A selection for Shabbos Shira
Miri always enjoys the zemiros at the Shabbos table.
When she went away to camp, she expected that she would be
missing that part of her oneg Shabbos. After the
Shabbos meal had begun, one of the teachers started singing
one of the zemiros. Miri was pleasantly surprised to
find that not only was it the same tune her father sang every
Shabbos, but all of the girls also seemed to know it --
Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Chassidic -- they all joined in, singing
and harmonizing as if they had all been sitting at Miri's
table every Shabbos.
Most of the regular Shabbos zemiros date back at least
to the time of the Rishonim and early Acharonim. For example,
there are those who say that Tzur Mishelo was written
in the time of the tannoim. The Chasam Sofer wrote
that the Ibn Ezra had ruach hakodesh when he composed
Tsom'o nafshi. Other commentaries assert that all the
zemiros that have gained universal acceptance were
written with ruach hakodesh.
Though we enjoy the tunes and rhymes of the Shabbos
zemiros, their purpose is more than to give us
something to sing during the meals. Many of them are poetical
reviews of Shabbos laws [i.e.: uleshadech habonos, it
is permissible to arrange shidduchim!]. Others tell us
of the beauty and depth of the Shabbos day, the importance of
the meals, what they represent and what Shabbos represents as
the culmination of Creation.
The zemiros teach us to keep, enjoy and appreciate
The Shabbos meal is a time when the whole family gathers
together, with or without guests, and singing together can be
an important part of helping everyone learn to interact with
each other. When people sing and harmonize together, they
listen to themselves and listen to the other members of the
group and they try to integrate themselves into the group,
for the good of the group as a whole. Someone who just "does
his own thing" will usually ruin a choir.
Usually, during the Shabbos meal, someone gives a dvar
Torah on the parshas hashovua. However, it is also
a challenge to find a point to discuss about one of the
zemiros. There are some editions of the Shabbos
zemiros available that include translations and
For example, the Friday night zemer Kol Mekadesh
speaks about "delaying leaving Shabbos and hurrying to usher
it in." One of the commentaries points out that this seems to
be in the incorrect order since first we bring in the Shabbos
and then we leave it. He then offers four possible
explanations. The first is that perhaps it is poetic license.
The other three answers are much more complex and
It is a sobering and uplifting thought that if we would go
back hundreds of years through time to almost any community
in the world, we would be able to join in many of the Shabbos
zemiros and we might even know some of the tunes!