SHALOM ALEICHEM (17th century, Safed / Traditional, Eastern Europe)
This hymn was first introduced by the Kabbalists of Safed, during the 17th century. The hymn is based on the Talmudic teaching that two angels escort one on the way back home from synagogue on Friday evening. The Sephardic tradition adds a verse before the Tzetchem leave in peace Shivtechem lshalom sit in peace, stay in peace. Why rush the end of Shabbat?
YEDID NEFESH (Rabbi Eliezer Azikri / Reb Sender of Terchovitza / Bretzlav)
This is my favorite Ydid Nefesh. Hands down. The music was written by the Magid of Terchovitza in the early 1800, as a gift to the Bretzlav community. The complexity and depth of this melody betray a deep musical understanding, not to mention a profound sense of the poetry which was written by Rabbi Eliezer Azikri, a 16th century Kabbalist from Safed. Deeply Kabbalistic in tone and structure, this love poem speaks of the intense yearning between the human soul and its godly source, while paralleling the masculine and feminine qualities of God with their reflected human qualities.
BSHEM HASHEM (From the Shma bedtime prayers / Carlebach)
Simple beauty. Carlebach at his best. It is said he first wrote the melody as a lullaby for his daughters and later dressed the liturgical lyrics on the melody. If angels have a sound, I think this is it. Personally, I can think of no better song to put a child to sleep at night. To my right the angel Michael, to my left the Angel Gabriel, in front of me the Angel Uriel, behind me the Angel Rafael, and all above me is Gods feminine presence, the Shchina.
DROR YIKRA (Donash Ben Lavrat / The Magid of Terchovitza / Bretzlav)
This piyut, poem, was written in the 10th century by the Bagdad native Donash Ben Lavrat. One could look at this poem as a two-for-one request from God - please, grant me peace on this blessed Sabbath and crush my enemies while youre at it.
LCHA DODI (Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz / Bretzlav)
Kabbalistic poetry does not get any better than Lcha Dodi. Written by Shlomo Alkabetz in 16th Century Safed, this liturgical poem was constructed as a means to hasten the coming of Mashiach. There is not an accidental stanza, line, or word in this masterpiece. Numerical values, metaphors, biblical allusions, all add up to an intricately balanced dance of meaning and resonance. Lcha Dodi is the bridge between the six psalms of the week and the seventh psalm of the Sabbath. It is a bridge to a world beyond.
YA MA MA / AMAR HASHEM (Anonymous / Modzitz)
Taken from the Mlaveh Malkah liturgy, this classic acrostic is a mystical hymn of unknown authorship, urging the children of Israel (referred to as My servant, Jacob) to have no fear. The sad, almost heartbreaking Modzitz melody layers this poem with a tragic understanding of faith and the quality of patience needed to see the messianic yearning to its ultimate fruition.
YOM SHABBATON (Yehuda Halevi / The Magid of Terchovitza / Bretzlav)
Believed to have been written by Yehuda Halevi, the great poet/mystic of 12th century Spain. One of the luminaries of the Golden Age of Spanish Jewry, Halevi, author of the Kuzari, was known for his intense love for Eretz Yisrael. Legend has it that he was trampled to death by a Saracen horseman upon his arrival at the Wailing Wall after years of journeying to his beloved Jerusalem. The poem speaks of the Dove Israel finding respite on the seventh day.
KRATICHA, YAH (Yitzhak HaKatan / Carlebach)
I have called you, God, save me! Part of the Hamavdil zemer, at the conclusion of the Havdallah service, marking the end of the Sabbath. The text, taken from Psalms 16:11 and Isaiah 38:12, is a plaintive cry for Gods help. At face value it would seem a touch curious for the conclusion of the Havdallah. However, it is believed that this Zemer was originally written for the Yom Kippur Havdallah, eventually becoming part of the Havdallah during the year.
A GUTE VOCH (Anonymous / Bretzlav)
Written by a Bretzlav Hasid, this Havdallah song is one of the most beautiful Shabbat songs I know. Its also the only one I sing in Yiddish. Simple, painfully beautiful and somehow mysterious, I first heard this song from the Klezmatics and was moved to tears. The lyrics speak of a longing for peace, tranquility and the coming of mashiach, all as part of a plaintive request for a good week, a safe travel through the mundane world that hangs between Shabbat and Shabbat.