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Four Reasons Shabbat Is Compared to Bride and a Queen

Four Reasons Shabbat Is Compared to Bride and a Queen

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In the 16th-century Shabbat hymn “Lecha Dodi” [“Come, my beloved . . .”], we welcome the Shabbat as both a bride and queen.

This concept goes all the way back to the Talmud, where we read that Rabbi Chanina would wrap himself in his special garments on Shabbat eve and say, “Come, and we will go out to greet Shabbat the queen.” Another sage, Rabbi Yannai, would don his garment on Shabbat eve and say, “Enter, O bride. Enter, O bride.”1

So what is the Shabbat: a bride or a queen? And who is her husband?

1. Married to Israel

Rabbi Shmuel Eidels, known as Maharsha (1555–1631), explains that this is based on the Midrashic teaching2 that when G‑d created the world, Shabbat pleaded with G‑d, saying: “Everyone else has a mate [e.g., Sunday has Monday as a partner, Tuesday has Wednesday, etc.], but I have no one!” G‑d answered: “The community of Israel will be your mate.”

Years later, when Israel stood at Sinai, G‑d said: “Remember that I told Shabbat that the community of Israel is your mate. This is the meaning of the verse, “"Remember Shabbat and keep it holy.”3 The Hebrew word “keep it holy” also denotes marriage. Thus, it is as if G‑d is saying, “Remember My promise to the Shabbat, and be sure to marry her.”

He further explains the moment of this marriage is when the sun sets on Friday afternoon. Since the Jewish nation is considered “children of royalty,”4 Shabbat is called a queen, for she is the bride of a king.5

2. Bride of G‑d

The verse in Genesis states, “G‑d completed on the seventh day His work that He did, and He abstained on the seventh day from all His work that He did.”6 The Midrash points out that this verse seems to contradict itself. Did G‑d finish up His work on the seventh day, or was he already at rest, having finished His work prior to the onset of the seventh day?

The Midrash explains that Shabbat, the day of rest, was itself the creation of the seventh day. In the words of the Midrash: “This is comparable to a king who prepared a wedding chamber but was missing a bride. Similarly, the world was missing Shabbat.”7

One explanation of this Midrash is that the purpose of celebrating Shabbat is to always remember that G‑d, the King, is the Creator of the world. He created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. We remember that G‑d is the Creator through celebrating the Shabbat.

3. We Become the Bride

Rabbi Yehuda Loewe, known as Maharal of Prague (1525–1609), explains that the three terms “Shabbat,” “bride” and “queen” represent three different ways we honor the Shabbat:

  • We rest from work. The word Shabbat means “rest.”
  • With special clothing, as a bride gets dressed up for the wedding.
  • With indulgence in special delights and pleasurable activities, just like royalty.8

According to this explanation, it appears as if we ourselves become the bride on Shabbat.

4. The Kabbalistic Queen

The Kabbalist explain that the seven days of the week correspond to the seven attributes of G‑d: Chesed (Kindness), Gevurah (Severity), Tiferet (Harmony), Netzach (Perseverance), Hod (Humility), Yesod (Foundation) and Malchut (Royalty). Thus, Shabbat corresponds to the final attribute: Royalty.

Just as we use the six days of the week to prepare for Shabbat, so does Malchut receive its energy from the previous six sefirot.

Think about royalty for a moment. True, they are receivers, having received their mandate to rule (and their wealth) from their subjects. But they must give as well—leading, guiding and inspiring their nation.

The same can be said for Shabbat. We spend six days preparing for Shabbat, but she then gives us the vitality to survive and thrive during the coming week.

The attribute of malchut is also known as the Shechinah, the feminine aspect of G‑d, which may explain why Shabbat is a queen and not a king.9

Our sages tell us that if we all keep even one Shabbat, we will merit the ultimate redemption, an era which is itself referred to as the everlasting Shabbat. May it be speedily in our days!

Footnotes
1.
Talmud, Shabbat 119a and Bava Kamma 32a.
2.
Bereishit Rabbah 11:8.
4.
See, for example, Talmud Bava Metzia 113b.
5.
Maharsha, Chiddushei Aggadot on Talmud, Bava Kamma 32a.

Based on this we can understand an interesting difference between the custom of Rabbi Chanina, who would “go out to greet the Shabbat Queen,” and Rabbi Yannai, who would stay where he was and welcome Shabbat, saying, “Enter, O bride. Enter, O bride.”

According to Rabbi Chanina: just as it is customary for a groom to go out to greet his bride before the marriage ceremony, so too should we go out to greet our bride, the Shabbat Queen, on Friday afternoon.

Rabbi Yannai, however, would greet the Shabbat bride from where he stood, since Shabbat was beginning. For this is the way of a bride: after she is married, she goes from her father’s house to the house of her groom. For this reason, Rabbi Yanai states his welcome twice, “Enter, O bride. Enter, O bride”—once to the chuppah (wedding canopy) and once to the house of her husband.
7.
Bereishit Rabbah 10:9.
8.
Maharal, Chiddushei Aggadot on Talmud, Bava Kamma 32a.
9.
See Zohar 3:272b, and Sefer ha-Maamarim 5689, p. 89 (Maamar Lecha Dodi).
Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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shterna ny August 17, 2017

thanks for this enlightening explanation of shabbat. It will make me appreciate shabbat ( my favorite day of the week ) so much more! Reply

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