One of our newer additions to our family routine has been the weekly Havdallah ceremony. It was a tradition that my husband and I had talked about integrating for years but Shabbats were "busy" days of rest for us newlyweds and we always found ourselves dragging home and into bed after a long Shabbat out, completely forgetting, and just trying to get a bit a "rest" before the new week of work began. Learning the importance of these Feasts, Holy Days and Traditions is a process. My Husband and I have not always enjoyed the blessing of them all either. But as we incorporate each Biblical festivity we realize the joy and beauty of each both as it relates to Yeshua and as it blesses us personally. So what is Havdallah, how do we celebrate it, and where is Yeshua in it?
What is Havdallah?
Havdallah is a short set of prayers or blessings that commemorate the end of the Holy Sanctified day of rest, and the beginning of the work week where normal life resumes. It is the moment to thank God for setting aside the Holy and separating it from the Mundane or common. There is a phrase that says "blessed are you oh Lord our God who separates the holy from the mundane", but the word for mundane is the same as the word for "sand" in the sandbox or seashore. To me its that God set aside this special time for us to fellowship with Him and each other, to rest fully and differently than the common everyday activities that consume our time and energy through the week. It's like finding that special Conch shell on an endless beach of white sand. It's Wilson on a shipwrecked Island.
As far as I know there is no specific mention of Havdallah in scriptures although I like to think that when the New Testament speaks of the early church getting together to break bread on the first day of the week, that likely it is referring to this little tradition which closes out the Shabbat and officially begins the work week at sunset on Saturday night which is according to the Biblical and Jewish Time-table actually "the first day of the week". Remember, Biblical days begin the night before and the early believers would have been marching off to work on Sunday mornings with the rest of the world rather than to a local church building.
Interestingly, it was a Havdallah service held after the Saturday night service of our church where I grew up that introduced me to the Jewish roots of Christianity. For a season, my parents accommodating me as a preteen who disliked youth group and we attended Saturday evening services. At the same time a Jewish gentlemen in the church felt a burden to facilitate the Havdallah service after. We saw the sign outside a classroom as we walked to the parking lot and decided to check it out. I don’t remember much, but these weekly gatherings with just him and out family became a bright spot for me to look forward to something, and each week blew my mind at all the details of the feasts and God’s plan to reveal Yeshua as the world’s Savior, first to the Jew and then to the nations. (Romans 1:16 )
Again as a young adult I would attend a monthly secular Havdallah services at a reform synagogue, but it was motivated as a social gathering rather than as a significant act of worship. Now that we have reincorporated Havdallah personally into our family I appreciate the beauty of the words and ceremony. It’s become a treasured part of our week, and I tear up almost every time.
How do we Celebrate?
Sometimes I get envious that I didn't get to grow up learning all the jingles and prayers and songs, but at the same time, its like a continual treasure hunt of learning, and we get the opportunity to "reinvent" the traditions with our own family. One thing we have learned in our journey is there isn't really a "right" way to do it. Ashkenazi and Sefardi Jews recite the prayers similarly but with their own flare, as do west coast vs east coast American Jews. Don't idolize a method, and get pretentious that one way is more right than another. This is about worshipping our Creator and offering thanksgiving to Him.
In order to fully enjoy the Havdallah ceremony you will need to collect 5 items:
a ceramic or glass plate with a lip
a small cup
grape juice or wine (we water ours down)
a braided candle or 2 votive candles
a container of fragrant spices (cinnamon & cloves and you can add cardamon, anise and anything else fragrant.
We are still working on memorizing the blessings and we are very thankful for technology which provides great resources to guide us along. This is our favorite video to follow along with. Our son prefers this animated version, but we find it rushes through the blessings and ceremony too quickly. There are some other great Havdallah activities and resources found here at the PJ Library.
Honestly, we don’t count the number of stars in the sky. Usually, Saturday night (motzeh -exit- shabbat) is our weekly family movie night. Depending on the weather and when we watch our movie, whether in the evening or afternoon, we will do the Havdallah ceremony before or after. In general, though, we do like to wait until the sun has dipped below the horizon and wait until dark just to psychologically extend our Shabbat rest just a little longer. Below, at the end of this post, is the Hebrew, Transliteration and English translation so you can pray and follow along.
To set the mood of closing Shabbat we dim as many lights as possible so that when we light the Havdallah candle it will shine brightly in the dark. (We are to be a light of hope to a dying and dark world). As we strike the match, this is the first act of "work" for the new week. To bring Light and Joy of God's light into our week.
We set the cup on the plate, with the candle and the spices. We pour the juice into the cup until it overflows into the plate. We like to dilute with water because we don't like to waste juice or wine. You can choose to dilute or not. And if you forgot to buy juice one week, plop a grape into the cup and fill it with water. (I might have done this a few times). Light the candles and begin the blessings.
As you recite each blessing, you want to bring attention to the element. Remember, God gave us 5 senses for learning and building memories. Havdallah is no different in using sight, sound, speech, touch, taste and smell.
For example, with the blessing over the juice you pass around the cup and allow everyone to take a sip and taste the sweetness of the Fruit of the Vine--a symbol of joy and God's salvation. Ahem. looks a lot like communion which celebrates the blood covenant of Yeshua's Salvation.
For the blessing of the Spices, make sure the spices are opened if they are in a sealed off container, and let everyone smell them. Our lives as believers are called a pleasant aroma to the Lord 2 Corinthians 2:15 .
For the Blessing over the Light, we put our hands up against the light and see how the light dances on our fingers and how the shadows change as we move our hands. We remember how we as believers are called to Walk in the Light and not in the darkness. 1 John 1:7
As you recite the beginning blessings and closing blessings, we thank God for the provision of HIS SON as our cup of Salvation. That Yeshua drank our cup of Wrath for us and died in our place, and He has set us apart, sanctified us as Holy in His sight. For God no longer sees our sins, but sees His Holy Son in our stead. Galatians 2:20