Welcoming the Angels


By Philologos

Published February 03, 2006, issue of February 03, 2006.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Forward reader Gilad J. Gevaryahu has written to tell me that my discussion of the Sabbath greeting “shabbat shalom” in this column two weeks ago was scooped. A many-sided correspondence regarding this greeting, Mr. Gevaryahu informs me, can be found in “Mail.Jewish” (featured on www.ottmall.com, a site devoted to halachic issues). It appears in Volume 38, numbers 65-71, posted in February 2003.

I’ve taken a look at these numbers of “Mail.Jewish,” and am delighted to say that not only that Mr. Gevaryahu is right and that he himself is a main participant in this exchange, but also that it bears out, in further detail, the same point that I made in my column. “Shabbat shalom” is indeed an expression that originated in the 16th-century kabbalistic circle gathered around Rabbi Isaac Luria in the Galilean town of Safed, from where it spread to other parts of the Jewish world.

Thus, apart from the passage in the kabbalistic work “H.emdat Yamim” that I cited in my column, there are several other rabbinic sources from the same period that clearly point to a Lurianic provenance for the phrase. One of these is the book Sha’ar ha-Kavvanot, i.e., “The Gate of [Mystical] Intentions,” a collection of Luria’s teachings edited by his disciple, Hayyim Vital. In the section dealing with the welcoming of the Sabbath on Friday night, Vital quotes Luria as having taught, “When one enters his home, he should say in a loud voice and with great joy, ‘Shabbat shalom,’ since he is like a groom receiving the bride in great joy and with a cheerful face.”

A similar custom is recorded in the Shnei Luh.ot ha-B’rit (the two tablets of the covenant) of renowned rabbi and kabbalist Yeshayahu Horwitz (1565-1630). Horwitz left Poland for Palestine in 1621 and settled in Tiberias, a city close to Safed. In his book he writes: “A tradition has been handed down to me that when a man visits his friend on a Sabbath morning, he should not say, as he would on a weekday, tsafra taba, but rather Shabbat shalom or Shabbat tov.”

Apart from the reference to “shabbat shalom,” this passage is interesting for two other reasons. One is that its use of the Aramaic phrase tsafra taba, or “Good morning,” to represent the Yiddish gut morgn shows that this literary usage, which I attributed in my column to late-19th-century writers of Eastern European Hebrew fiction, in fact goes back much earlier. The other is that the Hebrew greeting shabbat tov (“Good Sabbath”) in which the adjective is in the masculine rather than feminine form (which would be tova), reminds us of something else that Mr. Gevaryahu has called to my attention: namely, that in both the Bible and rabbinic literature the noun Shabbat (“Sabbath”), which in modern Hebrew is always feminine, can be treated as masculine, too.

A number of you have suggested that the puzzling aspect of the masculine adjective u’mevorakh (“and blessed”) in the Lurianic greeting shabbat shalom u’mevorakh can be explained in this fashion — that is, that “blessed” refers to the Sabbath itself. But although this is theoretically possible, it seems unlikely to me, inasmuch as the personification of the Sabbath as a distinctly womanly figure, the Sabbath queen or bride who is an aspect of the Shekhinah (God’s femininely represented presence in the world), is a salient feature of Lurianic Kabbalah, as can be seen in the quote from Sha’ar ha-Kavvanot. Why, then, would the Safed circle have used a masculine adjective in this context?

More likely, I still think, is the opinion expressed in my original column: that u’mevorakh, which also can have the sense of “and welcome,” was meant to be addressed to one of the good angels who, in kabbalistic lore, descend from heaven to accompany every Jew throughout the Sabbath day. This suspicion is strengthened by Mr. Gevaryahu, who wrote in “Mail.Jewish”:

“As a child in Teheran, I remember chanting at the Sabbath table: ‘Shabbat shalom, shabbat shalom, aleykhem ha-shalom mal’akhey ha-shalom, mal’akhey elyonim, mal’akhey rah.amim….[‘Shabbat shalom, Shabbat shalom, peace be to you, O angels of peace, angels on high, angels of mercy….’].’ It was understood that we first had to greet the Sabbath twice by addressing her and saying ‘Shabbat shalom, Shabbat shalom,’ and then going on to greet the angels who accompanied her. These angels were the angels of shalom [peace], elyon [on high], sharet [service], and rah.amim [mercy].” (These four types of angels also correspond, of course, to the angels mentioned in the four stanzas of shalom aleykhem, mal’akhey ha-sharet, the Sabbath hymn that is sung before the Friday night meal at Sabbath tables everywhere.) And Mr. Gevaryahu adds: “I have checked with two elderly [Iranian] sources in Los Angeles, and they have both confirmed that in their households they greeted the Sabbath twice [in this manner].”

Shabbat shalom to all of you, too!

Questions for Philologos can be sent to philologos@forward.com.

Find us on Facebook!
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.