Rabbi Wein.com The Voice of Jewish History

Rabbi Wein’s Weekly Blog
 Printer Friendly


 At the conclusion of the Sabbath the rabbis ordained an additional short service to mark the end of the holy Sabbath and the beginning of the weekday. I have always been emotionally affected by this service. It is the genius of Judaism to be able to differentiate between the holy and the mundane, between what is special and unique, and what is essentially ordinary and usual. In fact, it was always the ability of Judaism and the Jewish people to draw distinct lines between the sacred and the profane, between being a holy nation and just another minority people on the face of the planet.

It is reported that when the great Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Lublin visited the United States in the 1920s and then returned to Europe, when asked what his opinion of American Jews was, he profoundly stated: “They know how to make kiddush, but they do not know how to make havdalah.
By this, he correctly foretold how assimilation and Americanization would lead to a demographic disaster and the loss of Jewish identity amongst American Jews in the future. We have all unfortunately lived to see that making kiddush is insufficient to guarantee Jewish continuity. Rather, it is the ability to recognize and make havdalah that is the key to a Jewish future and Jewish generations.
Retaining Jewish identity always requires the ability to draw lines of differentiation between Jewish values, knowledge, and practice, and those of general society, its ideals and milieu. That has always been the key point in understanding the miracle of the survival of the Jewish people throughout the ages.
The havdalah service itself consist of four blessings. One is over a cup of wine or other special beverage. The second is regarding the fragrance of spices, flowers, or other plants. The third is over a two wicked flame and finally, the fourth blessing is the one that differentiates between the Sabbath and weekdays. The blessing over the wine is a traditional way to introduce any service of importance: as the sanctification of the Sabbath itself, the holidays, a wedding ceremony, circumcision, or the redemption of the firstborn son.
In the ancient world, and in our world as well, wine occupies a place of honor and special significance. It is, perhaps, the oldest agricultural product that humans created – certainly from the time of Noah – that has always been valued. By making a blessing on wine we are indicating that the service itself is one of importance. It is not to be treated lightly or in an offhand fashion. The Torah always emphasizes that what can be treated as mundane and everyday can really be unique and important, and deserving of honor and special treatment.
The end of the Sabbath and the beginning of the workweek is such a special time. It moves us from one realm of spirit and behavior to another. To help us realize this, it is the blessing over the wine that alerts us to this change by impressing upon us the importance of the occasion, and the significance of the service itself.
The blessing over spices was enacted because when the holy Sabbath departs from us, our soul skips a beat, so to speak. The spices serve to strengthen our soul, just as smelling salts serve to strengthen our bodies when we feel inexplicably weak. Spice boxes have long been the province of Jewish artistry and creativity. There are literally thousands of different types of spice boxes that Jews have used for this service over the centuries. It is the fragrance that reminds us, once again. of the sweet serenity of the Sabbath day itself, and that in another six days there will be another Sabbath. The fragrance of the Sabbath past lingers with us and supports us during our workday week, and during our more mundane activities. It also lends a sense of drama and importance to the occasion.
Finally, the last blessing is the one that emphasizes the differences that exist in our world, as it marks the separation between light and dark, between sacred and ordinary, and between the Jewish people and the rest of humanity. By recognizing these differences, one gains the appreciation of the necessity to separate the seventh day of the week from the other six and reinforces the message of the Sabbath even as it departs from us.
Shabbat shalom
Berel Wein


Subscribe to our blog via email or RSS to get more posts like this one.