November 21, 2009

Havdalah

Well, since I can't sleep and am up rather early this Shabbat morning, I thought I would respond to a reader's question about Havdalah. The rather simple ceremony of ending the Sabbath is full of symbolism and meaning for me.

Havdalah ending Sheminei Atzeret '09

If you are going to sanctify the Sabbath and attempt to keep it holy, you have to define the perimeters of the Sabbath. For us, that would be sunset to sunset, or Friday evening to Saturday evening for a weekly Sabbath. Since we begin the weekly rest with the lighting of candles and blessings, it is most fitting to end it in a similar fashion. Most are familiar with the twin traditional Sabbath candles, but the Havdalah candle is different. It is woven with multiple strands to make a much brighter flame; we read the blessings from it's light and thank G-d for His provision of the light of fire.

At sundown, we start the closing of Shabbat with a simple song,

Behold, G-d is my salvation,
I will trust and will not be afraid.
For the LORD my G-d is my strength and my song,
He also has become my salvation.

We bless the LORD for the wine, again mimicking the erev Shabbat prayers (the beginning of the Sabbath). Wine symbolizes joy and we are joyful for the Shabbat - thankful that we are blessed with a day of rest and community.

We then ask the children to pass around sweet smelling spices. We all take turns sniffing the spices; it is a physical reality of the sweet aroma of Sabbath in our lives and our desire to take that shalom into our week. The spices are usually held in a special container and may include cloves, cinnamon and other aromatic spices. During the passing, we enjoy singing songs of praise.

a traditional havdalah set, including
the special candle holder, kiddush cup and spice box

Another way to savor spices is with the ketoret, which is a wooden holder for each of the spices once used in the Temple as incense. We are commanded to never mix these scents except for Temple worship, so they are all separate. If you pass your nose over the little bottles in a sweeping motion, you can get a whiff of what it may have smelled like as you entered the Temple mount, perhaps while bringing your sacrifice or even to meet the 'People of the Way' in Solomon's Portico.

the ketoret contains balsam, clove, galbanum, frankincense, myrrh, cassia,
spikenard, saffron, costus, aromatic bark and cinnamon

After we have savored the sweet spices, it is time to bless the LORD and light the candle.

Blessed are You, Adonai our G-d, King of the Universe
Who divides between holy and profane;
between light and dark;
between Israel and the peoples;
between the seventh day and the six days of work.
Blessed are You, Adonai,
Who divides between holy and profane.

When the candle is burning, we traditionally raise our hands toward the flame and look at our fingernails, which reflect the fire’s light. Why? One explanation is simply the pleasure we receive by watching the flame’s reflection dancing on our fingers. Another is that the light reflected by our nails and the shadows cast by our fingers onto our palms represent the separation between light and darkness. The children also like to make shadow puppets on the ceiling...but that's not really tradition. *smile*

At this point, it is time to put out the candle, which we do by 'dunking' the flame into the wine. Traditional songs are sung wishing us all a good week. Then Shabbat is 'officially' over.

Shavuah Tov!

4 comments:

Mama Cache said...

Beautiful description, my friend.

Ari C'rona said...

I sure enjoyed reading that - thanks for the reminder of why we do what we do, my friend. :o)

Nitrocat said...

Thank you so much for the explanation! The symbolism, as well as the limits are so rich.

S

Mama Cache said...

Perfectly timed, don't you think? This post was in far more than the back of my mind this weekend. Thank you so much, again, for such concise and warm explanations. Very special.