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What's the significance of the Havdalah ceremony?

What's the significance of the Havdalah ceremony?

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Question:

What's the significance of the havdalah ceremony every Saturday night?

Answer:

We all hate goodbyes. As the famous saying goes, "Where is the 'good' in 'goodbye'?"

True, we should consider ourselves privileged to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard. But even so, every parting is heartbreaking. Absence from whom we love is a subtle form of death. How does one ease the changeover from verve and vitality to dullness and lifelessness?

But that last bear hug is different than its predecessorsSo, we throw extravagant farewell parties and heap lavish gifts. For the final touch, we wait at the terminal, stick one foot into the "no entry without ticket" section and plant another wet smooch and bear hug, and bestow our prolonged last goodbye. And then we look out and wave endlessly until nary a shadow can be seen.

Now, how does that help? Were there no gifts, kisses and hugs exchanged before? Will that which is distant become near now? Will the size of the globe shrink to reduce the many miles that separate between you?

But that last bear hug is different than its predecessors. Whereas till now the cuddles and hugs assisted in cementing the relationship, the final embrace takes it one step further. It is an avowal and affirmation that we are close even though we are far; we'll be together even whilst apart. We are parting only to meet again. A union where geography plays no role; it surpasses the boundaries of physical space.

This new dimension of love saturates our entire being. We taste it, feel it and say it. We kiss, hug, say goodbye and party away, allowing every one of our senses to be inundated with our newly acquired relationship.


Goodbye Shabbat. We will miss you. We need a ritual to take you with us even as you are gone. Havdalah is not about separation, as its name seemingly implies; the name of the game is really unification. In the words of the kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Cordovero: "a separation which contains an attachment and union."

Havdalah is like a privacy curtain. In contrast to a wooden shutter which obscures all light, a sheer curtain is made from translucent fabric and allows the light into the home. With sheer fabrics, people from within get an outside view but passersby are prevented from peeking into the home. Havdalah too dims the Shabbat light and adjusts it, allowing the Shabbat light into the week. Now, the weekdays can gaze at Shabbat and enjoy its holy view all week long.

Havdalah is not about separation, as its name seemingly impliesTo carry Shabbat into the week, we reach deep into the core of our soul, developing a relationship with Shabbat that can exist outside of Shabbat. We throw a farewell party, also known as "Melava Malka," put our foot in the door and go for a final embrace. We hold on tight to Shabbat ensuring that it will stay with us all week long. Holding on just a little bit longer until it permeates every fiber of our being.

A goodbye kiss, hug and a wave. Every one of our senses needs to be inculcated with the Shabbat spirit. We take the wine into our mouths, touch and smell the spices, gaze and wave at the flickering flames and listen or verbalize the special Havdalah goodbye blessings.

No wonder it takes a minute to say hello and forever to say goodbye.

See you next week.

Rabbi Yossi Braun lectures on Talmud, Jewish law and Chassidism in Sydney, Australia.
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Lisa Providence, RI October 6, 2014

Significance of Havdalah Havdalah is a beautiful ceremony, and I took part in it myself.

You're simply saying goodbye to Shabbat. Reply

Anonymous Charlotte, NC USA June 27, 2011

Havdalah I say the blessings on Havdalah but don't know where to find the written word. Now I can explain this to my college instructor and class students. Reply

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