Kabbalat Shabbat, quite literally, is the process by which we greet Shabbat. Coming from a week of tests, tensions, and troubles, it's rather hard to jump right into Shabbat. This section of prayer attempts to do just that, to ease us into the coming spirit of Shabbat.
The classic image conjured up of prayer is old men sitting in a musty synagogue, pews of prayerbooks and silk yarmalkahs. The same prayers, day in and day out. But Kabbalat Shabbat is nothing like that, a world of prayer of its own.
The setting was Tzfat, Israel, in the early 1600's. Sensing something different about the auspicious time leading up to Shabbat, the resident kabbalists started something radically new - they went out to the fields. Gone were the buildings, the inner city pressures, and the crowds; it was just them, their God and the shared gift - Shabbat. So they went out to greet the Shabbat, with their souls bursting with song and their songs full of soul. Gone was the structure, the mumbling, the rote prayers - this was singing, shaking, dancing, hoping, and dreaming. Our Kabbalat Shabbat is modeled after that, and while nowadays we often neglect to go out to the fields, we do our best to recreate that unique and memorable atmosphere.