Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

10 Shevat 5762 - January 23, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family
Shabbos Zemiros -- More Than Just Songs

by R' Zvi Zobin

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 Shabbos.

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 commentaries.

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 scholarly.

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!


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.