Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz- The Sages of Safed

kabbalah lecha dodi sages of safed shabbat shlomo alkabets Apr 02, 2024


By Rabbi Amichai Cohen

The Lecha Dodi is one of the best-known songs in Jewish culture. It is a song on Shabbat by all communities around the world. There are literally hundreds of tunes for this song. 

For me, it brings back the special feeling of Shabbat, the tantalizing aromas of the Shabbat dishes, and the spectacular mountainous view of Tzfat, where it was written.

The author of the song was one of the great teachers of the Kabbalah who ended up settling on the mystical mountaintop city during an era called the Golden Age of Tzfat.

Who was this great teacher? 


Exiled From Spain

Rabbi Shlomo ben Moshe Alkabetz was a son of parents exiled from Spain in the Spanish Inquisition. He was born around the year 1505, apparently in Saloniki. In the year 1517, Turkey took control of Egypt and the land of Israel, making the land part of the Turkish kingdom, and Jews from all over the expanded Turkish kingdom were able to ascend and settle in the land of Israel. Rabbi Shlomo grew up, was educated, and married in Saloniki.

Rabbi Alkabetz was a student of Rabbi Yosef Taitatzak and was the rabbi and brother-in-law of the Kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (the Ramak), who mentioned him several times in his book "Pardes Rimonim" and more.

Like many Sages of that day who either survived the Inquisition or were children of survivors who believed that they were living in the "end of days." Rabbi Shlomo emphasized that the teachings of Kabbalah must be accessible to the world and widespread for the Geula—redemption to come.

In many ways, the coming to the land of Israel was very similar to the return of the Jewish people in the post-Holocust era.

His life was filled with the yearning to come to the Holy Land, and for complete redemption, the time of goodness for all of humanity will finally be revealed.

Rabbi Shlomo composed the "Brit HaLevi," a covenant with the sages of Andrinople when he intended to travel to the land of Israel to serve as a sign between him and them and their mission to bring light and goodness to the world through their actions.


Angelic Guide 

Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz felt Divine inspiration. He connected with the "Magigd" (angel) of our Rabbi, the Beit Yosef. He copied a letter in which Alkabetz recounts his connection with the righteous (Rabbi Yitzhak Karo) and with other friends on the night of Shavuot. They decided to spend the entire night discussing and arranging corrections according to the truth, and they heard the voice speaking from the mouth of the righteous one (the Bat Kol of "the Maggid"). They did the same on the following night and established regulations regarding midnight and mourning for the destruction of the Temple on the eve of Tisha B’Av.

After his marriage, he decided to ascend to the land of Israel, seeing it as the source of holiness. Before his ascent to the land of Israel, he stayed in the city of Adrianople, where he associated with Rabbi Yosef Karo. Referring to this period, the author brings in the book Shelah:

"An event that occurred close to our time, taken from a letter of the Kabbalist Rabbi Shlomo Levi Alkabetz, who was connected in the house of our Rabbi 'Beit Yosef' and the Holy Spirit appeared upon him. And this is the text of the writing…"

Subsequently, the words of Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz are quoted, recounting how he sat with his master, Rabbi Yosef Karo, on the night of Shavuot and engaged in the secrets of the Torah, "and they both saw divine visions." At that moment, Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz accepted upon himself to arrange a Tikun Leil Shavuot each year.


Settling in Safed

In the land of Israel, Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz settled in Safed. There, a group of students gathered around him, devoted to the study of Kabbalah, including Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (who married the sister of Rabbi Shlomo). Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz passed away in Safed between the years 1555-1557.

Among his works are the book "Minchat HaLevi" on the Book of Esther, "Eilat Ahavim" on the Song of Songs, "Shir Hashirim" on the Book of Ruth, "Brit HaLevi" on the Passover Haggadah, and many more books.


The Lecha Dodi

His poem "Lecha Dodi" was composed around the year 1548.

The Piyut or song is based on the words of the Talmud in Tractate Shabbat (119a):

"Rabbi Chanina would wrap himself in his garment, stand at twilight on Friday, and say, 'Let us go and meet the Shabbat Queen.' Rabbi Yannai would don his garment and stand at twilight on Friday and say, 'Come, O bride; come, O bride.’"

At that time, the synagogue was in the fields, and people were prepared to go out to observe the Sabbath. Thus, the poet says, "Let us go to observe the Sabbath."

The Lecha Dodi has Shlomo as its acronym in its stanzas. He immortalized his love of Shabbat and anticipation for redemption in his poetic style.


Fig Tree

Due to his great wisdom, jealous enemies among conspired against him. A Muslim farmer ambushed him, murdered him, and buried him in his garden by a fig tree. The fig tree ripened before its time in a strange turn of events. While figs ripened in the summer, this tree ripened in the winter.

All the inhabitants of the city were astonished, and they reported it to the king. The king sought to understand the meaning of the matter from the owner of the tree, and ultimately, he confessed to killing Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz.

From that day on, the tree began to bear fruit before its time. The king ordered the murderer to be hanged. 

The legacy of Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz lives on, and his soul reverberates in thousands of Synagogues worldwide with the inspirational light of Shabbat and the anticipation of complete redemption.

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