Solomon ben Moses Alkabetz
(1505 - 1580)
We know very little about the childhood
of Solomon ben Moses HaLevi Alkabetz. He was born around 1505. He began
traveling to the Land of Israel in 1529. Along the way, he gave
numerous classes and sermons. He was a charismatic speaker and inspired
his audiences with his knowledge of Kabbalah.
He met Joseph
Caro, and their talks might have inspired Caro in
his mystical aspirations. It was from one of their shared
experiences that Joseph Caro established the custom of
staying awake on the night of Shavuot to study the Torah.
Called Tikkun Leil Shavu'ot, the custom caught on.
Alkabez probably arrived in Tzfat in 1535. Very little is known of his life there. A prolific author,
he wrote some works on the Bible, and others of a Kabbalistic nature.
Many of his manuscripts were stolen when he died. It is not clear
whether this was done during persecutions, or by other authors. None of
his purely Kabbalistic works was printed or preserved in manuscript.
There were two kinds of Kabbalistic
leaders. There were those who wrote Kabbalistic secrets about how the
universe worked, and there were those who created rituals/prayers which
assumed the Kabbalistic secrets. Alkabetz was primarily the second
kind. He developed the habit of going with his students to pray and
meditate on the graves of known righteous leaders, tzaddikim.
This practice was called gerushin, "banishment."
During these gerushin-meditations, they concentrated on rousing
their contemplative powers spontaneously and without any previous
Alkabetz is credited with initiating the
ritual of going into the fields just prior to sundown on Friday to
physically welcome either the Shechinah,
the special Shabbat soul all Jews receive on Shabbat, or the Sabbath bride.
He had a powerful gift for stimulating
spiritual revivals and mystical life. His best-known disciple was Moses
Cordovero (who married Alkabetz's sister).
More than any other scholar in Tzfat and
in Turkey, Alkabetz
made extensive use of the kabbalistic writings of Eleazar
b. Judah of Worms in his biblical commentaries. He was
against secular science.
Despite his prolific writings on both the
Bible and Kabbalah, Alkabetz is best-known for his writing
of Lecha Dodi, which is now sung in every Kabbalat
Shabbat service around the world. He based the theme,
"Come my beloved to meet the bride; let us welcome
Shabbat" on the description in Shabbat 119a that
"R. Hanina robed himself and stood at sunset of Sabbath
eve [and] exclaimed, ‘Come and let us go forth to welcome
the queen Sabbath.'
R. Yannai donned his robes on Sabbath eve
and exclaimed, ‘Come, O bride, Come, O bride!'
Few poems gained popularity as quickly
as "Lecha Dodi," and Alkabetz's contribution to Jewish
Shabbat worship has always been appreciated.
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