My recent run-in with Covid 19 has left behind a few token reminders to remind me not to take life for granted. Indeed, we do not always know what we have until we lose it. For me, it was the sense of smell. I never lost my sense of taste, but I do not know how impaired it was due to the loss of smell.
Degree by degree, my sense of smell is returning, and I am so happy to be able to once more enjoy the fragrance of the Havdalah spices at the end of Shabbat. Two weeks ago, I could not detect even a wisp of an aroma. Last week, my ability to smell was beginning to return. This week, I enjoyed the rich, fragrant aroma of the spices. Baruch Hashem!
Now that my sense of smell has returned, I began to think about the Havdalah service and what the different elements could mean to us.
The Three Elements of Havdalah
Havdalah, which means separation, is a service to close out the Shabbat. The Havdalah service consists of three elements.
The First Element: Wine
With wine, we sanctify Shabbat, separating it from the preceding days; and with wine, we conclude Shabbat and separate it from the days that follow.
The Second Element: Spices
The spices or besamiym give us a little fragrance of heaven. It is not uncommon to compare pleasant aromas to heaven. Whoever came up with the phrase, “It smells like heaven,” might very well have been drawing inspiration from the Havdalah service.
The Hebrew word for spices (בשמים) spells out the phrase, “in heaven.” The two do not sound alike, for whereas one is pronounced besamiym – spices, the other is pronounced bashamayim (בשמים) – in heaven. These are two different words with different roots, but the only way to tell them apart without the vowel points is through the context.
When we truly keep Shabbat it becomes a preview of the Olam Haba – the world to come – or in a way, Heaven. The Havdalah spices provide us with one last, lingering scent of the fragrance of heaven that we can take into the new week.
The Third Element: Fire
We begin Shabbat by lighting two candles, and we conclude Shabbat by lighting the three wicks of the Havdalah candle. The three wicks create a torch-like fire that stands out more than the single flame of each Shabbat candle. In the light of the fire, we look at our fingernails – the last remnants of the garment of light that covered our ancestors Adam and Eve in Gan Eden. It is a reminder of what we once had and lost, but Shabbat is the way back to the Garden.
The Havdalah Blessing
“Blessed is the Lord, our G-d, Ruler of the universe, Who separates sacred from profane, light from darkness, the seventh day of rest from the six days of labor. Blessed is the Lord, who separates the sacred from the profane.” (Siddur)
At the end of each weekly Shabbat, we must take that mindset of separation into the new week. The idea of separation is to be able to distinguish between right and wrong; good and evil; clean and unclean; light and darkness; the six days of work and the seventh day of rest. This is so we can make the best choices that will help us to better experience the peace of Gan Eden and communion with Hashem during the next Shabbat.
Taking the Elements into the New Week
Wine represents joy. Even if we cannot help but feel a pang of regret about ending the Shabbat, we can take joy in knowing that the next Shabbat is only days away. Shabbat should be the axis-point of our week.
It is the only day that has its own dedicated, unique name in the Torah. All the other days are simply designated by ordinal numbers. We count up to Shabbat; thus Shabbat is the goal for which to reach – the apex of our week. All the other days are the means to achieving the goal of Shabbat.
The wonderful fragrance of the spices which blesses us with a hint of the flavor of heaven doesn’t have to leave us. We can maintain and savor that heavenly flavor during the week in the following ways: through daily prayers and Torah study, through kind and edifying words, and by performing mitzvot.
Fire represents passion. We need to be passionate about our work throughout the week as we make our ascension to Shabbat. There is a fine line between passion and anger. Passion, when properly tempered is motivating and creative; while anger can be very destructive. We temper the passion by immersing it in joy. I believe that is why we extinguish the fire of the Havdalah candle by dunking it into the wine.
Dunking requires some speed. Here is something to consider: when we dunk the candle into the wine, do we extinguish the flame? My opinion is that we simply transfer the energy of the flame to the wine. You see, it is important that we do not allow our inner fire to go out, but we need to combine it with joy as we look forward to the upcoming Shabbat.