Halachic midrash

Shlomo Halevi Alkabetz

Shlomo (Solomon) Halevi Alkabetz (also transliterated as Alqabitz or Alqabes; Hebrew: שלמה אלקבץ) (c.1500, Thessaloniki–1580, Safed) was a kabbalist and poet perhaps best known for his composition of the song Lecha Dodi; sources differ as to when he wrote it (1529, 1540 and 1571 have all been suggested).

Biography

He studied Torah under Rabbi Yosef Taitatzak. In 5289 (1529 CE) he married the daughter of one Yitzchak Cohen, a wealthy householder living in Salonica. Instead of giving his wife a more traditional wedding gift, he gave her his newly completed work Manot HaLevi. He settled in Adrianople, Turkey where he wrote Beit Hashem, Avotot Ahava, Ayelet Ahavim and Brit HaLevi. This latter work he dedicated to his admirers in Adrianople. His students included Rabbi Shmuel Ozida, author of Midrash Shmuel on Avot, and Rabbi Avraham Galante, author of Yareach Yakar on Zohar. His circle included Moshe Alsheich and Yosef Karo, as well as his famous brother-in-law Moshe Cordovero (Ramak).

Maggid and the Move to Safed

Following the practice described in the Zohar, the circle stayed up on Shavuot night. During the recitation of the required texts the Shekhinah appeared as a maggid to Rabbi Karo praising the circle and telling them to move to the Land of Israel. When they stayed up again the second night of Shavuot, the Shechinah was adamant about their moving to the land of Israel. The account was recorded by Alkabetz:

No sooner had we studied two tractates of the Mishnah than our Creator smote us so that we heard a voice speaking out of the mouth of the saint [i.e., Karo], may his light shine. It was a loud voice with sounds clearly enunciated. All the chaverim [i.e., companions] heard the voice but were unable to understand what it was saying. It was an exceedingly pleasant voice, becoming increasingly strong. We all fell on our faces and none of us had any spirit left in him because of our great dread and awe. The voice began to address us, saying:

"Friends, choicest of choice, peace be to you, beloved chaverim. Happy are you and happy those who bore you. Happy are you in this world and happy in the next, that you resolve to adorn Me [i.e., the Shechinah] on this night. For these many years had My head been fallen with none to comfort Me. I was cast down to the ground [i.e., from Sefirah Binah to Malkuth] to embrace the dunghills, but now you have restored the Crown to its former place [i.e., returned Sefirah Malkut to Keter]. Be strong, My beloved ones. Be courageous, My friends. Rejoice and exult for you belong among the chosen few. You have the merit of belonging to the king's palace [i.e., Sefirah Binah]. The sound of your Torah [reading] and the breath of your mouth have ascended to the Holy One, blessed be He, breaking through many firmaments and many atmospheres until it rose upwards. The angels were silent, the seraphim still, chayot [beasts of the field] stood without speech and all the host of heaven heard, together with the Holy One, blessed be He, the sound of your voice. Behold, I am the Mishnah [Shechinah], the Mother who chastises Her children and I have come to converse with you. Had you been ten in number [i.e., the "minyan," a full quorum of men] you would have ascended even higher but you have reached a great height nevertheless. Happy are those who bore you, my friends, in that, by denying yourselves sleep you have ascended so far on high. Through you I have become elevated this night and through the chaverim in the great city, a mother-city in Israel . . . Therefore, My sons, be strong and rejoice in My love, rejoice in My Torah, rejoice in the fear of Me. If you could only imagine one millionth of the anguish which I [the fallen Shechinah] endure, no joy would ever enter your hearts and no mirth your mouths, for it is because of you that I am cast to the ground. Therefore, O My dear sons, be strong and of good courage and rejoice. Cease not from studying, for a thread of mercy is stretched out over you and your Torah study is pleasant to the Holy One, Blessed be He. Therefore, stand upon your feet and raise Me up, saying in a loud voice, as on the Day of Atonement: 'BLESSED BE THE NAME OF HIS GLORIOUS KINGDOM FOR EVER AND EVER.'"

Rabbi Shlomo settled in Safed around 5295 (1535 CE). When in Safed, he followed his brother-in-law Rabbi Moses Cordovero as a student and by engaging in the practice of gerushin ("banishment") around Safed.

Thought

His works written in Adrianople center on the holiness of the people Israel, the Land of Israel, and the specialness of the mitzvot. Alkabetz accepts the tradition that Esther was married to Mordechai before being taken to the king's palace and becoming queen, and even continued her relationship with Mordechai after taking up her royal post. The view of midrash articulated by Alkabetz and other members of the school of Joseph Taitatsak represents an extension of the view of the authority of the oral law and halachic midrash to aggadic midrash and thus leads to the sanctification and near canonization of aggadic expansions of biblical narrative (Walfish 2002).

Quotes

The Land of Israel is complete in its very essence because it is the first point of creation

Works

Among his printed works:

  • Lecha Dodi (1579), a mystical hymn to inaugurate the Shabbat
  • Manot HaLevi (completed 1529, published 1585) on the Book of Esther
  • Ayalet Ahavim (completed 1532, published 1552) on Song of Songs
  • Shoresh Yishai (completed 1552, published 1561) on the Book of Ruth
  • Brit HaLevi (1563), a kabbalistic commentary on the Passover Haggada
  • Or Tzadikim, a book of sermons

Among those existing in manuscript are:

  • Divrei Shlomo, on the section of Scripture known as Writings
  • Naim Zemirot, on Psalms
  • Sukkat Shalom, Avotot Ahavah, on the Torah
  • Pitzei Ohev, on the Book of Job
  • Apiryon Shlomo, Beit Hashem, Beit Tefilla, interpretations of the prayers
  • Lechem Shlomo, on the guidelines for the sanctification of meals, according to kabbalah
  • Mittato shel Shlomo, on the mystical significance of sexual union
  • Shomer Emunim, on fundamental principles of faith

References

  • Joseph Yahalom, "Hebrew mystical poetry and its Turkish background," in Andreas Tietze and Joseph Yahalom, Ottoman Melodies Hebrew Hymns: a 16th century cross-cultural adventure (Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1995), pp. 9-43.
  • Bracha Sack, The Secret Teaching of R. Shlomo Halevi Alkabetz (Ph. D., Brandeis University, 1977)
  • Barry Walfish, Kosher Adultery? The Mordecai-Esther-Ahasuerus Triangle, Prooftexts, Volume 22, Number 3, Fall 2002

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