Havdalah means to differentiate, to distinguish. The entire ceremony is to distinguish between the Shabbat that we have just experienced and the week that we are about to enter, both as an existence in time and as a feeling of existence.
Three blessings are said:
First on the wine, again a symbol of joy. Then on the spices, whose fragrance we inhale to comfort our soul at the loss of Shabbat. And finally, on the flame, which symbolizes light and darkness and the ability to see the difference in a very deep way.
The greatest tool we have for appreciating anything is the ability to distinguish and differentiate. When we see things as rare and unique, they stand out as special, and somehow have their own place in the world. Our challenge is to discern and see the minute differences that exist in the world in order to appreciate their rare and unique qualities and thus take pleasure in their existence.
In the Havdalah ceremony, we set a braided candle aflame and hold up our fingers to see the light and shadows dancing upon them. Shabbat is over. We mark the ending with Havdalah and recognize the beginning of a week. But we also mark the difference in how we will live the week. Shabbat is a rare and unique gift. Appreciating its beauty and understanding the depths of its wonder sometimes means seeing it in contrast to the rest of the week. And Shabbat is a different plane. When it ends, it is not just that the clock has ticked away; it is that the level that we have enjoyed has also come to an end.
On Saturday evening, after
Shabbat, following Havdalah, a
farewell banquet is prepared for a most important guest, the Shabbat Queen.
Just as one must honor Shabbat at its entry, so must one honor it at its
departure? This is done by partaking of a post-Shabbat meal, called Melave Malka and
celebrating with song and dance. This custom originated with King David, who
knew he was destined to die on Shabbat. After every Shabbat, he
celebrated his survival with an elaborate feast.
The concept of celebrating
at a Melave Malka is
similar to that of the spices of Havdalah. It allows the aroma and spirit of Shabbat to extend beyond its official
end. Some people begin their Melave Malka by lighting candles off of the Havdalah candle, in the hope that the spirit of Shabbat
will linger in their homes.
This month we have two opportunities to participate in a Havdalah ceremony sponsored by the congregation. The first is at the home of Richard and Marci Herman on February 4 when I will lead a Havdalah service followed by a tour of the Hermans’ fine Judaica collection. Bring along your own Judaica to share. Remember space is limited and reservations are required. The second will be as part of a Conservative Community Melave Malka party which we are hosting on February 11. All the Conservative synagogues in the area are invited. The new B’nai Moshe Family Band will participate with me in Havdalah. We will be led in Israeli Dancing by Uri Segal and entertained by the Klezmaniacs Klezmer band and some sing-a-long songs led by me. Of course, food will be served. I hope to see you there.