Havdalah: The Ritual

Havdalah is Hebrew for separation. In Jewish liturgy it refers to separating the sacred from the ordinary, the sacred being the Sabbath day and the ordinary being the other days of the week. It is one of the earliest blessings in Jewish tradition.

The Havdalah ceremony formally ends the Sabbath day when much secular activity is prohibited and ushers in the regular week when we are once again engaged in more worldly concerns.

The Biblical verses that begin the Havdalah Service

The service begins with a collection of Biblical verses that praise the heavens for being the source of many salvations. It also offers the hope that just as in the time of Queen Esther, the Book of Esther says, “The Jews were of light, joy, gladness, and preciousness” so, too, will it be with us. We then raise a cup of wine of salvation declaring, “I will lift this cup of salvations” which symbolizes the many salvations of the Jewish people, and I will call out to the Holy One.

Hinay, El yishu’ati evtach velo efchad, ki azi vezimrat Yah, Adonai, va’yehi li lishu’a.

 

Behold, YHWH Elohim is my savior, I will trust Him and not be afraid, for my strong faith and song of praise for Elohim will be my salvation.

Isaiah 12:2

 

U’she’avtem ma’yim besason, mima’a’yenay ha’yeshu’a.
You will draw water joyously from the wellsprings of salvation.
Isaiah 12:3

 

La’Adonai ha’yeshu’a, al amcha virchatecha, Selah.
Salvation is the Elohim’s; may Your blessing rest upon Your people, Selah.
Psalms 3:9

 

Adonai Tzeva’ot imanu, misgav lanu, Elohay Ya’akov, Selah.
Elohim of the heavenly armies is with us; the Lord of Ya’akov is a fortress protecting us, Selah.
Psalms 46:12

 

Adonai Tzeva’ot, ashray adam botay’ach bach
Elohim of the heavenly armies, happy is the individual who trusts You.
Psalms 84:13

 

Adonai hoshi’ah, hamelech ya’anaynu ve’yom kor’aynu.
Elohim, redeem us! The King will answer us on the day we call Him.
Psalms 20:10

 

La’yehudim ha’yetah orah vesimcha vesason vikar,
The Jews had light, happiness, joy and honor;
Esther 8:16

 

kayn te’hi’yeh lanu.
may we have the same.

Kos yeshu’ot esa u’veshaym Adonai Ekra.
I will raise the cup of salvation and call out in the name of the Elohim:
Psalms 116:13

The blessing over the wine
Wine was always considered special and it is a way that we signal that this ceremony has great significance. Just as we bring in the Sabbath with wine when we say “Kiddush” so, too, we leave the Sabbath with wine as well. The verse in Proverbs says, “Wine will gladden the hearts of humanity.”

Lift the cup of wine, say this blessing, but don’t drink from the cup. Put the cup down.

Baruch atah, YHWH Elohim, Adonai Elohaynu, melech ha’olam, boray pri hagafen.Blessed are You, YHWH Elohim, our Lord, King of the universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine.

The Blessing over spices
There is a Talmudic tradition that every Jew is given an extra soul on the Sabbath, and when the Sabbath is finished that extra soul is removed. The spices, according to some opinions, are savored to revive us from the loss of the extra soul.

Lift the spices, say this blessing and sniff the spices.

Baruch atah, YHWH Elohim, Adonai Elohaynu, melech ha’olam, boray minay vesamim.Blessed are You, YHWH ELOHIM, our Lord, King of the universe, Creator of the different spices.

The blessing over the torch
The Talmud stipulates that the Havdalah candle must have at least more than one wick and must be a torch. A bright fire is required which symbolizes the distinction between the upper and lower worlds. The illumination of the upper world is a world of light. Shabbat, which is a gateway to the spiritual world, is also a world of light. The days of the week are considered to be a part of the material world and is fueled by fire, hence the bright fire which brings us back to the mundane days of the week. It is customary to look at the back of one’s hand when reciting the blessing over fire to symbolize that now, we are dealing with the material world, the superficial world and not the inside of the hand which symbolizes the inside world that is hidden during the days of the week and only witnessed on the Sabbath.

Look at the candle, say the blessing, raise your hand to the light of the Havdalah candle, then curl your fingers over your palm and look at the light as it is reflected off your fingernails and then at the shadow cast by your fingers across your palm.

Baruch atah, YHWH Elohim, Adonai Elohaynu, melech ha’olam, boray me’oray ha’aysh.Blessed are You, YHWH Elohim, our Lord, King of the universe, Creator of the fire’s lights.

The Havdalah blessing
This blessing not only distinguishes between the Sabbath and the rest of the week, but uses this distinction to symbolize other important distinctions: The sacred and profane, and light and darkness. We live in a world of opposites. During this ceremony we are acutely aware of the tensions between those worlds and we acknowledge the pain of transition and the opportunity that both worlds offer.

Pick up the cup of wine and recite the following blessings.

Baruch atah, YHWH Elohim, Adonai Elohaynu melech ha’olam, hamavdilBlessed are You, YHWH Elohim, our Lord, King of the universe, who separates
bayn kodesh lechol
between the holy and the profane;
bayn or lechoshech
between the light and dark;
bayn Yisra’el la’amim
between Israel and the other nations;
bayn yom ha’shevi’i leshayshet yemay hama’aseh.
between the seventh day and the six days of the week.

Baruch atah,YHWH Elohim, hamavdil bayn kodesh lechol.
Blessed are You, God, who separates between the holy and the profane.

Now drink the cup of wine, leaving enough to use to extinguish the flame.