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What is Havdalah?

A beautiful ceremony marks the end of Shabbat on Saturday evening. This ending ritual is called Havdalah, which means separation or distinction in Hebrew. Just as candles, wine and challah are blessed to begin Shabbat, a braided candle, wine and spices mark the end of Shabbat. This ritual emphasizes the difference between holy time and regular time by engaging all five of our senses. It’s a lovely way to say goodbye to Shabbat and the special time you have spent with family and friends. Even if you haven’t spent the day celebrating Shabbat, Havdalah is a lovely time to gather family and friends together before you move into the week of errands, chores and work.

The Havdalah ritual consists of four blessings. Shabbat officially ends when you can see three stars in the night sky. In order to watch the light fade from the sky, turn off your lights. You may wish to hold your Havdalah ritual by the fading light shining through your windows. You will need a braided candle, a full cup of wine and a container of fragrant spices.

Braided candles can be purchased at Jewish bookstores where you will find many variations, from two candles twisted together to multiple, multicolored braids. In a pinch, you can hold two Shabbat candles together or even two matches.

Wine is a symbol of the sweetness of Shabbat. The full glass of wine that we use symbolizes our wish for the blessings of Shabbat to overflow into the coming week.

We are thought to have a second soul on Shabbat that leaves us when Shabbat ends. The sweet smell of the spices reduces our sadness at the departure of Shabbat. There is only one rule about the fragrant spices: that there should be more than one. You may use cloves and cinnamon from your baking cupboard or any other sweet smelling herbs, flowers or fragrant fruit. It is easy to make your own spice container or use any open dish or container. If you insert whole cloves into an orange, you will have a “spice box”. You may also purchase elegant silver or pottery versions to hold your spices.

The Guide to Shabbat and Havdalah for Interfaith Families is available as a PDF and our booklet Shabbat: What to Expect in the Synagogue, Shabbat Made Easy, and Havdalah Made Easy are available for download.

Return to the Guide to Shabbat and Havdalah for Interfaith Families Resource Guide.


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Author: 18Doors