Saturday, June 20, 2009


Havdalah (Distinction) is the ritual (using wine, multi-wick candle, and spices) marking the end of the Shabbat (and holidays) and the beginning of the rest of the week. It acknowledges the distinction between the holy and normative or the sacred and profane in time.

Corresponds to the
Kiddush, which proclaims the holiness of Shabbat and festivals. Both are attributed to the Men of the Great Assembly, who functioned during and after the Persian period of Jewish history, about 500-300 before the common era.

The Havdalah, recited over wine, consists of four benedictions: over wine, spices, light, and the distinction between the sacred and the profane, between light and darkness, between Yisrael and the nations, between the seventh day and the six workdays.

In Talmudic literature, great importance is attached to the Havdalah: future salvation as well as material blessings are promised to those who recite the Havdalah over the wine cup.

"He who resides in Yisra'el, he who teaches his children Torah, and he who recites the Havdalah at the conclusion of the Shabbat will enter the Olam Habah (World to Come)" (Berakhot 33a).

Birkat Havdalah:

Baruch atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha-olam bore' peri ha-gafen
Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who creates the fruit of the vine.

Baruch atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha-olam bore' minei vesamim
Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who creates species of fragrance.

Baruch atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha-olam bore' m'orei ha-esh

Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who creates the illuminations of the fire.

Baruch atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha-olam ha-mavdil bein kodesh lechol bein or lechoshech bein Yisrael la-amim bein yom hashevi'i lesheshet yemei ha-ma'aseh Baruch atah Hashem ha-mavdil bein kodesh lechol.
Blessed are You, Hashem our G-d, King of the universe, Who separates between holy and secular, between light and darkness, between Yisrael and the nations, between the seventh day and the six days of labor. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who separates between holy and secular.

Havdalah is traditionally when three stars are visible in the sky, appoximately 20 minutes after nightfall.

Because they loath to lose their extra soul (neshamah yeteirah), many Chasidim put off the Havdalah ceremony as long as possible, sometimes until long past midnight. (There are even instances of those who extended the Shabbat until Wednesday, when they began preparing for the coming Shabbat!) Some interpret this 'second soul' as identified with the
Shabbat Queen, the Shechinah, who is welcomed every Shabbat.

Technically speaking, the arrival of the end of the Shabbat is defined by the ability to recognize three stars, as stated in Mishnah Brachot 1:1. It is at this precise time that a Mitnaged would say Havdalah, but many Chasidim ignored the stars and continued to study Torah for several more hours, unwilling to let go of the spirit of the Shabbat that they so loved.

The below story indicates this interpretation of the Law was frowned upon by the Mitnagedim. And according to Rabbinic lore, those punished in Gehenna are set free during the Shabbat, but then is forced to return to Gehenna promptly at the end of the Shabbat according to the interpretation that person espoused while living.

Three Stars

The holy Reb Shmelke lived next door to a mitnaged, a fierce opponent of the Chasidim, who understood the letter of the Law in the most rigid way. Therefore he performed Havdalah as soon as three stars appeared in the sky. Reb Shmelke, on the other hand, continued to observe the Shabbat far into the night. And this bothered his neighbor to no end.

This neighbor took it upon himself to save Reb Shmelke from this transgression. So as soon as three stars appeared, he would open his window and shout:
"Three stars! Time for Havdalah!" These shouts would disturb Reb Shmelke's reveries. Nonetheless, Reb Shmelke restrained himself and never said anything about it to his neighbor. Instead, he continued to savor the Shabbat for many hours after his neighbor had reminded him that the Shabbat was over.

Seeing that he had failed to convince Reb Shmelke to change his ways, the neighbor decided on a more drastic approach. As soon as the three stars appeared, he went outside, picked up some pebbles, and threw them through Reb Shemlke's window. One of those pebbles struck Reb Shmelke, tearing him from the arms of the Shabbat Queen. And Reb Shmelke not only felt the pain of his own loss, but knew as well that his neighbor had made a terrible mistake. And before many months had passed, the neighbor became sick and died.

Some months after that, when Reb Shmelke was sitting at the Shabbat table, about the time the three stars first appeared, he suddenly smiled mysteriously. And he mumbled the words
"From below they look above, from above, below." None of his Chasidim understood what he meant, but Reb Shmelke refused to tell them until the end of the Shabbat. Then he said: "The soul of our neighbor was sent to Gehenna for his sins, where he is punished all week long but spared on the Shabbat. But as soon as three stars appear, the angels drag him back to Gehenna. And all the way there he shouts, 'But Reb Shmelke is still celebrating the Shabbat!"

(Eastern Europe: 19th century. This story is attributed to Miriam of Mohilev, the sister of Reb Shmelke, who is said to have told it to Reb Abraham Yehoshua Heschel, the Apter Rebbe).


Siddur - Nusach Ashkenazi, p. 618-621
Gabriel's Place - Jewish Mystical Tales, The Three Stars, p. 227, Howard Schwartz
Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer - Havdalah, p. 169-171, Macy Nulman
Encyclopedia of Jewish Concepts - Havdalah, p. 153-154, Philip Birnbaum

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