Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Shalom Alechem: Holiness vs. Blessing

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. 



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.

Commentary Four:
Holiness vs. Blessing

G–d is often referred to as Hakadosh Baruch Hu, the Holy One, Blessed be He. The daily prayers include the angels’ declaration, “He [G-d] is holy, He is holy, He is holy,” and “Blessed is the glory of G-d from its place.” What is the difference between referring to G-d as holy or blessed? 
The Hebrew word for holy, kadosh, also connotes havdalah, separation. For instance, in the first stage of the wedding ceremony the groom places a ring upon his bride’s finger and says, “You are mekudeshet [consecrated] to me.” This indicates that the groom has separated his bride from all other men thereby making her forbidden to them. Similarly, when we bless someone with life, we in fact attempt to draw down a ‘branch’ of life from the Infinite Source of Life, and plant it within the ‘soil’ of the recipient’s world, so that it flourishes there. Likewise, when angels cry, “Blessed is the glory of G-d from its place”, they cause divine radiance to be channelled down upon themselves. 
In the same vein, by proclaiming G-d as holy, the angels indicate that they experience G-d’s transcendence, His aloofness from finite existence. The term kadosh is thus often used to refer to the Ohr Ein Sof, G-d’s Infinite Light. In contrast, the term baruch, blessed, implies drawing a particular energy from a higher level to a lower one. For instance, our Sages speak of one who is “mavrich et ha’gefen,” who “draws down [a branch of] the vine [in order to plant it into the earth]”; the words mavrich and baruch being etymologically related. 
Kadosh and Baruch are thus opposites; Kadosh implies distance and transcendence, whereas baruch implies closeness and immanence. Thus, when we refer to G–d as Hakadosh Baruch Hu, as we do in the Shalom Alechem prayer, we are expressing that G–d unifies these two extremes; He is at once transcendent yet immanent. 
Both man and angel are endowed with the power to bless, to channel divine light onto others, and both man and angel exercise this power in the Shalom Alechem prayer. In the first stanza we bless the ministering angels, “Peace be upon you, ministering angels.” In the next stanza, the angels are no longer referred to as ministering angels, but as “angels of peace.” This transformation occurs due to our having blessed them with peace in the first stanza. In the third stanza we then request these now peace-bearing angels to reciprocate by blessing us with peace, asking, “Bless me with peace angels of peace.” 
Although angels possess the power of blessing, baruch, they are unable to connect to the transcendent level of kadosh. Admittedly, the angels do enjoy some sense of G–d’s loftiness and holiness, as is evident from their proclamation that G–d is kadosh referred to above. Still, this proclamation only indicates that the angels have an awareness and a yearning for this level, but not that they can actually connect with it directly. This power to connect to the holiness of G-d is granted exclusively to a Jewish soul through the performance of mitzvot, as G–d tells the Jewish people, “You will be unto Me a kingdom of priests and a holy (kadosh) nation”, and, as the blessing prior to the observance of many mitzvot testifies, “Who has sanctified us (kidishanu) with His mitzvot”. 
Thus, before we perform the mitzvah of Kiddush (sanctifying the wine), which is associated with kadosh, we bid the angels farewell, for the act of performing a mitzvah to connect to the holiness of G-d pertains exclusively to the Jewish people and not to angels.

Based on Ohr HaTorah al HaSiddur p.342 

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