Yedid Nefesh

Rabbi Philip Weintraub
Congregation B’nai Israel
Kabbalat Shabbat
(Note: I never read exactly what I write, so this is only a draft of my remarks.This one was definitely better in person.  You'll have to join me this Friday night for the full remarks on the first Psalm of Kabbalat Shabbat!)

Erev tov, good evening. It is a pleasure to be here with you and to spend Shabbat with my beautiful bride. I am looking forward to having my entire family here. These last few weeks of transition have been incredible. We look forward to continuing to get to know people, to connect more names with faces, and hearing the stories that have made this community the blessing that it is.
Original Manuscript in the JTS collection
Tonight I would like to look at the opening of Kabbalat Shabbat,at one of the beautiful songs we frequently begin with-Yedid Nefesh. (I hope that over the next few weeks I’ll continue looking at the liturgy of Kabbalat Shabbat and inspire us to enjoy and feel moved by the incredible words and melodies of this beautiful service). Written by Eleazar Azikri in the 16th century, there are various Sephardic, Ashkenazic, and Hasidic melodies, yet virtually all share an evocative almost haunting quality. They transform us. They are an incredible transition from the week to the sacred time of Shabbat.
In addition to the melodies, the words themselves are beautiful. Speaking of deep, powerful love, they remind us why we are here tonight. We come together to celebrate the gift of Shabbat, the gift of time, of love, of peace, of hope, of life.  (Full text and translation available here:

Yedid Nefesh has four verses, each building upon the previous.
יְדִיד נֶפֶשׁ, אָב הָרַחְמָן 
מְשךְ עַבְדָךְ אֶל רְצונָךְ 
יָרוּץ עַבְדָךְ כְמו אַיָל 
יִשְתַחֲוֶה מוּל הֲדָרָךְ 
כִּי יֶעְרַב לוֹ יְדִידוּתָךְ 
מִנּפֶת צוּף וְכָל טָעַם 
The first calls upon God as a parent, asking God to draw us close, so that we might be able to truly appreciate God’s love, that we can see the strength of our own love.

הָדוּר, נָאֶה, זִיו הָעולָם 
נַפְשִי חולַת אַהֲבָתָך
אָנָא אֵל נָא, רְפָא נָא לָהּ 
בְּהַרְאות לָהּ נעַם זִיוָךְ 
אָז תִתְחֵזֵּק וְתִתְרַפֵּא 
וְהָיְתָה לָךְ שִפְחַת עולָם
The second calls us love-sick, saying that our souls are overwhelmed and broken and can only be healed by God.

וָתִיק, יֶהְמוּ רַחֲמֶיךָ 
וְחוּס נָא עַל בֵּן אוֹהֲבָךְ 
כִּי זֶה כַּמֶה נִכְסף נִכְסַף 
לִרְאות בְּתִפְאֶרֶת עֻזָךְ 
אָנָא אֵלִי, מַחְמָד לִבִי 
חוּסה נָא, וְאַל תִּתְעַלָם 
The third requests compassion, demands that God reveal Godself to us. This seems especially relevant this week, as we see the intimacy of Moses and God tomorrow and hear one reflection of the Covenant--the Aseret HaDibrot, the Ten Commandments.

הִגָלֵה נָא וּפְרשׂ, חָבִיב 
עָלַי אֶת סֻכַת שְלומֶךְ 
תָּאִיר אֶרֶץ מִכְּבוֹדָךְ 
נָגִילָה וְנִשְׂמְחָה בָךְ 
מַהֵר אָהוּב, כִּי בָא מועֵד 
וְחָנֵנִי כִּימֵי עולָם
Finally the fourth is most blunt, “Please my beloved, reveal Yourself. Spread the sukkah of your love over me. May the whole world be illuminated with glory; then shall we be glad and rejoice with You. My lover--come quickly, for the time has come--have compassion for me as in days of old.

Yedid Nefesh is a song of yearning. It is a song of desire. It is a song that demands attention. It grabs us, takes us away from all the came before and say BE HERE NOW. As we sang this beautiful melody tonight, I pray that it does its job on both a Divine and human level. From a human perspective, may it awaken us to the gift of Shabbat, the joy of Shabbat and bring us closer to the Holy One. Speaking of the Divine, may we find ourselves drawn near. As we continue to study and pray together, may we find the beauty of Shabbat and its beautiful liturgy together. Shabbat shalom!