At the outset let me say that it is an arrogance for anyone, and most of all myself, to even attempt to "explain" anything by R. Isaac Luria. This poem is to be understood by the Heart and not by the head, by the Soul and not by the brain. Its power lies in its mystery and not in its "meaning." Therefore, I have no intention of "interpreting" it. That is for the reader to do. What I will do, however, is to explain various key symbols in the hymn, leaving their "interpretation" to the reader's Soul. Finally, I put my name to what follows not out of pride, but to clearly indicate that whatever errors it contains are mine and not the Ari Zaal's.
According to the Oral Torah, after the destruction of the Second Temple, YHVH -- no longer having "a place to dwell among them" -- left this world and returned to the supernal realm of Atziluth. Every seven days, however, his "Shekinah" (the indwelling feminine presence) is invited back by her "Groom," the Community of Israel, to re-inhabit (and, therefore, sustain) the world for another six days. Israel does this by preparing the Table of the Sabbath Meal, which is a recreation of the Temple and, therefore, a "landing field," if you will, for God. The Sabbath Table becomes such a "landing field" by always including the following symbols: lighted candles (= the Holy Golden Candlestick or "Menorah"), salt (= purification of the altar), bread (= the grain sacrifice and also the "shew bread"), meat (= the animal sacrifice), wine (= the blood sacrifice), and fish (= a symbol of the Sabbath itself). The Hymn alludes to these symbols in the lines,
A new table
we prepare for Her,
a lovely candelabrum
sheds its light upon us.
Bridesmen go forth
and prepare the Bride's adornments,
food of various kinds
all manner of fish.
With wine in beakers. . .
I make room in the north
for the table with the loaves.
"Foods of various kinds" alludes to the fact that eating the Sabbath Meal is done for much more than physical nourishment. It is, in itself, a re-enactment of the "Trumah," or remains of the temple sacrifice eaten by Priests. Moreover, God's sustaining re-entry into the world that takes place every Sabbath Eve is alluded to by the lines,
To beget souls
and new spirits
Thus, the Ari Zaal's "Hymn for the Sabbath Eve" celebrates the Sabbath Table and its mystical meaning as a "landing field" for the Shekinah, or indwelling Spirit of God.
The centerpiece of Kabbalistic theosophy, its virtual paradigm of God's creation, entry, withdrawl from, and re-entry into the world is the Tree of the Ten Sephiroth. Consequently, the Sephiroth are referred to in several places by the Ari. For example, in the opening of the hymn he declares:
I sing in hymns
to enter the gates
of the Field
of holy apples.
In which "The Field of holy apples" refers to the Third Sephira, "Binah/Mother," which is also called "The Apple Orchard" since the apple itself is a symbol for the Shekinah, and the Third Sephirah is her illumination. Moreover, the lines
on the thirty-two paths
and three branches.
are a reference to the thirty-two "paths" connecting the Ten Sephiroth with each other, while the "three branches" are a reference to the Right, Left, and Center Columns of the Sephirotic Tree.
The Sephiroth, and particularly their "Partzufim" (see my previous post on this) are referred to in the lines,
which refer to the Sephiroth Keter which has the meanings of "Crown" and "Supernal King" as does the phrase "Ancient of Days" in the lines:
She has seventy crowns
and the supernal King,
that all may be crowned
in the Holy of Holies
All the worlds are engraved
and concealed within Her,
but all shine forth
from the "Ancient of Days."
The entire hymn is a metaphor, using the various Kabbalistic symbols described above, for the hyrosgamous, or "Mystical Union" between God and the world of His creation. On the Sabbath Eve he enters the world as his "Shekinah" or female aspect, who "marries" her "Groom", the Community of Israel thereby renewing the world for another six days, during which time the Shekinah gradually withdraws to her Source, to be coaxed back again by the Sabbath Table at the next Sabbath Eve. In the words of the Zohar,
"And that time is a time of Grace for all; when the Holy King holds out
to Israel, and all who are with her, his Sceptre of the Thread of Grace
so all may be wholly united to the Holy King."
posted on Donmeh news group
Wed, 17 Mar 1999
page historypage uploaded 20 March 1999