Most songs written for Shabbat (zmirot) focus on either God’s resting from creating the world on the seventh day or on the relationship of the Jewish people to Shabbat. The Sabbath song Yom Shabbaton certainly incorporates these two elements, but its chorus presents a unique association attributed to the Sabbath day. This zemer’s chorus describes an event that occurred in the times of Noah–far after creation and many centuries before there was a Jewish nation: “On it [the Sabbath] the dove found rest, there shall rest the exhausted ones.”

As interesting as it might be that the dove, who was first sent out from the ark on the 17th of Elul (today’s Hebrew date), finally found a place to rest on the Sabbath day, why did Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi (Spain 1075-1140, the presumed author) choose this as a topic worthy of singing about on the Sabbath? Perhaps he was inspired by the poetic use of the dove as a metaphor for the Jewish people that appears in Song of Songs 2:14 (“Oh my dove”).

Genesis 8:8-9 describes how Noah “sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters were abated from off the face of the ground. But the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him to the ark…and he put forth his hand, and took her, and brought her to him into the ark.” Since the destruction of the Second Temple, the Jews have been like a dove, finding no viable resting place, exhausted from the travails of exile. When the Jewish people are most weary, however, God inevitably reaches out His hand to provide them with aid and comfort.

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