DOVE TALES ON SHABBAT
Whilst many of the Zemirot (Shabbat-table songs) were composed to be sung throughout the year, others were written with a particular Shabbat in mind.
A classic example is the song composed by the great medieval Spanish poet, Judah Halevi (1075-1141), to be sung, especially, on this Shabbat. It is called: Yonah Matzah Vo Mano’ach – “the dove found rest on it (the Shabbat.)”
For some reason, the song is excluded from the selection of Zemirot in the green siddur, but is found in all other popular collections.
The poem draws on the passages in the parsha where Noah sends out a dove on three occasions to see if the floodwaters have subsided. The first time the dove returns not having found rest. The second time the dove returns with an olive branch in its beak. The third time it does not return at all, presumably having found rest.
In the refrain of the poem, Judah Halevi asserts that the dove found rest on Shabbat:
Yonah Matzah Vo Mano’ach – “the dove found rest on it (the Shabbat.)”
But then, the poem switches:
Vesham Yanuchu Yegi’ei Cho’ach ¬– “and there, the weary ones will rest.”
At first glance, the two halves of the couplet seem to clash: “The dove found rest on it, and there, the weary ones will rest.” How can we compare a time (on it) and a place (and there)?
The answer lies in the significance of Shabbat in Jewish teaching. It is described as Me’ein Olam Haba – “a foretaste of the world-to-come,” or an anticipation of the Garden of Eden. Judah Halevi draws on a Midrash that the dove has flown to the Garden of Eden and found rest there on Shabbat. The Shabbat is simultaneously a time and a location. Senator Joe Lieberman in his book, The Gift of Rest, describes experiencing the beauty of Shabbat as if entering another country, which he and his family call Shabbatland.
In the Song of Songs, the Jewish people are compared to the dove. Whatever troubles and challenges we have during the week, Shabbat is the time, when, like the dove, we find rest. When we observe and celebrate Shabbat, we sample a piece of paradise in both time and space. With the stresses of covid impacting on our lives, the Shabbat Manoach or rest, is all the more sweet.