Having explored the Refrain and Verse 1, we move on now to Verse 2 of Lecha Dodi.
לקראת שבת לכו ונלכה
כי היא מקור הברכה
מראש, מקדם, נסוכה
סוף מעשה במחשבה תחילה
To greet Shabbat we will go out and we will come,
For it is the source of the Blessing.
From the start, from earliest days, it was menusach;
The final activity was first in design.
This verse appears to describe the primordial nature of Shabbat, its place in the Creation Narrative. Thus, thematically, this verse could have gone before the last one. On a textual level, as well, this verse would seem to precede Verse 1, with the opening line of this verse mirroring the Refrain. We will have to see why this verse is here rather than earlier.
Also interesting is the apparent redundancy in Line 1: Lechu V’Neilcha – we will go and we will come. There is a tradition that the Ari z”l, who blessed this song written in his days by R’ Shlomo Alkabetz, would go with his followers into a field before Shabbat each week to literally “welcome Shabbat.” This line could allude to that trip – let’s leave this place and go out to physically welcome Shabbat. Netiv Binah (vol. 2, p. 62) adds that outside of Israel, where that was never as prominent a tradition, Shuls were once located outside of the city limits, and people would invite each other to leave their homes and go to Shul to publicly welcome Shabbat together.
To me, the phraseology evokes the cadence and feelings of “Na’aseh V’Nishma,” our famous do-first-ask-later mantra. Shabbat, too, asks of us sometimes to suspend our emotions in favor of a certain measure of a leap of faith. Where there are aspects with which we feel comfortable, good – the Torah contains many “ma’asiot u’middot,” as the Ramban refers to the intuitive parts of Torah. But then there are Chukim, Mishpatim, Torot – aspects of Torah which require a lifetime or more to partially or fully understand, appreciate, or integrate into our psyche. To these, no less, must we be willing to push ourselves to “Lechu” even before we can intellectually “V’Neilcha.” The Na’aseh V’Nishma aspect of the whole Torah, which calls upon us to synch our own intellect with Hashem’s or die trying, finds a localized home in Shabbat, about which there are likewise things we understand and others which we don’t.
The Etz Yosef commentary in Siddur Otzar HaTefillot contains a beautiful explanation of Line 2 of our verse. Etz Yosef and Lechem Rav both quote Ohr Hachaim (to Bereishit 2:3) that the world was created with only a short battery life – six days on a full charge – but Shabbat came along and, as it continues to do every week, “recharged” the world to allow it to exist for another week. Thus, Shabbat was and is the “Mekor HaBeracha,” the source by which the world exists and that which allows the world to “Baruch” – bends its berech, knee, in humility – for the “spark” which Shabbat provides to the week and to the world. The Etz Yosef even goes further, explaining that all of the worlds benefit from Shabbat:
… וביאורו, כי נודע לכל אשר ביום השבת קודש הקב”ה מחדש עולמו, ומאיר ומופיע ומבהיק באורו הרב לכל העולמות – עליונים ותחתונים – יתר על כל החגים והזמנים – כי הוא נקרא קודש מעצמו והם אינם נקראים אלא מקרא קודש …
The Etz Yosef’s reasoning here, that Shabbat is already Kadosh while the holidays must be made Kadosh, an idea we have spoken about in the past, provides an interesting contrast to Line 1, which celebrated our active involvement in greeting Shabbat. On the one hand, Shabbat is “Mekor HaBeracha,” that which is Kadosh Mei’eilav and which in that vein is able to provide a spark to the rest of the week which would not be possible if it was subject to the ordinary limitations of being made Kadosh by Mankind. At the same time, we express our involvement in the Kedusha process of Shabbat by our “Lechu V’Neilcha,” greeting Shabbat with excitement, taking it in early (Lechu) and escorting it out late (V’Neilcha). The Kadosh Mei’eilav element which gives Shabbat its added ability to light up the worlds is not an excuse for us to step back and let Shabbat run on auto-pilot but rather an opportunity by which to more greatly grow and enhance our own level of Kedusha.
The word “נסוכה” in Line 3 is a tough one to understand. Here is a sampling of what’s out there:
- Birnbaum: “It was Ordained;”
- ArtScroll: “She was honored” (from Etz Yosef – נתכבדה);
- Iyun Tefillah (in Otzar HaTefillot): Crowned (based on Mishlei 8:23);
- Anaf Yosef (in Otzar HaTefillot): Anointed. He points out that each letter of “ראש” precedes by one its counterpart letter in “שבת.” On Shabbat, the kingship of “שבת” anoints and thus replaces the “ראש.” Thus: מראש מקדם נסוכה – from the [letters of] ראש which precede it [מקדם], it [שבת] becomes anointed [נסוכה].
Lechem Rav explains the sequence of these lines beautifully: Shabbat not only recharges the week, thus serving as the source by which every week can be blessed and therefore can continue to exist (Line 2), but it even caused the world to exist for the first six days of Creation before the first Shabbat ever happened (Line 3) because although Shabbat did not happen until Day #7, it was included in the master plan of Creation in order to allow Days 1-6 to move forward (Line 4).
Iyun Tefillah explains Line 4 in a way which may connect well to Line 1. I.T. cites a Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 10:9) which compares the advent of Shabbat to a King (of course) who creates and decorates a wedding canopy before the bride actually shows up. Although an onlooker might think he’s crazy for doing all that work, he is obviously aware of the existence of the bride at the time that he is undertaking the labor. Thus, too, although Shabbat may not have appeared until Day #7, Hashem was obviously aware of its conception before He went to work creating the rest of the world. Shabbat was סוף מעשה not as an insult to Shabbat but rather so that it would enter a full, ready, and waiting world. Or conversely, if Shabbat had not been במחשבה תחילה, the rest of the the world would not have been able to greet it with open arms when it arrived סוף מעשה.
And that’s where Verse 2 comes full circle – we are able to לכו ונלכה into the fields because we are in a world which waited impatiently for the סוף מעשה to finally get here already. Remember that ad campaign a few years ago for Monday Night Football which asked, “Is It Monday Yet?” We’re not much more patient – Shabbat is our מחשבה תחילה as we start out our week by reminding each other, “היום יום ראשון בשבת.” Shabbat is only סוף מעשה so that by the time it gets here, we can be impatient enough to run to it like a kid in a candy store – לקראת שבת לכו ונלכה.
And so we have really answered our first question, about why this verse appears here rather than earlier. Although the description appears on the surface to be of an earlier conception of Shabbat, שבת בראשית, it really describes a constantly-recurring cycle in which we express our excitement for Shabbat (Line 1) because it has returned again to regenerate the world for another six days (Line 2), a cycle which is illustrated and provided for by the historical role that Shabbat played during שבת בראשית (Lines 3-4). Shabbat’s place in the Creation Narrative is presented here not as static but as dynamic, as the force by which the world can continue to exist this very week because of the power with which it was vested during Creation. And it is to that regeneration, and Shabbat’s concomitant role as the מקור הברכה, that we לכו ונלכה each week.
That about covers (or at least scratches the surface of) Verse 2; we will move on to Verse 3 – the first of the Geulah Verses – next week.