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The Significance of the Havdalah and the Havdalah Candles

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Fire is one of nature’s greatest mysteries and this is an acknowledged fact in Judaism, which considers it one of nature’s basic elements. In the Kabbalah, the image of the colorful flame of a candle is considered to be a metaphor for the relation between God and man, the flame being a unique entity, however, changing its aspect all the time. The flame as a symbol has been incorporated in many Jewish celebrations, one of which is the Havdalah.

Havdalah means “separation” in Hebrew and it is a ceremony marking the ending of the Shabbat and the beginning of the new week. The ritual on Havdalah consists of lighting a special candle having several wicks, called a “Havdalah candle”, the blessing of a wine or grape juice cup and the smelling of specifically designated spices. The ending of Shabbat takes place on Saturday evening, after three stars have appeared on the night sky. However, in some communities, it is common to delay the Havdalah, in an attempt to prolong the Shabbat.

It is customary for everyone participating to the Havdalah to smell the spices, which are called “besamim” in Hebrew and are kept in specifically designed containers. The nature of the spices used on the Havdalah differs according to the community – in Sephardi and Mizrahi communities it is common to use branches of aromatic spices, while in the Ashkenazi communities it is common to use cloves. The Havdalah candle used for this occasion is one with several wicks and usually braided. In the absence of this special Havdalah candle, one can use instead two candles and have their flames united when reciting the blessing. During the reciting of the blessing, those present hold hands in front of the candle and look at the reflections of the light in their fingernails.

After the Havdalah has ended, the remaining wine is put into a small plate and used to extinguish the candle in it, by dipping the flame directly in the wine, or by dipping two fingers in the wine and using them to touch the eyes and the pockets by those present. Being used for a mitzvah, the wine is considered to be a good sign for the welfare of those present. At the end of the Havdalah ceremony, the people present bless each other using the words “Shavua’ tov” or “Gute vokh”.

The Havdalah ceremony can also be recited at the conclusion of several Jewish holidays such as the Rosh Hashanah, the Yom Kippur, the Simchat Torah, Passover and the Shavuot. In these cases, the Havdalah candle is not used, but only the blessing is said.

It is safe to state that the significance of the Havdalah is to have the person use all the five senses in a religious communion with God. Thus, the Havdalah requires one to use the taste, in the drinking of the wine, the smell, in the smelling of the spices, the sight, in the process of looking at the reflection of the flame, the feeling of the emanated heat and the hearing, when listening to the blessing.

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