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The Lecha Dodi Dance: Bava Kama Daf 32

Many shuls have adopted the practice of dancing at the conclusion of Lecha Dodi on Friday night. Some wonder where this newfangled practice came from, ascribing its origins to alternative Kabbalat Shabbat services. However, far from being a new minhag, many great Chassidic rebbes famously danced during Lecha Dodi, including the Rimanover and the Sanzer Rebbes.

And Rav Yaakov Emden narrates how his father would dance as he greeted the Shabbos queen, even when such ecstasy earned the mockery of certain community members. In his famous no-holds-barred style, he describes one fellow who would break out into a jig whenever he saw his father, the Chacham Zvi. Let’s just say, that fellow’s dancing fixation ended up becoming an enduring obsession. The poor man who couldn’t countenance the rabbi’s prayerful dancing spent the remainder of his days in one never-ending performance.

What’s the basis for the Lecha Dodi hora?

***

Today’s daf discusses one who caused damage as he was running through the street. Is that considered a regular mode of movement? How about on Erev Shabbos?

מַתְנִי’ שְׁנַיִם שֶׁהָיוּ מְהַלְּכִין בִּרְשׁוּת הָרַבִּים אֶחָד רָץ וְאֶחָד מְהַלֵּךְ אוֹ שֶׁהָיוּ שְׁנֵיהֶם רָצִין וְהִזִּיקוּ זֶה אֶת זֶה שְׁנֵיהֶם פְּטוּרִין: גְּמָ’ מַתְנִיתִין דְּלָא כְּאִיסִי בֶּן יְהוּדָה דְּתַנְיָא אִיסִי בֶּן יְהוּדָה אוֹמֵר רָץ חַיָּיב מִפְּנֵי שֶׁהוּא מְשׁוּנֶּה וּמוֹדֶה אִיסִי בְּעֶרֶב שַׁבָּת בֵּין הַשְּׁמָשׁוֹת שֶׁהוּא פָּטוּר מִפְּנֵי שֶׁרֶץ בִּרְשׁוּת מַאי בִּרְשׁוּת אִיכָּא כִּדְרַבִּי חֲנִינָא דְּאָמַר רַבִּי חֲנִינָא

בּוֹאוּ וְנֵצֵא לִקְרַאת כַּלָּה מַלְכְּתָא וְאָמְרִי לַהּ לִקְרַאת שַׁבָּת כַּלָּה מַלְכְּתָא רַבִּי יַנַּאי מִתְעַטֵּף וְקָאֵי וְאָמַר בּוֹאִי כַלָּה בּוֹאִי כַלָּה

רבינו חננאל

כר’ חנינא דהוה מרקד ואזיל ואמר בואו ונצא לקרא

Mishnah: Two people who were walking in the public domain, or one who was running and another one who was walking, or who were both running, and they damaged one another, both are exempt. Gemara: The Mishnah does not accord with the opinion of Isi ben Yehuda. For it is taught: Isi ben Yehuda says that one who runs in the public domain and causes damage is liable to pay for any damage he causes because his behavior is unusual. But Isi concedes that one running during twilight on the eve of Shabbos is exempt, because he is running with permission. What permission is there? It is like Rabbi Chanina. For Rabbi Chanina would say (at twilight on Erev Shabbos), “Come and let us go out to greet the bride, the queen.” And some say, “to greet Shabbos, the bride, the queen.” Rabbi Yannai would get dressed up and stand there saying, “Come, bride; come, bride.”

Rabbeinu Chananel: Like Rabbi Chanina who would get up to dance, saying, “Come and let us go out to greet the bride.”

***

The Arizal understood from our Gemara that Rabbi Chanina would literally go outside to greet the Shabbos queen. Otherwise, why would the fellow running through the street be exempt for causing damage? And so, each Friday at twilight, he would take his students out to the field to welcome the Shabbos.

The Rama”k questions this literal interpretation of “going out” to greet Shabbos. Shabbos, he says, doesn’t come from the field. Shabbos descends from heaven. That may be why Rabbeinu Chananel teaches that Rabbi Chanina would dance, suggesting that his irregular physical movement could lead to bumping into someone or something else whilst in a state of ecstasy and jubilation. So, indeed, it appears that the dancing ritual is not a new trend. It’s an ancient minhag.

What then is the meaning of “going out” that Rabbi Chanina would say? It doesn’t mean leaving one’s physical space, but rather one’s place in the dimension of time, explains the Rama”k. In contrast with the festivals whose date was determined in Temple times by the high court, we assume that Hashem controls when Shabbos arrives. That’s only true if we wait for Shabbos to come in. However, if we go out of our week to greet Shabbos ahead of time, we can usher the queen in early, thus transforming the mundane weekday into Shabbos time!

When you bring Shabbos in early, there’s ample time to sing and dance your way through Lecha Dodi. You’re not knocking anyone over in the street, because you’re way ahead of schedule. And you’re not making your true Shabbos queen, your eishes chayil, wait for dinner while you frolic in shul, because you’ve helped get Shabbos ready in advance, leaving ample time for ecstatic and jubilant prayer. That’s the meaning of Rabbi Yannai getting dressed up and standing there. He wouldn’t have to run at all, because he was dressed in his Shabbos best ready to greet the royal Shabbos, long before the official candle-lighting time.

Go ahead, dance the night away. But always remember who your real Shabbos queen is. Make sure you do your part in the house to prepare way ahead of time. So that you can bring in Shabbos early with song and dance and return home with time to spare. May your home radiate simcha and shalom every single Shabbos!


Rabbi Dr. Daniel Friedman is the author of The Transformative Daf book series. He battles Christian antisemitism and teaches International Relations at Touro’s Lander colleges.

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