The Tefilla Meant to be Said Outdoors

Rabbi Aryeh Citron discusses the tefillah of Lecha Dodi, and why we turn to our left at its end.

By Rabbi Aryeh Citron for

The Torah portion of Bamidbar (Chapter 2) discusses how the Jewish people camped in the desert: They were divided into four camps of three tribes each, and each of the four camped around the Mishkan in a different direction. Following are the groupings for each direction and some of the reasons why these tribes camped in these specific directions (from the Ramban and Rabbenu Bachaye):

  • East

The tribes of Yehudah, Yissachar, and Zevulun were Torah scholars and were therefore situated to the east of the Mishkan. East is the direction of sunrise, for the light of the sun represents the light of their Torah. 

Yehudah was a master of Torah (See Tehillim 60:9.) while many heads of the Sanhedrin came from Yissachar as alluded to in Divrei HaYamim I 12:32 and Gen. 49:14. Zevulun supported Yissachar and thus had a share in their Torah. (See Rashi on Gen 49:13 and Deut 33:18.) 

  • South

The tribes of Reuven, Shimon, and Gad, who camped in the south side of the Mishkan, represent Teshuvah. Reuven did Teshuvah when he admitted to having moved his father’s bed. (See Rashi on Deut. 33:7.) Gad was a mighty tribe, and to do Teshuvah one needs great strength. (See Gen 49:19.) Because the tribe of Shimon would later sin with the daughters of Moav, they needed to learn to do Teshuvah from the other two tribes. (See Numbers, Chapter 25.) The south is the source of rain and dew, blessings which come to the world in the merit of Teshuvah.

  • West 

The tribes of Efrayim, Menashe, and Binyamin were to the west. Binyamin was the tribe where the Bait HaMikdash was built and where the Shechina (Divine Presence) rested. As such, they were located in the west which is the direction where the Shechinah resides. (See Bava Batra 25a.) All of these tribes are associated with G-d’s might (see Tehillim 80:3) as they needed to overcome the actions of Yeravam ben Nevat who was a descendant of Efrayim. As such there were in the west which is also associated with G-d’s might as the forces of snow, hail, frost and heat are all associated with the west.

  • North

The tribes of Dan, Asher, and Naftali camped in the north. The tribe of Dan was infamous for serving idols (See Shoftim, chapter 18 and Kings I 12:29.) while the righteous tribes of Asher and Naftali were there to influence him positively. Due to Dan’s sin, they camped in the north which represents darkness (as the countries in the northern parts of the world are often cold and dark). 

The rest of this article will discuss the custom of turning around at the reciting of Lecha Dodi on Friday night as this relates to the direction of west (see below).

Greeting the Shabbat in the Field

Late Friday afternoon, the Arizal would customarily go out to the field to greet the Shabbat. This is based on the Talmud (Shabbat 119a and Bava Kamma 32a and b) that Rabbi Chanina would say (on Friday night), “Come let us go out to greet the Bride, the Queen” or “Come let us go out to greet Shabbat, the Bride.” And Rabbi Yannai would wrap himself in his tallit and stand at the twilight of Shabbat saying, “Come, Bride; come, Bride.”

The Arizal’s student, Rabbi Chayim Vital, recommends to do the following (Sha’ar HaKavanot 64c quoted in Kaf HaChaim 262:32). Go out to the field and say “Come, let us greet the Shabbat Queen to the Chakal Tapuchin Kadishin (the holy apple orchard).”  Stand in one place in the field or, even better, on a hilltop. The place should be clean (of any filth) as far as the eye can see in front and behind for at least four amot (six feet). Turn and face the west where the sun is setting. In the moments when the sun is going down, close your eyes and place your left hand on your chest with your right hand above it. Concentrate with awe and fear, as one who is standing in front of the king, to accept the additional holiness of Shabbat. Then say Psalm 29 with a sweet voice, followed by Bo’i Kallah (Come, my Bride) three times and Mizmor Shir LeYom HaShabbat (Psalm 91) and Hashem Malach (Psalm 92). Then open your eyes and return to your home. (When it gets dark, one should go to Shul to pray Maariv.)

Going to the Synagogue Courtyard

Similarly, the Magen Avraham (262:3 in the name of the Knesset HaGedolah) cites the custom to go out from the synagogue to the courtyard to greet the Shabbat.

Turning Around

The Pri Megadim (Eshel Avraham 262:3) writes that “Our custom is to turn to the west when saying Bo’i VeShalom (Come in peace), the last stanza of Lecha Dodi.” This is symbolic of the above custom to go outside to greet the Shabbat.

To Comfort the Mourners

The Ta’amei HaMinhagim (note on Ot 264) quotes an additional reason for turning around when saying Bo’i VeShalom. It was customary for mourners who were in the middle of Shiva to only enter the Shul when the community would accept Shabbat by saying Mizmor Shir LeYom HaShabbat (Psalm 91). It was customary in these communities to accept Shabbat early so it was not yet Shabbat until that point in the prayers. As such, the mourners still had the restrictions of aveilut and would thus wait in the hallway just outside the Shul until Mizmor Shir (which is recited just after Lecha Dodi). Before the mourners would come into the shul, the congregation would stand and turn around in order to see the mourners and offer them comfort as they would come into shul. (See O.C. 287 as to how one may offer comfort on Shabbat.)

To the West or to the door?

There are different opinions as to whether one should turn to the west or to the door when saying Bo’i VeShalom. Often the door is to the rear of shul, and the shul is facing east, so both of these opinions are fulfilled. But some shuls have their entrance on the side or even towards the front. In addition, some shuls may daven towards directions other than east (depending on where they are located compared to Jerusalem). In these cases there would be different opinions as to what is appropriate.

  • The West

Some say that one should face west when saying Bo’i VeShalom as we are welcoming the Shechina (Divine Presence) which resides in the west (See sources quoted in Piskei Teshuvot 267 note 42). [See Bava Batra 25a that according to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi and Rabbi Avahu the Shechina is in the West.] In a shul that prays to the west (such as in Ma’ale Adumim), the congregants should turn to the door as they must do an action to indicate that they are honoring the Shabbat (Responsa of Betzel HaChochma 3:65). 

  • The Door

Some say that one should turn towards the door. The reason for this is that it is symbolic of going outside to greet the Shabbat (ibid). In addition, see above that it was customary to turn towards the mourners who were then entering the shul (through the door).

  • Either One

Rav Moshe Feinstein writes that whatever one does is fine since the intent is to honor the holy Shabbat although it is best to turn to the west. 

  • In Practice

In all of the shuls that I have been to, the people turn to face the back of the shul when saying Bo’i VeShalom even in shuls that do not face east and whose entrance is not in the back. Based on Reb Moshe’s opinion (above), it is fine since they are doing this to honor the Shabbat.

How to Turn?

Some say that one should turn towards his right when turning around (Piskei Teshuvot ibid, note 46). This is based on the Talmud (Yoma 58b)  that says one should always turn to the right. 

The Lubavitcher Rebbe (and many other tzadikim, see Piskei Teshuvot ibid) would turn towards the left when turning around (Siddur Rabeinu HaZaken im Tziyunim, page 710). This is based on the opinion that when one turns around to one’s left, it is considered that one is going towards his right. (See Tzemach Tzedek Chidushim al HaShas Yoma, chapter 5.)  

Bo’i Kallah Times Three – Right, Left, and Center

According to the Arizal the phrase Bo’i Kallah should be repeated three times. The third time should be said quietly as it represents a mystical level that cannot be revealed fully (see below). For the third time one should say Bo’i Kallah Shabbat Malketa, Come, my Bride, the Shabbat Queen. One should bow to the right when saying it the first time, to the left when saying it the second time, and straight ahead when saying it the third time. 

The Talmud, which says that Rabbi Yannai would say it twice, was referring only  to the number of times that he said it audibly. 

The Significance of Three

The Ben Ish Chai (in the Ben Yehoyadah on Shabbat and Bava Batra) gives various interpretations for the three repetitions of Bo’i Kallah and why the third time is said quietly:

  • The Three Meals

The three repetitions represent the three meals of Shabbat, the third meal being the loftiest. This is why we do not make Kiddush at the third meal as it represents a level of sanctity that descends from above which we cannot reach on our own.

  • Three Levels of the Soul

These repetitions represent the three levels of the soul called Nefesh (life force), Ru’ach (spirit), and Neshama (soul). The third level (Neshama) is from a hidden realm (Binah – Divine Knowledge) that cannot be fully revealed.

  • Wisdom, Knowledge, and Understanding

In addition the three repetitions represent the three Divine Attributes of Chochma, Binah and Da’at (Wisdom, Knowledge and Understanding). The Attribute of Da’at is sometimes not counted as one of the Sefirot which is why the third time is said silently.

  • Thought, Speech, and Action

These represent accepting the Shabbat in one’s thoughts, in their speech and in their actions. The third time is said quietly as it represents thought which is internal.

May we merit to internalize and appreciate the holiness of Shabbat!

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach and a Chodesh Tov!

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