Welcoming the Sabbath with Kabbalat Shabbat, Lecha Dodi and Ma'ariv

This introductory article by George Robinson outlines the basic structure of the Kabbalat Shabbat and evening prayer service, including an explanation of traditions held in various communities and the development of customs throughout history. Although the Kabbalat Shabbat service is made up of many different prayers, the author focuses on the origins and Kabbalistic meaning behind Lecha Dodi. We have provided the Hebrew, English and transliterated texts below. This article is from My Jewish Learning, a website empowering Jewish discovery for anyone interested in learning more. 

Kabbalat Shabbat: Welcoming the Sabbath and Ma'ariv

In the first verses of Bereshit Genesis, God creates light and “there was evening and morning, the first day.” (Genesis 1:5) The rabbis reasoned that if the Torah, the product of divine revelation, said that the first day began with evening, that must have been God’s intention, for “days” to begin at sunset. So when the sky is streaked with the fading Friday sunlight, in Jewish homes around the world, candles are lit, b’rakhot are said, and Shabbat is welcomed. And in synagogues, the Friday ma’ariv service begins with a series of hymns, Psalms, and blessings collectively known as Kabbalat Shabbat/ Welcoming the Sabbath.

In Orthodox congregations, Kabbalat Shabbat consists of Psalms 95 through 99, Psalm 29, the hymn L’khah Dodi/Come my beloved, Psalms 92 and 93, a lengthy reading from the Talmud passages governing the Sabbath, placed here to separate Kabbalat Shabbat from Ma’ariv, and both the Mourner’s Kaddish and Kaddish de-Rabanan, a Kaddish said after learning in a group, in honor of our teachers. In Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist services, the Talmud passages and the two versions of Kaddish may be omitted, often replaced by a half-Kaddish that separates the Kabbalat Shabbat from the Ma’ariv service proper.

Lecha Dodi: Welcoming the Sabbath Bride

Shabbat is a time of joy, and the six Psalms that make up the bulk of the Kabbalat Shabbat are celebratory, corresponding to the six days of creation; but it is L’kha Dodi that many feel is the true centerpiece of this portion of the Shabbat evening service. In the sixteenth century, the small town of Safed, located in the mountains of Galilee in northern Israel, was a center of Jewish mysticism. Solomon ben Moses Halevi Alkabets was one of the many mystics who lived and studied there. On Friday nights, Alkabets and his colleagues would dress in white like bridegrooms and joyously dance and march through the fields outside town to greet the Sabbath, which is depicted in both Talmud and in mystical texts as a bride and queen.

Around 1540, Alkabets, a poet, composed a beautiful ode to the Sabbath Bride, L’kha Dodi, urging Jews to greet the Sabbath and extolling her virtues. The poem quickly became an eagerly awaited part of the Friday night service, adapted by German Ashkenazim within less than a hundred years. Today, with more than two thousand musical settings of Alkabets’s Hebrew text, it is recited or sung in virtually every synagogue in the world as the Sabbath is ushered in. In many congregations, when the final verse is sung and the word s “Enter, O Bride,” are said, the worshippers will turn to the entrance of the sanctuary and bow in honor of the Sabbath Queen.

לְכָה דוֹדִי לִקְרַאת כַּלָּה. פְּנֵי שַׁבָּת נְקַבְּלָה

שָׁמוֹר וְזָכוֹר בְּדִבּוּר אֶחָד, הִשְמִיעָֽנוּ אֵל הַמְּיֻחָד
יְיָ אֶחָד וּשְמוֹ אֶחָד. לְשֵׁם וּלְתִפְאֶֽרֶת וְלִתְהִלָּה
לְכָה דוֹדִי לִקְרַאת כַּלָּה. פְּנֵי שַׁבָּת נְקַבְּלָהלִקְרַאת שַׁבָּת לְכוּ וְנֵלְכָה. כִּי הִיא מְקוֹר הַבְּרָכָה
מֵרֹאשׁ מִקֶּֽדֶם נְסוּכָה. סוֹף מַעֲשֶׂה בְּמַחֲשָׁבָה תְּחִלָּה
לְכָה דוֹדִי לִקְרַאת כַּלָּה. פְּנֵי שַׁבָּת נְקַבְּלָה

מִקְדַּשׁ מֶֽלֶךְ עִיר מְלוּכָה. קֽוּמִי צְאִי מִתּוֹךְ הַהֲפֵכָה
רַב לָךְ שֶֽׁבֶת בְּעֵֽמֶק הַבָּכָא. וְהוּא יַחֲמוֹל עָלַֽיִךְ חֶמְלָה:
לְכָה דוֹדִי לִקְרַאת כַּלָּה. פְּנֵי שַׁבָּת נְקַבְּלָה

הִתְנַעֲרִי מֵעָפָר קוּמִי. לִבְשִׁי בִּגְדֵי תִפְאַרְתֵּךְ עַמִּי
עַל יַד בֶּן יִשַׁי בֵּית הַלַּחְמִי. קָרְבָה אֶל נַפְשִׁי גְאָלָהּ
לְכָה דוֹדִי לִקְרַאת כַּלָּה. פְּנֵי שַׁבָּת נְקַבְּלָה

הִתְעוֹרְרִי הִתְעוֹרְרִי. כִּי בָא אוֹרֵךְ קֽֽוּמִי אֽוֹרִי
עֽוּרִי עֽוּרִי שִׁיר דַבֵּֽרִי. כְּבוֹד יְיָ עָלַֽיִךְ נִגְלָה
לְכָה דוֹדִי לִקְרַאת כַּלָּה. פְּנֵי שַׁבָּת נְקַבְּלָה

לֹא תֵבֽוֹשִׁי וְלֹא תִכָּלְמִי. מַה תִּשְתּוֹחֲחִי וּמַה תֶּהֱמִי
בָּךְ יֶחֱסוּ עֲנִיֵּי עַמִּי, וְנִבְנְתָה עִיר עַל תִּלָּהּ
לְכָה דוֹדִי לִקְרַאת כַּלָּה. פְּנֵי שַׁבָּת נְקַבְּלָה

וְהָיוּ לִמְשִׁסָּה שֹׁאסָֽיִךְ. וְרָחֲקוּ כָּל מְבַלְּעָֽיִךְ
יָשִׂישׂ עָלַֽיִךְ אֱלֹהָֽיִךְ. כִּמְשׂוֹשׂ חָתָן עַל כַּלָּה
לְכָה דוֹדִי לִקְרַאת כַּלָּה. פְּנֵי שַׁבָּת נְקַבְּלָה

יָמִין וּשְׂמֹאל תִּפְרֽוֹצִי. וְאֶת־יְיָ תַּעֲרִֽיצִי
עַל יַד אִישׁ בֶּן פַּרְצִי. וְנִשְׂמְחָה וְנָגִֽילָה
לְכָה דוֹדִי לִקְרַאת כַּלָּה. פְּנֵי שַׁבָּת נְקַבְּלָה

בּֽוֹאִי בְשָׁלוֹם עֲטֶרֶת בַּעְלָהּ. גַּם בְּשִׂמְחָה וּבְצָהֳלָה
תּוֹךְ אֱמוּנֵי עַם סְגֻּלָּה. בּֽוֹאִי כַלָּה, בּֽוֹאִי כַלָּה
לְכָה דוֹדִי לִקְרַאת כַּלָּה. פְּנֵי שַׁבָּת נְקַבְּלָה

Lecha dodi likrat kala, p’nei Shabbat n’kabelah!

Shamor v’zachor b’dibur echad,
Hishmi’anu el ha’meyuchad.
Adonai echad u’shmo echad;
L’shem ul’tiferet v’l’tehila.
Lecha dodi likrat kala, p’nei Shabbat n’kabelah!

Likrat Shabbat l’chu v’nelcha,
Ki hi m’kor ha’bracha.
Me’rosh mi’kedem n’sucha;
Sof ma’aseh b’mach’shava t’chila.
Lecha dodi likrat kala, p’nei Shabbat n’kabelah!

Mikdash melech, ir m’lucha,
Kumi, tze’i mi’toch ha’hafecha.
Rav lach shevet b’emek ha’bacha;
V’hu yachmol alai’yich chemla.
Lecha dodi likrat kala, p’nei Shabbat n’kabelah!

Hitna’ari me’afar kumi,
Livshi bigdei tifartech ami.
Al yad ben Yishai beit haLachmi;
Karva el nafshi g’ala.
Lecha dodi likrat kala, p’nei Shabbat n’kabelah!

Hit’oreri, hit’oreri,
Ki va orech, kumi uri.
Uri, uri, shir daberi;
K’vod Adonai alai’yich nigla.
Lecha dodi likrat kala, p’nei Shabbat n’kabelah!

Lo tevoshi v’lo tikalmi,
Mah tishtochachi uma tehemi.
Bach yechesu ani’yei ami;
V’niv’neta ir al tila.
Lecha dodi likrat kala, p’nei Shabbat n’kabelah!

V’hayu lim’shisa sosai’yich,
V’rachaku kol m’valai’yich.
Yasis alai’yich Elohai’yich;
Kimsos chatan al kala.
Lecha dodi likrat kala, p’nei Shabbat n’kabelah!

Yamin u’smol tifrotzi,
V’et Adonai ta’aritzi.
Al yad ish ben Partzi;
V’nism’cha v’nagila!
Rise, and face the rear of the shul.
Lecha dodi likrat kala, p’nei Shabbat n’kabelah!

Bo’i v’shalom, ateret ba’ala,
Gam b’simcha uv’ tzhala.
Toch emunei am segula; Bo’i chala, bo’i chala.
Lecha dodi likrat kala, p’nei Shabbat n’kabelah!

Come, my friend, the Bride to meet, The holy Shabbat let us now greet.

“Keep” and “Remember” in one Divine word.
Our people at Sinai His command heard.
Our God is one; and One is His name,
His is the glory, His is the fame!

To greet Shabbat now let us go!
Source of blessing, it has ever been so.
Conceived before life on earth began,
Last in God’s work, first in His plan.

Sanctuary of the King, Royal City,
Arise from your ruins, arise and sing.
Enough have you dwelled in the vale of tears,
Your God will mercifully dispel your fears.

Shake off your dust, arise from the mire;
Dress, my people, in your proudest attire.
By the hand of Jesse’s son, of the house of Bethlehem,
Redemption and freedom God will bring

Arise, arise, for your light has come,
The dawn has broken, the night is gone.
Awake, awake, and joyously sing;
Heavenly glory to you He did bring.

Be not ashamed, be not distressed,
No longer bowed down like a city oppressed.
In you shall your children's hopes be fulfilled;
Out of your ashes you will again be rebuilt.

They who despoiled you will themselves be despoiled,
Your foes will be routed, their plots will be foiled.
In you will your God find joy and pride,
Loving you as a bridegroom loves his bride.

In every way may you prosper and grow;
Reverence for God may you ever know.
May you see the redemption that He will bring;
Songs of thanksgiving to Him may your sing.

Come now, Shabbat, the day divine,
Come in joy, let your brightness shine.
Come to the people which greets you with pride,
Come in peace, Shabbat Bride.