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Light My Fire: How to Host Havdalah

Most secular Jews are at least vaguely familiar with the various blessings and observances of Shabbat, but unless you attended a Jewish camp or went on an Israel trip, you might not have experienced Havdalah. The mini-ceremony performed at the close of Shabbat (when you can count three stars in the sky on Saturday night), Havdalah means "separation" in Hebrew, and the ritual signifies separating the holy from the mundane. It's a simple and beautiful ceremony, and a pleasant way to start a Saturday night. Here's some handy info on Havdalah, along with the items you'll need to host your own private service.

  • Imbibe: First, you need something to drink. You can’t use water, but pretty much anything else will do. Ideally, get some kosher wine, but tea or coke or juice will work in a bind. Pour your beverage into a cup all the way to the rim. Some people pour enough so that the liquid overflows a little, to symbolize overflowing love and whatnot.
  • Inhale: You also need some fragrant spices, such as cloves. I just use the ground cinnamon from my spice drawer, but you can use a spice sachet, potpourri, or make your own aromatic blend. When you sing the blessing over the spices, pass them around so everyone can breathe them in.
  • Illuminate: Finally, you need a candle with more than one wick. If you don't have a traditional Havdalah candle, you can just hold two regular candles together, or you can buy one of the many fancy, braided options on the market. They last for ages since you only have them lit a few minutes every week. Everyone should hold out their hands to see the candlelight shed on them during the blessing over the fire. At the end of the ceremony, the candle is put out in the wine.

You can listen to a partial track of Debbie Friedman's Birchot Havdalah here. Havdalah prayers, transliterations, and translations can be found here.

Finally, there's one long blessing at the end:

Blessed are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe Who separates between sacred and secular between light and darkness, between Israel and the nations between the seventh day and the six days of labor Blessed are You, Lord, who separates between sacred and secular. (Amen)

For tips on how to conduct the ritual itself, see Jew FAQ’s helpful page, My Jewish Learning, or Hillel’s explanation. Finally, there are some weird but cool customs having to do with Havdalah. For example, if you’re an unmarried girl, you’re supposed to hold the candle at the height of the husband you’d like. Also, when you put the candle out in the wine at the end (after drinking from it), you can dip your fingers in (symbolizing holiness) and touch them to your temples (for intellectual strength), your heart (for love), and your pockets (for financial success).

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