Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Hag Sameach

Lecha Dodi

As he left the shul, he noticed a young man wearing jeans and a backpack, standing tentatively at the foot of the steps. Inspired by the meaningful Kabbalas Shabbos he had just experienced, he decided to greet the young man. "Good Shabbos. Would you like to eat with us tonight?" The young man's face broke in an instant from a worried look to a smile. "Yes, thanks, he said, My name is Machi."

Soon they were standing around the Shabbos table. Dan noticed his guest fidgeting and leafing through his bencher, looking for something. "Is there a song you want to sing he asked. The young man’s face lit up. "Yes, there is, but I can't find it here. I really liked what we sang earlier. What was it?...Something 'Dodi Oh, he offered, "You mean Lecha Dodi But you won’t find it in there. Let me get you a siddur." Upon the song’s completion, Machi requested the song yet again. Throughout the meal, he repeatedly requested the song, Dan acceding each time to his guest’s request, his puzzlement increasing. "Don't you want to sing something else?" he finally asked. "I just really like that one," Machi replied bashfully. "There’s just something about it - I really like it."

"Where are you from?" Dan asked. The boy looked pained, then gazed at the floor and said, "Ramallah." Dan was quite sure he'd heard the boy say Ramallah, but it couldn’t be. Perhaps he had actually heard Ramleh, an Israeli city. To this he replied, "Oh, I have a cousin there. Do you know Ephraim Warner? He lives on Herzl Street." The young man shook his head sadly. "There are no Jews in Ramallah." Dan gasped. He really had said "Ramallah"! His mind raced. Had he invited an Arab to spend Shabbos with him? "I'm sorry, he exclaimed, but I'm a bit confused. And now that I think of it, I haven't even asked your full name." The boy nervously shook his head and offered quietly, "Machmud Ibn-esh-Sharif." Dan slumped back, speechless. Machi broke the silence hesitantly, "I was born and grew up in Ramallah. I was taught to hate Jews, and that killing them was heroic. But I always had doubts. Our tradition taught us that believers should desire for others what they desire for themselves. I used to wonder, aren’t Jews people too? Don’t they have the right to live as well? I asked my father, and he threw me out of the house. By now my mind was made up; I was going to run away and live with Jews, until I could find out what they were really like. Who knows? I might even convert. I snuck back into the house that night to get my things, but my mother noticed me packing. When I had conveyed my plans to her, she turned pale. You don't have to convert, she whispered after a long pause, You already are a Jew. "I was shocked. What do you mean? Judaism follows the mother, she explained. I'm Jewish, so you're Jewish. "I never had any idea my mother was Jewish. She didn’t want anyone to know. Then she whispered suddenly, 'I made a mistake by marrying an Arab man. In you, my mistake will be redeemed.'

My mother quickly went, dug out some old documents and handed them to me - my birth certificate and her old Israeli ID card, so I could prove I was a Jew. I've got them here, but I don't know what to do with them. She also handed me an old photograph of my grandparents that was taken at the grave of one of our ancestors. Now I’ve traveled here to Israel to find out where I really belong." Dan gently put his hand on Machmud's shoulder and asked, "Do you have the photo here?" "Sure, he said, I always carry it with me." Machmud reached into his backpack and pulled out the photograph. When Dan saw the photograph, he nearly collapsed. It was of a grave in the old cemetery in Tzfat, the inscription identifying it as that of the great Kabbalist Rav Shlomo Alkabetz. Dan's voice quivered with excitement and awe as he explained to Machmud who his ancestor was. "He was a friend of the Arizal, a great Torah scholar, a tzaddik, a mystic. And, Machmud, your ancestor is the author of that song we sang tonight, Lecha Dodi!" This time Machmud was speechless. Dan extended his trembling hand, "Welcome home, Machmud."

Machmud had unwittingly traced his roots back to a man whose early years remain shrouded in history until the age of 24, when he traveled for the first time to Eretz Yisrael. Along the way, he gave charismatic speeches, inspiring his audiences with his knowledge of Kabbalah. He soon met Yosef Caro, and became his close friend and chavrusa, along with the Arizal and the Alshich HaKadosh. It was from one of their shared spiritual experiences while learning late one night that R Yosef Caro reestablished the custom of Tikkun Leil Shavu'ot (mentioned in the Zohar), which we perpetuate today. R’Shlomo produced manuscripts on Torah and Kabbalah, many of which were stolen upon his death and therefore never published under his name. He is credited with initiating the ritual of physically greeting the shechina, or neshoma yesairah at shkiah on Friday. After Minchah, as the sun cast its setting rays over the distant hilltops, this saintly mystic and his disciples would venture out onto one of Tzfat’s magnificent slopes. Gazing out upon plunging ravines and soaring heights, they would open their hearts in song as the sunset swelled into a cadence of changing colors. The haunting beauty of this liturgical mosaic, pieced together with phrases from Shoftim, Yeshayahu, Yirmeyahu, and Tehillim, whose stanzas mostly reflect the Jewish longing for redemption, the restoration of Yerushalayim and the coming of Mashiach, tugs at the heart strings of every Jew who longs for closeness to his creator. Its expression during this most propitious ays ratzon, when Klal Yisrael weds HaKadosh Boruch Hu on a weekly basis, was specifically designed by R’Shlomo to open our hearts, if only for a moment, to the faint emanations of Olam Habah which reach our world at this time.

R’Shlomo Halevi Alkabetz is remembered for his authorship of Lecha Dodi, and it is precisely this hymn which affords us a unique look inside a world in which he represented so much more. For the world of Kabbalah, in which physical and spiritual boundaries are routinely blurred, finds prime expression in this moving elegy which has the power to change and improve our spiritual lives so many years after its authorship, and which succeeded in returning R’Shlomo’s great grandson Machmud back under the Kanfei HaShechinah. So as you sing Lecha Dodi this Friday evening, listen a bit more closely, and you’ll understand that it is much more than just a song. You just may recognize it as the voice of your own soul, crying out to its creator, yearning for the Shechinah, for now you’ll know THE REST OF THE STORY.

From the Adult Education Committee of Congregation Beth Abraham's Be'er Mayim Chaim Teaneck

No comments: