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.
Angels: A Means to an End
The Shema Yisrael prayer is referred to as Shirat Haneshama, the song of the soul, for through it the soul experiences G–d’s unity. However, each person also possesses an animal consciousness which bombards him with desires for material objects, creating an internal static that obstructs the expression of the divine soul during prayer. How does one eliminate this interference so that he can proclaim the Shema properly?
To this end, our sages instituted that before a person recites the Shema in Shacharit, the morning prayer, he should contemplate the manner that the angels worship G-d. The angels’ awe-filled and rapturous proclamations, “He [G-d] is holy” and “Blessed is the glory of G-d from its place,” stirs the animal consciousness to excitement about the divine. This serves to not only eliminate the distractions posed by the animal consciousness, but to direct its intense energy toward the divine, enabling one to bond his soul to G–d with ever-increasing fervour.
The contemplation on the angels is thus only a means to an end. The intention is neither to connect to the angels themselves, nor to replicate their particular form of divine service, but to use them as a vehicle to allow ourselves to connect to G-d according to our own unique capabilities.
The same applies to the angels contemplated in Shalom Alechem. Our goal when reciting the Shalom Alechem is to transcend our attachment to the six working days, so that we can experience the Shechina - Divine Presence - through the Holy Shabbat. In order to elevate ourselves and disconnect from our weekday affairs we contemplate the angels. However, once this elevation has been accomplished and we are fit to experience the Shechina through Shabbat, we bid the angels farewell.Based on Siddur im Pirush Maharid p.68; 13 Tanya, 66a; Derech Mitzvatecha p.70b