Singing, especially in community, is transformative. It awakens parts of ourselves that may have laid dormant all week long; it makes us feel connected to the people around us; it taps us into joy.
Shabbat is an excellent excuse to sing. In fact, Jewish tradition encourages us to bring special songs, or Zemirot, to the Shabbat dinner table. These songs elevate us away from the mundane work week, and into the holy space of Shabbat by connecting us to our bodies and the present moment through vibrational sounds.
Now you might be thinking: I am a terrible singer! (Just us?) Well, no one said you need to be Barbra Streisand (🙌) to enjoy singing. What you need is a bit of curiosity, a willingness to let go, and a desire to be expressive. Honestly, you don’t even need to be great at remembering lyrics. Shabbat tunes are meant to be sung from the heart, and sometimes that means you say a bunch of “ba-ba-bim-bim-bums,” or “la-la-las” as you join in the melody. This is a practice of merriment–no need to take it too seriously!
If you have never sung at a Shabbat dinner before, or, if you have found yourself surrounded by singers and never known what is going on, here is your chance to learn four popular Shabbat songs.
- Shalom Alechem: “Peace Be Upon You.” This song is usually sung right before dinner, right after candle lighting. Tradition tells us that on Shabbat, two angels come to stay with us. Shalom Alechem, is sung as a way to welcome in these angelic spirits with lyrics like: “May your coming be in peace,” “Bless me with peace,” and “May your departure be in peace.” If angles aren’t your thing, you can still love this tune! Another way to think of this song is that it is a way of bringing in the Shabbat spirit of harmony, well being and gratitude. It is the first song that helps the guests around your table pause from their conversations and join in a collective activity. Check out this link to learn the tune and lyrics at a slow tempo. And this link for a more upbeat version.
- Olam Chesed Yibaneh: “We will Build this World with Love”. As you sing this song, you may reflect on the loving relationships that you nurture or that nurture you. Or, perhaps you think about what changes you would like to make in this world, and how you can make those changes with a loving, compassionate heart.
- Elul Niggun: “A song of Elul”. Elul is the 12th month in the Hebrew calendar (usually around Aug/Sept); it is often seen as a month of transition and introspection. As you sing this song, perhaps you think about what transitions you have been through recently: what did you learn from those moments of evolution? What spiritual, emotional, intellectual growth occurred?
- Niggun Neshama: “A song of the spirit”. This song was composed by a famous rabbi and musician, Reb Shlomo Carlbach. It is generally sung in an upbeat tempo and inspires us to let go of our thoughts, to smile, perhaps even to dance or drum on the table. Allow this song to flow through you with the joyous energy of Shabbat!
There you have it! Four songs and four tastes of the Shabbat singing experience. Want more time to practice? Follow along with our Shabbat blessing recordings by Shira Kline.