Rabbi’s Review – June 2021

Havdalah Transition

Rabbi Cassi Kail


For the past fifteen months, community members have come together on Zoom every Saturday night to mark the end of Shabbat. With a short but meaningful ceremony called Havdalah. It is one of my favorite Jewish rituals, which delights the senses as well as the soul. While Havdalah comes every Saturday evening, our community will soon begin cutting down on communal Havdalah programs. This will enable us to focus more energy on reopening. Our temple will be offering Havdalah services on Zoom on June 5 and 19th. On the remaining Saturdays, we encourage everyone to participate in this powerful ritual by watching past Havdalah services (available on our YouTube website and on Facebook), or by gathering with friends and family members for a thoughtful ceremony of your own.

The word Havdalah means separation or division, so named because it marks a distinction between Shabbat and the rest of the week. There is a reason that the week begins with the setting of the sun and the emergence of three stars in the sky. The Talmud teaches that at moments of transition, we are most deeply connected to God. With Havdalah we bid farewell to Shabbat—a day which Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel called “a palace in time.” Whether we mark Shabbat by attending services, spending time with those we love, reading, spending time in nature, or something else that replenishes our soul, it may be difficult to bid this sacred time farewell.

The Havdalah ritual gives us the opportunity take some of the gifts of Shabbat with us into a new week. Through the symbolism of multi-wick candles, wine or grape juice, and fragrant spices, we experience this transition with all five of our senses. We hear the sounds of the prayers, and feel the touch of the candle, Kiddush cup, spice box. We see the light of the candle, made brighter by each additional wick of which it is composed, symbolizing the way in which our community is made stronger by each individual within it. We taste the wine, a symbol of the joy and sanctity of Shabbat. We smell the spices as we aim to hold onto the sweetness of Shabbat. Shabbat only comes to an end when we hear the crackle of the candle’s flame as we put it out in our remaining wine. With our whole bodies we transition from one reality to another.

Some say that Havdalah marks the distinction between the holy and the mundane, but I believe it signifies the difference between the holy and the not yet holy. Havdalah is bittersweet, filled with both the sadness of Shabbat ending, and the promise of a week filled with possibilities. Each Havdalah symbol is a reminder that we can transform even mundane light, wine, and spices in symbols of hope, joy and sweetness.

After a year of weekly meetings on Zoom, cutting down on our communal Havdalah services may also feel bittersweet. We will miss the opportunity to spend time with one another each Saturday. At the same time, if gives birth to new opportunities of which we are only just beginning to imagine. May this moment of transition be an opportunity to transform the not yet holy into the exceedingly holy, and let us celebrate just how far we’ve come.