To meet my deadline, this column was written a few days before a big event in the community – the Shabbat that enveloped Ottawa on October 24-25, culminating with a communal Havdalah celebration.
Congratulations to everyone who worked hard to make this happen on short notice, and kudos to the many religious and service institutions that came together in common partnership for this event.
It is great for the community to come together. It is even greater for the community to be together. So, this was written with a great sense of anticipation, as well as appreciation.
A word about Havdallah: the word Havdalah actually means separation. Ouch. Here we are, getting together for separation? Does that make sense?
What is Havdalah about anyway? If I told you that Havdalah is Kiddush, your reflexive reaction of disbelief would be understandable, but after the reflex, that is exactly what Havdalah is – Kiddush.
Kiddush is the sanctification statement, the ushering in of the Shabbat. Even though the seventh day, by definition, is Shabbat, nevertheless, we are obliged to actively embrace the Shabbat by welcoming it via the Kiddush.
However, everything sacred is sacred at both ends. If a day is sacred, then the sanctity has a beginning point and an end point. So, we welcome the Shabbat and its magical sanctity with the Kiddush. We bid farewell to the day with a farewell, a Havdalah, literally a Kiddush at the other end.
Included in the Havdalah is the ubiquitous cup of wine or grape juice, signifying the fullness of life. Added to it are two blessings, one over spices, to enhance our diminished spirit at the conclusion of the spiritually uplifting Shabbat experience.
The other added ingredient is a multi-wicked flame over which a blessing is recited. Interesting reasons are suggested for this, the most simple being that, by igniting the flame, we signify Shabbat has concluded. We can therefore use the flame and do other materially creative things that were proscribed on Shabbat.
We conclude the Havdalah with the traditional blessedness of God, and reference to the separation of the holy from the – well, depends on how you translate the word – hol. The exact Hebrew is HaMavdil bayn Kodesh l’hol (Who separates the holy from the “profane”).
That is a weird translation. Hol is certainly not profane, but that bad translation has found its way into many siddur texts. The best translation of Hol is “ordinary.” We invoke God’s blessing as the Delineator of the Sacred from the ordinary.
We oscillate between the ordinary and the extraordinary, or sacred. Shabbat is the time for the sacred, a time removed from ordinary pursuits and singularly focused on the sacred: the sacred day itself, the sacred relationships we cherish and ennoble, and the sacred texts that define us.
Even as we say farewell to the Shabbat, we realize we will be welcoming Shabbat again in just six days. As such, the six ordinary days are book-ended by the Shabbat, as if to remind us to let the sanctity of the day spill over into the ordinary days, wherein we embrace with renewed vigour the fullness of our responsibilities, some more mundane than others, but all of them necessary.
So, Havdalah is less separation and, more accurately, delineation – specifically delineation of the day in which we are inspired from the days into which we carry that inspiration.
May we all be inspired to continue community building.