Why I Did Havdalah Alone

Havdalah (the brief ceremony separating the Sabbath from the rest of the week) is not much fun when I am by myself, but I do it anyway. 

Vickie is in San Francisco caring for her 100-year-old mother and visiting our children and six 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 for three weeks, 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, of blessed memory, 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 and deeply flawed individuals?

 But it is their shortcomings that 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 reflection of the twisted candle’s flame, that we use in the ceremony, I see the days when our three children were young, and we all said goodbye to Shabbat together. Now they are busy adults, in San Francisco and Connecticut, each pursuing worthy careers that help further the Covenant’s original goal, to make a more just, caring and compassionate society.

If we can’t all be together, at least let there be Vickie and I. But at this time, she too is in pursuit of important Covenantal ideals by visiting her aging mother.

So, I am alone on Saturday night, 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 small but still interested and attentive 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. 

And as I extinguished (without burning the house down) our Havdalah candle I contemplated the small steps I might take to bring closer to reality 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.

2 thoughts on “Why I Did Havdalah Alone

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