אתקינו סעודתא, a Kabbalistic zemer in Aramaic from the Arizal, which is a few hundred years old, is widely sung these days at Shabbos seudos, even in some non Chassidic places. Especially at סעודה שלישית. How many people understand it is another matter.
It may be less well known that there are those who specifically have refrained from, or opposed such a practice.
It is hard for people to abstain when a group is singing something, with a lively tune, especially in our culture that puts such value on being part of a tzibbur and going along with the group. But people should know that there are differences of opinion about this practice.
What if your minhog is not to sing it? What if your father didn’t? Which is the case I found myself in. I felt that it was not my minhog, but didn’t fully understand why (beyond perhaps a vague feeling that ‘we don’t get into that heavy Kabbalistic stuff’, at least not in public). And then some could say, hey, your father didn’t sing it, but was he opposed to it, or maybe he just didn’t grow up with it? Is abstaining from something a minhog davka (specifically) not to do it, or just a neutral stance, no minhog on the matter either way, which would not be in opposition to someone adopting it if he wishes?
Recently, while glancing at a Torah journal by the name of צפונות, from ארץ ישראל in תשמ”ט, א, לד-ה, I noticed a piece there with a תשובה (responsum) from the מהר”ם שיק, senior talmid of the חתם סופר, who was asked if it should be said.
The מהר”ם שיק says that he doesn’t say it and neither did the חתם סופר. The reason he gives is that we are not on that level, just as it is brought down in Shulchan Aruch (שו”ע או”ח סימן ג, הלכה א) that we nowadays do not say התכבדו מכובדים before entering the בית הכסא, so kal vachomer this שיר, which is even holier.
I asked רב בנימין שלמה המבורגר שליט”א about it and he furnished me with additional information on the matter, as follows.
The Chasam Sofer’s son, Rav Shimon Sofer, the מכתב סופר, reported that the Chasam Sofer did not say the zemiros of the Arizal אסדר לסעודתא, אזמר בשבחין, ובני היכלא because “עס איסט צו פיעל ארויסגעזאגט” it expresses too much openly of matters that should be more hidden (brought in באר מרים introduction to מכתב סופר). Esoteric, Kabbalistic manners are not for every person. One should be on a high level, a holy person to get involved with such things.
מהר”ם א”ש, the famous talmid of the Chasam Sofer and Rav of Ungvar, didn’t say it either, as brought down here, a little less than halfway down the page, in the paragraph starting קודם סעודת צהרים, where it states לא מלאו לבו לומר האתקינו סעודתא ולומר דא היא סעודתא.
The בן איש חי brings (בן איש חי, שנה ב’, פרשת חיי שרה, סעיף יג) that even among Sepharadic mekubbalim there were those that refrained from saying it due to פחד. And he concludes by saying that ‘we are not נוהג to say it at all‘!. And he was a great מקובל!
Western European Sepharadim, in London and Amsterdam, also didn’t say it, as reported in sefer כתר שם טוב of רב שם טוב גאגין, חלק א’ עמוד רא
So quite a line up of gedolim there who didn’t say it, for various reasons. So there are definite grounds for a practice/מנהג to refrain. And if you refrain from it for the reasons mentioned by the above גדולי עולם, I dare say that you are definitely מקבל שכר על הפרישה (are rewarded for refraining).