Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Shalom Alechem: Michael, Gavriel, Raphael, & Shabbat

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 Five:
 Michael, Gavriel, Raphael, & Shabbat

It is written, “The angel of G–d encamps around those who revere G–d.” Note that it only refers to one angel. In the Shalom Alechem prayer, however, we greet angels in plural. Why, indeed, do we welcome more than one angel in Shalom Alechem? 
In general, there are three types of angels, represented by the angels who appeared to Abraham after he circumcised himself:
1. Michael carried good tidings to Sarah, informing her that G-d had remembered her and would bless her with a son. Michael is the angel of Chessed (Divine kindness), hence the name Michael: mi (who), che (is like), el (the divine name associated with kindness).
2. Gavriel was charged with obliterating the decadent cities of Sodom. His name is thus etymologically related to Gevurah, might or severity, the second primary, divine attribute; and 
3. Raphael healed Abraham and saved Lot from the ill-fated city of Sodom.His name is thus etymologically related to refuah, healing. The letters of , to heal, are identical with those of the word , beauty, which corresponds to the third primary, divine attribute, Tiferet – beauty and balance. 
These three divine attributes are also known as the three spiritual “pillars”: 
Chessed on the right, Gevurah on the left, and Tiferet in the centre connecting the left and right “pillars” (see diagram of Sefirot). 
Shabbat is said to carry all three forms of divine energy. This is alluded to by the fact that the letters of the word Shabbat, , can be divided into , “Shin, daughter”. The letter Shin actually consists of three distinct letters, from right to left: a Yud – , a Vav -, and a Zayin . Together, these letters form the image of thethree pillars. Furthermore, each of the three individual letters of which the letter Shin comprises clearly corresponds to one of the spiritual pillars:
• Zayin on the Shin’s left connotes weaponry, as in the phrase “klei Zayin”, thus symbolising Gevurah (might); 
• Yud on the Shin’s right symbolizes Chochmah, insight or wisdom. Insights enter the mind as singular points, as reflected by the shape of the letter Yud. Chochmah is located at the top of the right pillar, that of Chessed (see diagram of Sefirot). 
• Vav appears in the Shin’s centre. In Hebrew grammar, when the letter Vav serves as a prefix its most common function is conjunction. The name Vav means a hook. Interestingly, both concepts represent connection. The Vav thus symbolizes the central pillar, which connects and balances the two 
opposing pillars of Chessed and Gevurah. This is related to the attribute of Tiferet, beauty, which exists when contrasts and opposites blend. The above explains the representation of the letter Shin in Shabbat. “Bat”, the second component of the word Shabbat, which means daughter, is a title used in reference to the Jewish people.  Thus, the combination of Shin with Bat yields Shabbat; indicating that on this day the Jewish people experience all three divine attributes. 
Our experience of Shabbat reinforces this concept. On Shabbat we are reminded that G–d loves us and desires us. As we read in the Kiddush on Friday night, “[G–d] has desired us, and has given us in love and goodwill His holy Shabbat as a heritage.” This message is brought to us by Michael, the bearer of good tidings and representative of the right pillar. 

In Tractate Shabbat we are taught that Shabbat brings healing. This is the spiritual energy brought by Raphael, the emissary of the second pillar. Gavriel, the agent for the left pillar, also descends on Shabbat in order to subdue any evil in our hearts that may otherwise hinder our experience of the Shabbat light. 
In addition, these three angels correspond to the body, heart, and mind: Raphael comes to heal the body, Gavriel to remove the evil in our hearts, and Michael to remind us of G–d’s love for His people, since memory is a mental faculty. 

Since Shabbat includes these three types of angels, we greet the angels in the Shalom Alechem prayer in the plural, reminding us of the three different qualities of Shabbat.

Based on Shem MiShmuel, Bereshit I p.159

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