When does Shabbat really kick in for you?
Is it when you first light the match for those wonderful surreal Shabbat candles, or when singing Lecha Dodi to a chorus?
For the family as a whole it seems to be implanted at the Shabbat table, just before Kidush, when the entire family is joined around the dinner table chanting Shalom Aleichem to the angels.
Whilst some people have the custom to totally omit this song, others view it as precious to their Shabbat experience.
Shalom Aleichem is an interesting song and there are several variations. But where can we find the epicentre to such a custom?
The Gemara Shabbat (119) writes that a person is accompanied by two angels as he walks home from the synagogue on Friday night – a good angel to his right, and a hostile angel to his left. If the house is neat and properly arranged for Shabbat, then the kind angel declares, “May it be His will that it should be this way next week, as well.” The hostile angel is then compelled to respond, “Amen.” If, however, the house is disorderly and not prepared for Shabbat, then the hostile angel proclaims, “May it be His will that it should be this way next week, as well,” and the good angel has no choice but to answer, “Amen.”
Thus on Shabbat, as we are returning home from the synagogue accompanied by angels, we invite them into our homes.
A further reason suggested by the Sages emanates from a second Gemara in Shabbat 52a:
There was a couple that would always get into a fight on Friday nights, and Rav Meir took it upon himself to sit with them every Friday night, three weeks in a row, and see to it that they learned to avoid their usual arguments. The Gemara says that immediately after the third week, a voice was heard – the voice of the Satan – saying, “Woe to me, Rav Meir has evicted me from my dwelling!” The sages derive that Erev Shabbat is a time where the Satan wishes to make us crumble; it is working extra hard, and therefore once Shabbat has entered and peace is around, we welcome the angels of peace.
However, there are those who question the lyrics to this powerful song.
Imagine you invite someone to your house, and as he enters the door you tell him, “welcome to my house, have a seat”, and a few seconds later you tell him to “go in peace!”
He only just got there and you are seemingly kicking him out.
Similarly, Rabbi Yakov Emden questions the custom to invite the angels (Shalom Aleichem and Boachem Leshalom) and then ask them to leave (Tsetchem).
Why are we asking them to leave if we have just invited them to our house?
One of the answers to this fascinating question lies in the Parasha.
Yakov returns after 20 years: 14 years work for his wives, and six years working to earn his wealth.
Eisav his arch enemy, escorted with 400 army generals, has set out to meet and destroy him.
Yakov sends a message to Eisav – “Im Lavan Garti” – “I have sojourned with Lavan” – one of the most unethical people in the generation, a cheat and hustler. Nevertheless says Yakov, I have kept all the Taryag – 613 Mitsvot. I have not become weak in serving G-d.
Rashi comments that Yakov sent Malachim – meaning that he sent real angels!
Wow! When we want to send something and make sure it gets there we use DHS; Yakov on the other hand used real angels! They were at his command.
Where did he get these angels from?
The Shelah explains that at the end of last week’s Parasha, Yakov, on his journey back to Eretz Yisrael, was greeted by angels. In fact, the Pasuk states that he called the place Machanayim – two camps.
Many years earlier when leaving Eretz Yisrael, Yakov dreamt of angels going up and down a ladder. Rashi explained that the angels of Eretz Yisrael were leaving Yakov and the new angels of Chutz La’aretz (outside of Israel) were accompanying him on his new journey.
Everyone has accompanying angels, yet there are two sets of angels; those that accompany us in Israel and those that accompany us outside. Of course the ones in Israel are of higher spiritualty.
At that time Yakov was shown the ladder with the angels symbolising the change of guard.
Now, upon his return to Eretz Yisrael, Yakov was greeted by both camps of angels. They were both there at the changing point. Those that had accompanied him in Chutz La’aretz accompanied him (up to, and stayed a while) with those that were now going to accompany him in Eretz Yisrael.
We can now understand the deeper meaning of Shalom Aleichem.
Shabbat is a special day. It is a meeting point between the end of the week and the beginning of a new week.
It warrants new, special angels. It is at that time that there is a changing of the guard. The new set of angels will be with us for the entire week to come. The old set will now be leaving us. It is at that stage that we sing Shalom Aleichem – welcoming in the new set, whilst keeping the old set around, until eventually sending the off the old set with Tsetchem Leshalom.
How special is our Shabbat that we have been blessed to recognise these guardian angels!
All angels, of course, are sent from G-d.
“Ki Malachav Yetsave Lach Lishmarcha Bechol Derachecha” – He will charge His angels for you, to protect you in all your ways.
Let us cherish the moment and enjoy Shabbat with the understanding that we are surrounded by G-d’s special emissaries.