As Shabbat wanes
July 13, 2009
"Mizmor L'David," psalm 23, sung to a waltz tune which is a variant on the one we sang. This recording is the exact tune we used, but the strings and synthesizer give it a feel that's very unlike our evening.
The final hour of Shabbat is gloriously bittersweet. Seudah shlishit -- the ritualized "third meal" of the day, though sometimes the meal consists only of silence and song -- is at once a moment of consummation (tradition teaches that during these last hours of Shabbat, the presence of God dwells most palpably among us in the world) and the beginning of our parting from the Shabbat queen and the neshama yeteirah, the extra soul, which is ours for the duration of Shabbat and is then gone. The moment when Shabbat is most present is also always the moment when Shabbat has begun to depart.
We sit in the dining room where we've just completed dinner. The artificial lights are turned off so that we can experience the organic darkening of the day. We sing songs of longing for God, interspersed with short periods of silence in which each song continues to resonate. We begin with "Shalom Aleichem," a song which welcomes divine messengers or angels, which most of us think of as a Friday evening song but which is also sung on Saturday late afternoons. There's a special extra verse for this time of seudah shlishit. And then we sit in silence, and breathe, and pause before we sing again.
We sing two different versions of "Yah Ribon" by Rabbi Israel Najara (circa 1600.) We sing "Tzama l'Chol Nafshi," a couplet from psalm 63 (lines 2-3, though we sing them in the opposite order: "O God, I have looked for you in the sanctuary, to see your power and your glory / My soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you!") We sing "Yedid Nefesh," by Rabbi Elazar Azikri (the words are 16th-century; Reb Zalman's singable English translation can be found at the bottom of this post, though we sing the poem in the original) using a melody which comes from the Bratzlav Hasidic tradition. (Bratzlaver Niggun 1 [mp3])
We sing the 23rd psalm to a beautiful and plaintive slow waltz melody, asserting in this moment when Shabbat is beginning to leave us that our faith in God endures, and I remember the seudah shlishit at Ohalah in January. The poem "Twilight" from my chapbook Through arose out of the experience of singing the 23rd psalm in a darkening room as Shabbat waned on the day of my miscarriage. I sing it now with my hand resting on my growing belly.
As the hour grows too late to be able to see our song sheets clearly, we shift into singing niggunim, songs of yearning without words. Though I love the songs with words, it's the wordless ones which finally crack my heart open, and there are tears in my eyes. The voices and faces sitting around this room are so beloved to me, and I know I will not see them for many months -- probably a year. My longing for Shabbat not to have to leave us is intertwined with and magnified by my longing not to have to part from my chevre, my circle of teachers and friends. My heart overflows with gratitude for this moment and with sorrow that the moment has to end.
When we are done, although we have not eaten an actual meal, we sing a brief one-line blessing over the spiritual meal of song and silence. Our blessing consists of two words from psalm 23: cosi revaya, my cup overflows. As we sing, we look around the room, and on everyone's face is an awareness of just how true the words are. When we're done, we walk in silence slowly across campus to the place where we will daven the evening service and then make havdalah, the ceremony separating Shabbat from week. When we get there, it's not quite time yet, so for fifteen minutes or so we sing a Hasidic chant about how there is nothing else but God. Hazzan Jack skillfully uses that tune as our impromptu nusach for the evening service, so we sing our whole evening service with echoes of "ein od milvado" ringing in our ears and hearts.
At havdalah, Reb Marcia tells us (in the name of Reb Elliot) that some Hasidim add an extra word to the final havdalah blessing, the blessing which praises God Who separates between holy and profane, Shabbat and workweek, etc. They -- and now we -- bless God Who מבדיל ומגשר, separates and bridges, between all of these binaries. The addition of that one word changes my whole havdalah experience, and also my anticipated experience of departure from beloved teachers and friends. Tomorrow will bring our separation, but even as we part, we're always on our way back together again.
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