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What is Prayer All About? A Lesson from Tzfat

The Jewish holy city of Tzfat is where Kabbalat Shabbat was born. The Arizal - Rabbi Isaac Luria - lived there in the 16th century and brought the kabbala - Jewish mysticism - down to the masses. Prior to him one had to be 40 years old, married with children and a scholar of Torah and Talmud before one could even begin to study the kabbala. He realized everyone was going to need a spiritual infusion soon and he found ways to infuse it into daily life. One way of doing that was through the creation of a new prayer service on Friday nights called Kabbalat Shabbat - the welcoming of the Sabbath.


The service helps us to understand what prayer is all about. Prayer in Hebrew - Tefilah - is a reflexive verb (l'hitpalel) which means to "judge oneself." It is not just about reading, saying or singing some words that we may or may not understand or connect to. It is about taking an honest look within ourselves, seeing where we can improve so that we can be the kind of people that we want to be (and God wants us to be).


Kabbalat Shabbat is made up of six psalms followed by the song Lcha Dodi (written in Tzfat by a contemporary of the Arizal's, Rabbi Shlomo HaLevi Alkabetz), welcoming the Sabbath Queen and the Psalm for the Sabbath Day. The six psalms represent the six days of the week. While we are reading them we are meant to be reviewing our words and our actions each of those days (the first psalm corresponding to Sunday and so on), seeing where we need to improve, internalizing the lessons that need to be learned and not letting anything else affect our hang over us. That way by the time we welcome the Sabbath, we enter with a clear mind, a pure soul and an open spirit with nothing nagging at us or hanging over us.


The photo below is of the grave of the Arizal with the holy mountain, Mount Meron behind it. It is found at the truly fantastic photo gallery in Tzfat of Mordhai Kaszemacher who sells his own works and that of his late father. Unfortunately the art gallery - like all the tourist area in Tzfat - has been hard hit by the lack of tourists, but you can reach out to him on Facebook if you would like to see more of their work. Shabbat Shalom.


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