In Judaism, the concept of making distinctions and separations permeates many facets of religious life. We distinguish between holy time and mundane, or ordinary, time. We declare certain books to be holy and distinguish them in the way we study and treat them, from books which are mundane. We treat holy spaces with particular reverence. The Torah teaches that God created the world by making distinctions, first between light and darkness, next between water and empty space, finally between earth and water. We, too, make distinctions in our lives, and primary among them is the distinction between sacred time and ordinary time. To mark the beginning of sacred time, we light two candles and recite a berakhah (blessing) which praises God who commanded us to kindle the lights in celebration of the occasion. We mark the end of that sacred time period with a ceremony called Havdalah, which means "separation." It, too, begins with light, as we kindle a braided candle. The most common time to perform the ceremony of Havdalah is weekly at the end of Shabbat when three stars appear in the sky. Havdalah is also performed at the end of other festivals and holy days.

The primary symbols of Havdalah are the braided candle, kiddush cup containing wine, and spice box containing sweet-smelling spices. The lighted candle symbolizes the light of Shabbat and the strands of the braid have been interpreted as the many types of Jews in the world, all of whom are part of one unified people. The wine is, as always, a symbol of joy. We take one last sip of the joy of Shabbat as we bid the sabbath goodbye for another week. Similarly, the sweet-smelling spices symbolize the sweetness of Shabbat, whose pleasant aroma we breath in one last time that it might last us through the week to come until we can welcome Shabbat again. There is also a birchat havdalah which praises God for making distinctions, particularly the distinction between the holy and the mundane. The ceremony ends with singing Eliyahu HaNavi in the hopes that Elijah the Prophet will come to herald the messianic age when the world will become one long Shabbat.

For a copy of the Havdalah service, including Hebrew, transliterations, and translations, click here. You are welcome to print out the service to use in your home.

Two PDF versions of the havdalah service are available here. For a large-print PDF version, with graphics but without transliterations (especially good for children learning the prayers), click here. For a two-page version with smaller print and graphics, click here.

Kiddush cup

Spice box

Havdalah candle

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