Shalom Alechem is a liturgical poem traditionally sung on Shabbat eve prior to the recital of Kiddush. It consists of a welcome, a request for a blessing, and a farewell to the angels.This blog provides several mystical explanations as to the meaning of this enchanting interaction with celestial beings.
THE SHALOM ALECHEM LITURGICAL POEM:
Peace unto you, ministering angels, messengers of the Most High, of the supreme King of Kings, the Holy One blessed be He.
May your coming be in peace, angels of peace, messengers of the Most High, of the supreme King of Kings, the Holy One blessed be He.
Bless me with your peace, angels of peace, messengers of the Most High, of the supreme King of Kings, the Holy One blessed be He.
May your departure be in peace, angels of peace, messengers of the Most High, of the supreme King of Kings, the Holy One blessed be He.
The Four Worlds
Note: The teachings in this chapter are highly technical, intended primarily for people already acquainted with Kabbalah concepts.
Kabbalah teaches that our vast universe is actually the lowest of four realms or worlds (‘Olamot’ in Hebrew). Our world is called Asiyah – Action, above it is the world of Yetzirah – Formation, still higher is Beriyah – Creation, and the highest is Atzilut - Nearness. The upper three worlds are levels which exist entirely within the spiritual realm, while the lowest, which we inhabit, consists of both spiritual and physical aspects. Though we reside in the lowest world of Asiyah, we are strongly influenced by events in the higher worlds. In fact, it is through the medium of the higher worlds that G-d governs our world.
Furthermore, each world contains within it Ten Sefirot, Divine attributes, through which G-d governs over that specific world. If G-d wants to channel blessing, or Shefa, spiritual flow, into our world, it must normally pass through all four worlds and the sets of Ten Sefirot within each of them. In each set ofTen Sefirot the Shefa begins within Keter, the highest Sefirah within a world, and proceeds to flow through three Sefirotic triads. These are: Chochmah, Binah, Da’at – intellectual Sefirot, referred to by the acronym ChaBaD, followed by Chessed, Gevurah, Tiferet – emotional Sefirot, referred to by the acronym ChaGaT, and finally, Netzach, Hod, Yesod – interactive Sefirot, referred to by the acronym NeHY (pronounced Nehi). See diagram below:
1. Intellectual – ChaBaD:
Chochmah - Wisdom Bina – Understanding
Da’at – Knowledge
Da’at – Knowledge
2. Emotional – ChaGaT:
Chessed - Kindness Gevurah - Strength
Tiferet - Beauty
Tiferet - Beauty
3. Interactive - (NeHY):
Netzach - Victory Hod - Splendour
Yesod - Foundation
Yesod - Foundation
After having passed through the three triads, the Shefa enters Malchut, the lowest Sefirah. Malchut then serves as a link between a higher and lower world; relative to the world above it Malchut is the lowest Sefirah, but relative to the world beneath it, it is the highest. In the language of Kabbalah: ‘Malchut of a higher world becomes Keter of a lower world’. Thus, once Malchut has received Shefa from the upper Sefirot, it channels the shefa into the next world beneath it.
This chapter will demonstrate how the four stanzas of Shalom Alechem follow a flow of Divine influence, Shefa, through the four worlds, ending in our world of Asiyah.
The first stanza of Shalom Alechem refers to the highest world of Atzilut:
The ministering angels mentioned in the stanza are a reference to Chochmah and Binah of Atzilut which act as servants to the highest Sefirah of Keter, referred to as Elyon – ‘Most High’. Because Keter shines more strongly on Shabbat, it brings peace to all the Sefirot beneath it; hence we state ‘Peace unto you ministering angels’. And who causes the Keter of the world of Atzilut to shine more strongly on Shabbat? The ‘king of all Kings’ – a reference to Malchut of ‘Ein Sof ’- the infinite, the Sefirah of Malchut that links the Infinite light of G-d with the four worlds, and which, at its lower end actually becomes the Keter of Atzilut. This level is referred to as ‘King of all Kings’ because the Sefirah of Malchut in each world has influence over the world or few worlds beneath it, while Malchut of Ein Sof has influence over all the worlds and lower levels of Malchut.
We repeat the stanza three times to allude to the flow of shefa from Keter through ChaBaD, ChaGaT, and NeHY of Atzilut. At this point the divine Shefa is located within Malchut of Atzilut, which receives sheaf from NeHY of Atzilut.
The second stanza of Shalom Alechem alludes to the world of Beriyah:
Malchut of Atzilut, after having received the shefa from the Sefirot above it, becomes Keter of Beriyah, and bestows the shefa to the Sefirot within Beriyah. The ‘angels of the most high’ are a reference to Chochmah and Binah of Beriyah which serve Keter of Beriyah. Again we remember the ultimate source of the shefa, ‘the king of all Kings’ – Malchut of Ein Sof. We repeat the stanza three times to allude to the descent of the Shefa through ChaBaD, ChaGaT, and NeHY of Beriyah. The Shefa is now located within Malchut of Beriyah which receives from NehY of Beriyah.
The third stanza of Shalom Alechem alludes to the world of Yetzirah:
Malchut of Beriyah has now become Keter of Yetzirah and is pouring its shefa into the Sefirot of Yetzirah. The ‘angels of the most high’ are a reference to Chochmah and Binah of Yetzirah which serve Keter of Yetzirah. Again we remember the source of the blessing, the ‘King of all Kings’ – Malchut of Ein Sof. The stanza is repeated three times to allude to the descent of the Shefa via ChaBaD, ChaGaT, and NeHY of Yetzirah. The shefa is now contained within Malchut of Yetzirah.
The final stanza of Shalom Alechem alludes to the world of Asiyah:
Malchut of Yetzirah has become Keter of Asiyah and is pouring its shefa into Asiyah. The ‘angels of the most high’ refer to Chochmah and Binah of Asiyah which serve Keter of Asiyah. Again we recall the ultimate source of the shefa, Malchut of Ein Sof, and we repeat the stanza three times to allude to the flow of the shefa via ChaBaD, ChaGaT, and NeHY, of Asiyah.
The reason why we state, “May your departure be in peace” at the level of Asiyah is because in this lowest world negative forces run rampant and can gain strength from divine shefa. (This process is termed ‘Yenikat Hachitzonim’ – ‘nurturing of the external forces’ in the language of Kabbalah). We thus bless the shefa that it should return to the higher worlds in peace - without any damage resulting from its presence in this world.
Based upon Siddur Im Pirush Hamaharid, p.68