What an incredible welcome! It was an absolute joy to join you all in worship on this past Friday evening for our Kabbalat Shabbat and Ma’ariv. The warmth from the burning Shabbat candles was dwarfed by the warmth of the congregation, by all of your smiles, your voices lifting up our prayers, and your kindness and hospitality to both me and my family. I can think of no better way to begin my tenure here at Temple Israel. One would hardly know that there was so much new music and minhag introduced, what with the strength of your voices catching on and singing along, and your passion to embrace the new rituals. I left that evening the way we all should feel after a successful Kabbalat Shabbat, pleasantly exhausted. After all, Kabbalat Shabbat is full of poetry meant to lift us up spiritually and it includes upbeat music to make us clap and sway, and offers us a sense of joy in the receiving of Shabbat, and I experienced all of this and more on Friday night.
Larry Hoffman, renowned author and professor at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, describes Kabbalat Shabbat as “a liturgy without parallel in Jewish tradition […] Designed specifically for Shabbat it omits plaintive petitions and mournful elegies- thought to be out of place on this most magic of Jewish days.” Indeed, Kabbalat Shabbat is magical and should give us the space and opportunity we need to meditate on and rejoice in the beauty of creation, of life, and of community. In this way, Kabbalat Shabbat and the Ma’ariv (evening) service that follows it is inherently different from other services, such as the Shabbat Shacharit (morning) service that we will have this Saturday at 10:00am.
Whereas Kabbalat Shabbat is meant to be the joyous, mystical prelude to the receiving of Shabbat, the Shabbat Shacharit service stands as its formal morning neighbor and follows a solid liturgical rubric connecting the Sh’ma and its Blessings (our creed) with the Amidah (our petitions), and the Seder Kriat HaTorah (our Torah reading and the revelation of God’s word). Each step in the Shabbat morning services builds to this revelation, this re-enactment of Sinai, from Birkhot Hashachar (our morning blessings) and P’sukei D’zimrah (verses of song) to the concluding prayers. The liturgical rubric is built to lead up to what Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik calls “a new giving of the Torah, the amazing standing under the mountain that burned with fire.” When you think of Saturday morning services in this light–as our opportunity to receive the Torah as our ancestors received it centuries ago at Sinai–you can begin to see why the two services are so different, not only in content but also in feel.
The formality–heaviness even–of a morning Shabbat Shacharit service does not mean, however, that it isn’t moving. It is, in fact, quite the opposite. It is powerful and should help transport you to the very core of Judaism, to where we as a people began. This is why I hope to see so many of you on Saturday morning, so you can experience a completely different kind of Shabbat service, with the beauty of awakening to the morning blessings, experiencing the T’fillah, and then participating in a full Torah service. Come to experience Shacharit. Come so that you may touch the Torah, spiritually, emotionally, and even physically. Come so that you can feel the centuries of history and prayer that have sustained us as a people.