Friday night worship begins with the part of the service called Kabbalat Shabbat. This first part of the service consists of prayers written with words from the Psalms and medieval poetry. A group of Jewish mystics, the Kabbalists, who lived in Safed (also known as Tzfat) in northern Israel in the 16th century, created the Kabbalat Shabbat service. They would speak of Shabbat as both a queen and a bride. And so, right before sunset, these rabbis would dress in white and declare, “Come, let us go out to greet the Sabbath Queen!”
A poem we still sing in synagogue, called Lecha Dodi (“Come My Beloved”), was composed by Rabbi Solomon HaLevi Alkabetz. The first line is:
L’chah dodi li’krat kallah, p’nei Shabbat n’ka’b’lah…
Beloved, come to meet the bride; beloved, come to greet Shabbat
(Mishkan T’filah: A Reform Siddur‘s translation.)
The last verse of Lecha Dodi has similar imagery to the start of a wedding, as guests eagerly await the groom and bride. In some synagogues, congregants will rise and turn to face the entrance of the synagogue during the last verse; people imagine they are greeting the Sabbath bride by bowing to the left and the right.
Here, Rodef Shalom, a Reform congregation in Pittsburgh, PA, sings Lecha Dodi to one of the many popular tunes you might hear in a synagogue: