Composition and audio © Alexander Massey 22 April 2013
Shalom Aleichem is a traditional Shabbat text that first appeared in the late 16th century as a song welcoming the angels. Shabbat celebrates the seventh day, the day when we rest, in the same way that God rested after 6 days of creating. (For the symbolism of 7 in Judaism, see below). In this setting, I have embedded this important number in the musical structure; each phrase is 7 bars long. Emphasis is given to the opening words of each of the four verses with a 3 bar motif, and the closing words “the holy one of blessing” are also given 3 bars. The middle words of each verse are given 2 bar phrases. The result is a ‘mirror’ design. For example, the melody of Shalom aleichem malachei hashareit malachei elyon is built from motifs of 3 bars, 2 bars and 2 bars (3-2-2); the second half of the verse is built from motifs of 2 bars, 2 bars and 3 bars (2-2-3). The same mirror pattern occurs in all the verses.
Most of us sing the words of Shalom Aleichem every Friday evening. How often do we pause to think seriously about its subject matter? What is an angel? I find it helpful to remember that malach, the word for angel (or messenger) is spelled mem-lamed-aleph-chet, and that this can be related to the word for king, melech, spelled mem-lamed-chet. A messenger-angel is an emissary of the king, in this case, God. The aleph, which is often seen as an abbreviated reference to God, is in the middle of the word malach. So an angel can be thought of as an extension or expression of God. At Shabbat, we can reflect on who or what in our week we can see as having been a ‘piece of God’ reaching through into our lives, into our awareness. We can look at the world with a Shabbat-consciousness, and see evidence of God. Perhaps these are the malachei, the messengers of God.
- Peace and welcome to you, Servants of God, Messengers of the most high, Ruler above all earthly rulers, The Holy One of blessing.
- Enter in peace …
- Bless me in peace …
- Go forth in peace …
Seven in Judaism
7 Noahide Laws First moral code
Shabbat 7 days in a week, Shabbat being the 7th day, when God rested; 7 Blessings in the Amidah at Shabbat; 7 people for a Shabbat Torah reading
Year 7 weeks from Passover to Shavuot; 7th year Sabbatical; 7 holidays (Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Chanukah, Purim, Pesach and Shavuot)
Ritual 7 days of Shiva (after a death); sheva brachot 7 blessings at wedding; 7 times the bride circles the groom; strap of tefillin circles the arm 7 times; 7 circles (hakafot) at Simchat Torah; 7 species of food at Sukkot; 7 blessings and shepherd visitors to the sukkah (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, David); 7 branches on the menorah (candlestick)