To me, havdalah is the most captivating ceremony in the Jewish religion. It is simple yet beautiful. If you’ve never took part a havdalah ceremony, I urge you to read on and discover it. If you have, I hope you will gain one or two more insights from this next passage.
The Jewish tradition constantly invites you to make formal distinctions between the holy and the ordinary. This is done by rituals that symbolise separation. You are probably thinking this sound familiar – you are right! In the passages devoted to sabbath and sabbath candles, I described the blessings recited over the candles and wine. They welcome in the sabbath peace, distinguishing it from the bustle of everyday activity. In this manner, it is only natural to end sabbath by separating it from the work week about to begin.
The word havdalah, which is the name of the ceremony, comes from a Hebrew idiom that means distinction and separation. It describes the exact meaning of the ceremony: announcing the ending of the holy day and the beginning of the week. The ritual contains four simple blessings, during which we use all of our senses. By performing it, you make sacred the separation that could so easily pass unnoticed. Do you want to know how it is done
You begin with the sweet wine, to remind yourself of the sweetness of sabbath. Shabbat is welcomed with the wine sipped during the kiddush blessing. Its ending is mark with another cup of wine. In this way a symbolic connection is made between the beginning and end of the holy day.
As a blessing is said, a spice box is passed around the room. Each family member breathes in the sweet scent of the spices representing the sweet moments of sabbath. I have a tip for those of you who have no spice box or spices: instead you can use an orange with cloves poked into its skin!
According to Jewish belief, every sabbath you gain an additional soul – a sabbath soul. As the sabbath departs, you must let your second soul go, until the next Sabbath. Naturally, you might want to hold on to your extra soul for as long as possible. And by breathing in the smell of the sweet spices, you entice it to remain with you for just a few seconds more.
The third blessing is said over Fire. The fire is symbolized by a braided candle. It is believed that fire was one of the things that God left uncreated when the first Sabbath set in. The story is told, that after this Sabbath ended, God endowed mankind with divine wisdom. Adam and Eve then took two stones and produced fire by grinding them together. We celebrate this creation by lighting a fire at the end of every sabbath.
The havdalah candle must have at least three wicks. When reciting the blessing the light is referred to in plural: “borei me’orei ha-esh” which means God who creates the lights of fire. The braided candle produces special light that is stronger than the light the same number of wicks would produce by burning separately. Thus, the wicks of the candle represent the diversity of the Jewish people, intertwined to display unity and resulting strength
The service is concluded with a final blessing that extinguishes the flame of the havdalah candle in the wine. Candles are not typically extinguished by wine. But in this case, using wine to put out the flame is significant to the ending of sabbath and the promise of a sweet new week to come. This blessing goes like this:
“Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe,
who separates between the sacred and the profane,
light between darkness, the seventh day from the six days of labor. Blessed is the Lord, who separates between the sacred and the profane”.
To me, the moments of this ceremony are an island in time. Sometimes while watching the dancing flame I feel my thoughts drift away. Drifting to the past or the future or sometimes not sailing anywhere at all… I just peacefully enjoy myself.
By displaying and using your havdalah set, you will be reminded to distinguish your dark moments from your moments filled with light. You will be reminded that endings are just as important as beginnings. After all, endings are the new beginnings themselves…