• Havdalah set is used to mark the end of Shabbat and holidays. | Photo: Canva

Havdalah – Signs of the Faith

Rev. Kees de Vreugd - 1 September 2022

In this series, ‘Signs of Faith’, objects that express Jewish faith are explained and discussed.

There is a distinction between light and darkness, between holy and profane, between Israel and the nations between the seventh and sixth working days. That is an essential value in Judaism, expressed in the Havdalah prayer. The Havdalah is a short ceremony at the close of the Shabbat and holidays, marking the distinction between the sanctified day and the transition to the new week or workday. This happens when it has become so dark that you can discern three stars in heaven. The lamps at home are not yet burning so that the light of the Havdalah candle can be seen better. So light and darkness have their places in the ceremony. The Hebrew word Havdalah means distinction.

The ceremony dates back to the early second temple period. According to Jewish tradition, the text of the blessing was formulated by the ‘Men of the Great Assembly’. They were the successors of Ezra the Scribe (Ezra 7:6). That would imply that this berachah is one of the oldest Judaism knows.

For the Havdalah at the end of the Shabbat, a cup of wine, a candle and a box of fragrant spices are used. The candle is braided in a special way and has three pits. Of course, the spices box (hadass) is beautifully designed, often in silver.

The ceremony opens with reciting verses from Isaiah 12:2-3: “See, God is my salvation…,” followed by a couple of other Bible verses. With words from Psalm 116: “I shall lift up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord” (verse 13), the blessing over the wine is introduced: “Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine.”

Finally, the blessing over the light follows. God is given thanks as the Creator of ‘the light of the fire’. Lighting fire is the principle of one of the categories of work that are forbidden on Shabbat. Everybody takes a smell of the spices, the candle is extinguished in a few drops of wine, and everybody wishes each other a good week. The Shabbat is bidden farewell, but with the scent of the spices, the Shabbat is yet taken into the new week.

About the Author