Prayer so people continue doing those four, awkwardly skipping about the piyut so that they hit the right verses.
Many sidurim have sought to add to L’chah Dodi, expanding it with other Shabat songs that one might want to spend time on before services. Sim Shalom does this, addind Y’did Nefesh, Shalom Aleichem, Shabat Hamalkah and several others. I’m not opposed to more songs, but they’re not part of Kab Shab. Kab Shab is standardized and consists of certain things. It’s like taking the Amidah and tossing in a few more prayers, just because, well, they’re nice. I find it toally acceptable, however, to present a selection of songs, before Kab Shab begins. For once, Mishkan gets it right here. MT has a section called Shabbat Songs which has all of the type of thing that Sim Shalom tacks onto Kab Shab. After Shabbat Songs is over, MT gives us a near-complete Kab Shab missing Ana B’ko’ach. MT’s Kab Shab, anomylously, ends with Shalom Aleichem. Whatever.
Here are my money thoughts on this: We’re in a pretty critical time in terms of t’filah attendance in the Reform movement. I’d like to humbly suggest increasing numbers by, shock of al shocks, making Firday night services longer. That’s right. I said “longer.” What better way to put people into a great mood than begin services with a lot of good music. I’m picturing temple bulletins that say: “Kabbalat Shabbat – 7:00 | Services – 7:15.” You’d get people showing up early, for God’s sake! Not to mention, the group of people who would inevitable form, like the Torah Study group, who would come only for this one little thing every week.
And now, the Omer: