Above: The symbols of the Havdalah service: wine, spice box, twisted candle. Havdalah means, separation. The Havdalah service is a brief ritual to bid good-bye to Shabbat and enter the new week.
(This essay originally appeared on the blog site of http://www.ReformJudaism.org)
Havdalah is not much fun when I am by myself, but I do it anyway.
Vickie was in San Francisco for Thanksgiving Weekend visiting her 97-year old mother, our children and four grandchildren who live there.
My duties as Rabbi of Bat Yam Temple of the Islands kept me in Sanibel. We don’t like to be apart on holidays, but given the realistic possibilities, we made the best choice. It is vital for Vickie to spend as much time with her mother as possible. And every time either of us sees our children and grandchildren it is a great joy.
I often say, “We have all been expelled from The Garden of Eden. None of us has it perfect in life. There is no perfect, marriage, position or friendship. But our tradition urges us to make the best choices of those available to us that we can.
God in the Torah is an example. As Rabbi Samuel Karff taught, God had to choose between Esau on the one hand who cared so little for his birthright that he sold it for a bowl of stew, and Jacob on the other who wanted it so badly that he would cheat and lie to get it. Some choice! But if even God had to choose between imperfect alternatives, it should not surprise us that so must we.
I am frequently asked why do we study Genesis’ stories year after year because they are all about highly dysfunctional families.
No argument! But their very flaws make them valuable object lessons for us. We are all flawed too. Jacob and Joseph were obnoxious punks in their youth. Neither becomes perfect, but each grows into a responsible adult to fulfill vital roles in keeping our people’s Covenant with God- a Covenant made for the purpose of creating a just, caring and compassionate society— vibrant and alive.
That brings me back to Havdalah.
In the flames’ reflection I see the days when our three children were young, and we all said goodbye to Shabbat together. Now they are busy adults, scattered from Jerusalem to San Francisco to Connecticut, each pursuing worthy careers that help further the Covenant’s original goal.
If we can’t all be together, at least let there be Vickie and I. but this week she too is in pursuit of important Covenantal ideals by visiting her aging mother.
So I am alone, and frankly it would be easier to skip the ritual. But I don’t because even an imperfect Shabbat ritual holds meaning for me.
I laugh as I light the Havdalah candle because Vickie rarely lets me do it when we are together. Our Havdalah candle throws off a big, almost scary flame, and Vickie fears I will burn the house down. I thought of her and was extra careful
The bottom line reason I chose to do Havdalah this evening is because I still got to celebrate Shabbat.
I had the privilege of co-leading worship with our wonderful Cantor, Murray Simon. I was blessed to read and teach Torah to a smaller than usual, but still interested and attentive day after Thanksgiving congregation. So imperfect as it was, Shabbat was still different from the rest of my week in a sacred way.
And so I marked its end and the beginning of a new week. The new week, I pray will lead to a Shabbat that is better for me, better for my family, better for our nation and better for the world than the last.
And as I extinguished (without burning the house down) our Havdalah candle I contemplated the small steps I might take to draw closer the ever-living hope of our people that like our flawed biblical forbears I too can become a better person, who can help in some small way to make the world a better place.