As the Shabbat Queen departs and darkness descends, the Havdalah ceremony fills us with hope and courage. Havdalah means “separation”—between light and dark, between the holy and the mundane.
Havdalah is a multi-sensory experience. If there is a group, one person recites while all participate and answer “Amen.” You’ll need: A prayerbook, cup, wine or grape juice, a candle (multi-wick, if available), and aromatic herbs (whole cloves are popular).
- Fill the cup to the rim. Lift it in your right hand (unless you are left-handed).
- Recite the preliminary verses. Pause when you reach “For the Jews there was light, happiness, joy and honor—so be it for us!” and allow everyone to say it in unison.
- Recite the Hagafen blessing on the wine.
- Put the cup down. Recite the blessing on the aromatic herbs. Give everyone a chance to take a whiff. Their fragrance is meant to revive and soothe the soul as the Shabbat departs.
- Recite the blessing on the candle. Everyone looks at his or her fingernails by the candle’s light. On the first Saturday night after creation, darkness engulfed the world for the first time. G‑d gave Adam the wisdom to rub together two stones and harness fire—for which we now offer thanks.
- Lift the cup again, and recite the concluding Havdalah blessing.
- Sit down and drink at least 1.5 ounces.
- Extinguish the candle by dipping it in the wine that overflowed onto the plate beneath the cup. Many dip a finger into this wine, and run the finger over the eyelids.
Once the sun has set on Saturday evening, we don’t eat or drink until after Havdalah. If you had begun a proper meal with bread before sunset, however, you may continue into the night. Any activity prohibited on the Shabbat is still prohibited until Havdalah, or until you say “Blessed be He who separates between the sacred and the mundane.” That’s included in the evening prayer, but can be said independently.
The fragrance of the besamim revives and soothes the soul as the Shabbat departs