Shalom Alechem is a liturgical poem traditionally sung on Shabbat eve prior to the recital of Kiddush. It consists of a welcome, a request for a blessing, and a farewell to the angels.This blog provides several mystical explanations as to the meaning of this enchanting interaction with celestial beings.
THE SHALOM ALECHEM LITURGICAL POEM:
Peace unto you, ministering angels, messengers of the Most High, of the supreme King of Kings, the Holy One blessed be He.
May your coming be in peace, angels of peace, messengers of the Most High, of the supreme King of Kings, the Holy One blessed be He.
Bless me with your peace, angels of peace, messengers of the Most High, of the supreme King of Kings, the Holy One blessed be He.
May your departure be in peace, angels of peace, messengers of the Most High, of the supreme King of Kings, the Holy One blessed be He.
On Friday night two angels escort a Jew home from synagogue. One advocates on the Jew’s behalf while the other prosecutes him. If a Shabbat tablecloth is spread over the table, the Shabbat candles are lit, and chairs are prepared in honour of Shabbat, the advocating angel blesses the host that he should merit to honour Shabbat in this manner the following week. The prosecuting angel must respond Amen. However, if these preparations have not been made, the prosecuting angel declares that this same scene should be repeated the next Shabbat, and the advocating angel is compelled to acquiesce with an Amen. Thus, a blessing or curse for the Jew in the coming week hangs upon his preparations.
This theme is expressed in the four stanzas of the Shalom Alechem poem:
1. In the first stanza we acknowledge the angels’ presence and attest to their role as divine servants.
2. In the second stanza we refer to the angels as ‘angels of peace’, for in heaven there is no conflict between the angels. Only when man sins do the angels begin to disagree; the prosecuting angel argues he is guilty while the defending angel vouches for his innocence. But since we have prepared for the Shabbat meal, we are confident that the angels will descend from heaven in peace. Thus, in the second stanza we ask the angels to ‘come in peace’.
3. In the third stanza we request that the angels fulfil their mission and bless. In a sense we are saying, “We have fulfilled our obligation to prepare for the Shabbat meal; now please fulfil your obligation to bless us.”
4. In the final stanza we wish the angels a peaceful departure. This raises the question: If the presence of angels brings holiness to our lives why do we usher them out so soon? The answer given is that in our honest appraisal of ourselves we realise that we may behave inappropriately during the meal, thereby causing the angels to quarrel between themselves. We therefore humbly request that the angels leave while in a peaceful state.
Adapted from the Ya’avetz’s Siddur, Rabbi Yaakov Mei’Emden, p.647