Part of the series 'Practical Mishneh Torah,' following the 3 chapter-a-day Rambam daily study cycle of Maimonides' Mishneh Torah.

When asked to describe what havdalah accomplishes, the most obvious response would be that it serves as a demarcation between the holy and the mundane—action that differentiates Shabbat (or a festival) from weekday, allowing us to perform activities previously forbidden.1

But while it is technically true that havdalah allows us to do weekday activities, this is not necessarily its primary purpose. At least according to Maimonides, havdalah is actually included in the Biblical commandment to sanctify Shabbat:

It is a positive commandment from the Torah to sanctify the Sabbath day with a verbal statement, as [implied by Exodus 20:8]: “Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify i”" - i.e., remember it with [words of] praise [that reflect its] holiness.

This remembrance must be made at the Sabbath’s entrance and at its departure: at the [day’s] entrance with the kiddush that sanctifies the day, and at its departure with havdalah.2

He makes clear that both kiddush and havdalah are derived from the verse, “Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it.” The obvious question is, what does havdalah have to do with sanctifying the day? Havdalah marks the conclusion of what was sanctified, why would we sanctify Shabbat at its conclusion?

A little more elaboration is found in Maimonides’ Sefer Hamitzvot,3 where he writes that sanctifying Shabbat means marking “the holiness and significance of the day and its detachment from the days before and after it.” Meaning that the sanctification of havdalah is one of separation; Shabbat is holy and removed from the mundane that precedes and follows it.

We can now comprehend that according to Maimonides (at least as found in Sefer Hamitzvot) the definition of the Biblical obligation to sanctify Shabbat includes havdalah, because havdalah too sanctifies Shabbat.

This point, however,—that havdalah sanctifies by way of separation—is not mentioned in Mishneh Torah. Additionally the wording in Sefer Hamitzvot equates the remembrance of kiddush to that of havdalah, whereas in Mishneh Torah (as quoted above) Maimonides begins with the obligation to sanctify Shabbat with kiddush and only mentions havdalah subsequently. If it is true that according to Maimonides kiddush and havdalah are really two sides of the same coin, surely they should be mentioned in tandem, as is done in Sefer Hamitzvot?

How We Sanctify Shabbat

In order to make sense of the textual nuances that appear in Mishneh Torah, we must understand the command to “Remember the Shabbat and sanctify it.” Crucially, this does not merely mean that we must “remember” Shabbat but also we must “sanctify” Shabbat. This can be understood in three ways.

  1. To sanctify Shabbat through speech when Shabbat begins. I.e the whole purpose of this commandment is to mark Shabbat and make it holy at its commencement. According to this view, havdalah has nothing whatsoever to do with the sanctification. The obligation is satisfied by reciting kiddush, nothing else is involved.
  2. Remember the Shabbat day and sanctify it by reciting kiddush and havdalah. Kiddush to sanctify the day, and havdalah to demarcate this day as separate and removed from the weekday. With this understanding, kiddush and havdalah are varying aspects of the same core idea (in line with the Sefer Hamitzvot quoted above).
  3. The obligation is to simply mention the sanctity of Shabbat with speech, in whatever form that takes. This means in essence that the sanctification that takes place during kiddush and the sanctification of havdalah are exactly the same, there is absolutely no distinction.

With this in mind, it becomes clear that in Mishneh Torah Maimonides is carefully laying out his understanding of what havdalah accomplishes:

He begins by stating that “it is a positive commandment from the Torah to sanctify the Sabbath day with a verbal statement,” a reference to the third definition above. On the most basic level, we are commanded to sanctify Shabbat with words. Although this is done through the words of kiddush, the language is not integral. He continues, “This remembrance must be made at the Sabbath’s entrance and at its departure,” a reference to the specific time kiddush and havdalah are respectively recited.

Finally, he concludes with what must be said “at the [day’s] entrance with the kiddush that sanctifies the day, and at its departure with havdalah.” All three of these details are part of the process of this mitzvah, but at its most basic level the mitzvah is simply to sanctify Shabbat with words.4

According to the way Maimonides describes this mitzvah in Sefer Hamitzvot, however, the basic element already includes the differentiation of kiddush and havdalah (along the lines of the second approach quoted above), which is why at the outset he differentiates between kiddush and havdalah.5

Practical Application

Not only must we ‘keep’ Shabbat by desisting from physical labor and sanctifying it though kiddush, we must enable Shabbat to permeate the weekday, drawing the holiness of Shabbat into the week. Even the mundane should be separate—holy. As Maimonides concludes Hlichot Shabbat: “Whoever observes the Sabbath according to law and honors it and delights in it according to his ability will receive reward in this world in addition to the reward that is reserved for the world to come, as [Isaiah 58:14]58 states: ‘You will then delight in G‑d. I will cause you to ride on the high places of the earth, and I will nourish you with the heritage of Jacob your ancestor; thus has the mouth of G‑d spoken.’”

This article is based on a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, published in Likutei Sichot, vol 31, p 99.