Havdalah is Hebrew
for “separation” and refers to the verbal declaration made at the end of
Shabbat or a Jewish holiday, in which the holy day is separated from the
mundane period that follows. Since Jewish days begin and end with nightfall, havdalah may be said only once darkness
has fallen on Saturday night. Calculate that in advance for any spot in the
What Is It?
Havdalah is a
multisensory experience that includes fire, spices and wine. Here is the
procedure in brief:
● Grasping a cup brimming with kosher grape juice or wine, the
leader recites a series of nine joyful quotes from the Hebrew Bible. The hagafen blessing, which is always said before
drinking wine, is then recited, and everyone responds with “Amen.”
● The reader then says another short blessing, which is again
followed by “Amen.” Everyone then takes a good whiff of aromatic herbs, oils or
● After the next blessing, everyone responds with “Amen” and draws
their fingers near the flame so that they can see the candle’s light reflecting
on their fingernails.
The reader recites a
slightly longer blessing, which is followed by a final “Amen,” and then sits
down to drink the wine.
You can read the full blow-by-blow procedure (and text) here.
If you’ll be participating in havdalah for the first time, check out our
Why Do We Say Havdalah
“Remember the Shabbat day to make it holy,” reads the text
of the fourth of the Ten Commandments. Our sages
understand this to be an instruction to verbally declare Shabbat’s holiness
when it arrives and (possibly also) when it departs. On Friday evening, we
sanctified Shabbat with the kiddush;
now, as we take leave of it after a night and day of Divine rest, we once again
pronounce the holiness of the day over a cup of wine.
Paradoxically, this act of separation is what connects
Shabbat with the rest of the week. When the boundaries between the holy and the
ordinary are blurred, the holy is no longer holy and the ordinary is left with
nothing to uplift it. By defining the separation of Shabbat from the workday
week, the relationship between the two is also established—a relationship in
which Shabbat imparts its transcendent vision to the rest of the week, and the
six days of daily life feed into, and are sublimated within, the sanctity of
The basic havdalah formula
was composed by the Men of the Great Assembly in the fourth
century BCE. At that time, the people were very poor, and not everyone could
afford a cup of wine for havdalah.
They therefore instituted the havdalah prayer
as part of the prayers. When the Jews became more financially stable, they
formulated the havdalah prayer over
wine. Then, as the economy continued to fluctuate, it was decided to keep both
forms of havdalah (more on that
below), and this is how things have remained until this day.
It is customary to fill the havdalah
cup until it overflows its rim. This is symbolic of the overflowing cup of
blessings we wish for in the upcoming week.
We smell aromatic spices during havdalah to uplift our spirits. Shabbat was a special time during
which we were gifted with an “added soul.” Now that this extra measure of vitality and
spirituality departs from us, we rejuvenate ourselves by smelling spices—smell
being the most spiritual of the five senses.
The Midrash tells us that Adam and Eve first
discovered, benefited from, and thanked G‑d for fire upon the close
of the first Shabbat. For us, too, it is the first night of the week and
the time for us to thank G‑d for the gift of fire, without which our nights would
be dark, gloomy and cold. We use a braided candle with multiple wicks (or two
little candles held together), to represent the multiple types and uses of fire
that we enjoy. You can read why we specifically gaze at the fire reflected on
our nails here.
The havdalah we
make over wine is actually the second havdalah
we make after Shabbat concludes. The first havdalah is in the form of a paragraph, beginning with the words “Ata chonantanu,” that is inserted into
the Amidah (Silent Prayer) said after the conclusion of Shabbat.
Once night has fallen and this first havdalah has been said, activities that were forbidden on Shabbat
(such as lighting the havdalah candle)
may be performed. If you did not say Ata Chonantanu, you should at least say
the words, “Blessed is He who divides between holy and profane,” before
lighting the havdalah candle or doing
any other non-Shabbat activity.
Havdalah Around the Year
Just like Shabbat is ushered out with havdalah, so are the holidays. The actual havdalah text is the same. However, the post-holiday havdalah does not include blessings for
spices or fire. This special havdalah is
said when holidays are followed by weekdays or chol hamoed (quasi holidays), but not when they are followed by a
second day of holiday or by Shabbat.
(post-Shabbat and post-holiday) havdalah is
recited in the Sukkah (and the blessing of Lesheiv Basukah is added). On Passover,
it is the custom that even the post-Shabbat havdalah
be made without aromatic spices (because of a concern that the spices may
When saying havdalah after
we use a fire (or a flame that was kindled from a fire) that was kindled before
the onset of the holy day.
When Shabbat is followed by a holiday,
the post-Shabbat havdalah is rolled
into the holiday kiddush. This unique
formulation of blessings is known as YaKNeHaZ,
a mnemonic that lays out the order of the blessings:
Yayin: the blessing over wine
Kiddush: the blessing sanctifying
Neir: the blessing over the candle
(We do not use a braided candle. Instead we gaze at the holiday candles that
were lit prior to the meal.)
Havdalah: the actual havdalah blessing
Zeman: the Shehechiyanu blessing
thanking G‑d for the joyous milestone