Havdalah, or “separation” in Hebrew, is Shabbat’s closing ritual. In a simple multi-faceted ceremony, there are blessings over lights, spices, and wine or grape juice, Havdalah is an uplifting way to end Shabbat and start the new week. The objects required for Havdalah include a braided candle, a box filled with spices, and a Kiddush cup holding wine or grape juice.
The Havdalah candle must have multiple wicks because the blessing itself is in the plural. The candle, or fire, represents the first work of the new week. The lighted candle symbolizes the light of Shabbat and the strands of the braid have been interpreted as the many types of Jews in the world. Even though they do not live in close proximity to each other, this ceremony brings them together as one. Another unique element of the ritual is having a mixture of spices like cloves and cinnamon on hand. The spices are thought to calm the soul as it prepares for the coming work week and the labor and the loss of the Sabbath. They symbolize the sweetness of Shabbat. The final element of Havdalah is the wine which is a symbol of joy. When the Kiddush cup is filled with wine or grape juice, some people will pour it until it spills over. The spilling over of the wine represents a good omen for a successful week. It is taken from the scripture Psalm 23:5 (KJV), “…my cup runneth over…”. There is also a special blessing which praises God for making different distinctions, particularly the distinction between the holy and the ordinary.
The Havdalah blessings are recited in Hebrew or English, either by one person or the entire group that has gathered. As each blessing is said, the appropriate item is made available to the group. The Kiddush cup is held up for all to see but it is not passed around yet. The spices are given to each person and they take a moment to breathe in the sweetness. Some say the smelling of the spices is similar to spiritual smelling salts. The candle is held high. Every person that is present puts their hand up into the candle’s light. They turn their hands over with palms in and bending their fingers.
Once the blessings are finished, each person can take a sip from the wine or grape juice. This sip will help in the spiritual renewal accomplished over Shabbat. Another custom during the ritual is to dip one’s fingers into the spilled wine and place a few drops on your eyelids or ears. By doing this, you are expecting to see and hear good things throughout the week. It is also customary to pour the remainder of the wine or juice into a nonflammable dish or basin in which the candle is then extinguished.
There are also some rules that should be followed during the Havdalah ceremony. From sunset Saturday until after Havdalah, one shouldn’t eat or drink. However, water is permitted as a means to quench your thirst. If someone forgets to make Havdalah on Saturday night, he or she has until Tuesday afternoon to do so. But, if an individual is making Havdalah on Sunday, Monday or Tuesday, the spices, and candle should be absent from the blessings. If an individual cannot obtain spices or a flame, he or she should recite Havdalah over wine or grape juice without the blessings over the missing items. A minimum of 1.6 ounces should be consumed from the Havdalah cup.