“An enclosed garden, locked up safely, is my sister, my bride, a spring amongst the rocks, concealed, a sealed fountain.”
–Shir ha-Shirim/Song of Songs 4:12
Although Havdalah is not mentioned directly in the Scriptures, it’s a rite that is based on a central spiritual truth; that of being set apart, consecrated, distinguished from. Distinguishing between the holy and the mundane is key to G-d’s setting apart a people unto Himself.
Havdalah qualifies as positive tradition, that is, tradition that directs us to Messiah Yeshua and in turn, to the Father.
Havdalah is practiced at the culmination of the Shabbat after three stars have been sighted in the sky. Each Shabbat we welcome rest as a bride and on Saturday night we usher out the Shabbat with the light, wine and spices of Havdalah.
The Hebrew word, Havdalah, means to: distinguish, consecrate, separate, divide or set apart. It’s a ceremony that highlights the division between the Shabbat and the rest of the week. It’s a distinction made within the unity of the week. A week cannot exist without the Shabbat and the Shabbat is a distinct entity within that unity. Havdalah then, is a metaphor for the believer’s position within the unity of Messiah’s Ecclesia and subsequently, within the unity of G-d Himself.
The Havdalah ceremony also represents the division between the sacred and the secular, light and darkness, and between Israel and the Goyim (nations). It makes clear the fact that there are immutable moral distinctions in the universe. There is right and wrong, G-d’s way and humanity’s way. It is yet another opportunity to remind us of our need to return to Him in all things.
Havdalah is not commanded by the Torah. It’s simply a way to celebrate the ending of the Shabbat, just as we celebrate its arrival. It’s a process that seeks hope for the week ahead and the promise of a Shabbat that is yet to come.
“There remains a Shabbat rest for the people of HaShem.” –Hebrews 4:9
In order to arrive at Havdalah we must first set ourselves apart from the work week and withdraw into the Shabbat rest of G-d. The Ruach Ha-Kodesh (Holy Spirit) convinces believers that the Shabbat is a gift and sign to G-d’s chosen people Israel (empirical, ethnic, and historical).
12 HaShem spoke to Moshe, saying, 13 “But as for you, speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘You shall surely observe My shabbats; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations that you may know that I am HaShem who sanctifies you. 14 Therefore you are to observe the Shabbat, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. 15 For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a Shabbat of complete rest, holy to the L-rd; whoever does any work on the Shabbat day shall surely be put to death. 16 So the sons of Israel shall observe the Shabbat, to celebrate the Shabbat throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant.’ 17 It is a sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever; for in six days the L-rd made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labour, and was refreshed.” – Shemot/Exodus 31:12-17
The Shabbat is the first feast of HaShem.
3 “‘Work is to be done in six days; but the seventh day is a Shabbat of complete rest, a holy convocation; you are not to do any kind of work; it is a Shabbat for Adonai, even in your homes.” –Vayikra/Leviticus 23:3
Set Apart Unto G-d:
When HaShem chooses a people, He makes a palah (distinction) between them and all other peoples by His presence.
16”For how then can it be known that I have found favour in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be palah—distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?” 17 HaShem said to Moshe, “I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favour in My sight and I have known you by name.” –Shemot/Exodus 33:16-17
G-d has called Israel (empirical, ethnic, and historical) to be a nation set apart unto Himself: distinct, chosen, special. The very definition of the word special requires a unique position in relation to others. If everyone is special, no one is special. This is not to say that all people are not valued, all people are valued by G-d, but He chooses certain people and peoples to serve a special purpose in His redemptive plan for humanity. This is what it means for believers to be set apart.
The people of HaShem are an, “enclosed garden,” set apart unto G-d.
“An enclosed garden, locked up safely, is my sister, my bride,
a spring amongst the rocks, concealed, a sealed fountain.” –Shir ha-Shirim/Song of Songs 4:12
*This quote reads the text of Shir Ha-Shirim as an allegory of HaShem’s love for Israel, as promoted by the famous commentator Rav Rashi.
We are a people who are holy (set apart) unto G-d. This is what it means to be kadosh Adonai (holy unto G-d).
The Hebrew word, Kadosh, meaning holy, has as its root the meaning of separation or to be set apart. It describes the very nature of G-d and is imparted by G-d as an instruction to His people. This is seen in many ways throughout Scripture. One example, spoken in the negative sense by Haman (Y’ma-shmo) the enemy of the Jewish people, says:
“Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, ‘There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom; their laws are different from those of all other people and they do not observe the king’s laws, so it is not in the king’s interest to let them remain.’” –Hadassah/Esther 3:8
To be holy, separate, set apart unto G-d may bring persecution and rejection but HaShem is a shield for His children.
Kefa (Peter) quotes Leviticus 11:45, 19:2 and 20:7 when he exhorts the Ecclesia saying:
“But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behaviour; 16 because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” –1 Kefa/Peter 1:15-16
The Renewed Covenant (New Testament) continues the theme of separation:
”For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens;” –Hebrews 7:26
Believers in Messiah Yeshua are called to be set apart, distinct, called out ones:
“’Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,’ says HaShem.
‘And do not touch what is unclean; And I will welcome you.’” –2 Corinthians 6:17 (Isaiah 52:11, Ezekiel 20:34)
Just as Israel continues to have a holy calling, so too believers in Messiah Yeshua have a sacred calling through Him:
”But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the goodness of Him who has called you out of darkness into His wonderful light;” –1 Kefa/Peter 2:9 (Exodus 19:5-6, Deuteronomy 7:6; 10:15, Isaiah 43:20-21)
We are sanctified by G-d’s truth through ha-D’var (The Word), Yeshua:
”I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” –Yochanan/John 17:14-17
Shabbat Rest is Past, Present and Future:
Havdalah first became a codified Jewish institution somewhere between the 4th and 5th Centuries B.C.E. some 400 years prior to the birth of our Messiah Yeshua. The Soferim (scribes of the Second Temple period) introduced Havdalah to the synagogue service making it part of the Amidah prayer at the closing of the Shabbat. As this rite progressed, it became part of Jewish Shabbat home observance, “for the benefit of the children” –Yerushalayim Talmud.
As is the case with all the Shabbats (festivals) of HaShem, Havdalah involves aspects associated to all of the five senses in order to convey the truths of G-d to the entire being. It has a special emphasis on teaching the children.
“For He established a testimony in Jacob
And appointed a law in Israel,
Which He commanded our fathers
That they should teach them to their children,
6 That the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born,
That they may arise and tell them to their children,
7 That they should put their confidence in G-d
And not forget the works of G-d,” –Tehillim/Psalm 78:5-7
The Shabbat begins and ends with candlelight, wine and prayer. Rest is welcomed with light and carried into the week with light. The celebration of Havdalah begins after nightfall on Saturday. In Orthodox homes the children are encouraged to look for three stars in the evening sky signalling that the Shabbat is ending and it’s time for Havdalah. In addition, Orthodox homes await the arrival of the head of the family, returning home from the Ma’ariv synagogue service.
The Havdalah ceremony begins with light. Traditionally light is not kindled during the Shabbat, as a result its first use after Shabbat is a religious one. Also, as the first act of the new week it recalls the first act of creation, when G-d said, “Let there be light”.
This has a number of implications for us as Messianic believers:
“Yeshua spoke again to them, saying, ‘I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.’” –Yochanan/John 8:12
Yeshua instructs us to be lights in the world of darkness:
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; 15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light shine before humanity in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” –Mattitiyahu/Matthew 5:14-16
We carry the light of Yeshua, His rest and salvation with us into the new week.
The Unity of the Havdalah Candle:
The Havdalah candle is a braided multi-wicked candle: it requires a minimum of two candles to be wound together. One commentator says that the candles of Shabbat, representing, “creation,” and, “redemption,” are bound together so that we take the experience of Shabbat, its peace and holiness with us into the new week. The candles of the Shabbat are also said to represent, “observance,” and, “remembrance”. The combining of these two candles then affirm the unity of the Jewish concepts of hagadah (telling) and Halakhah (The way we walk), reminding us that faith without works is dead. As Messianic believers we can also see the light of Messiah representing creation (The Word) and redemption (The way) bound together to assure us of our being chosen from before the creation of the world and that we are now eternally secure in the finished work of Messiah Yeshua.
We enter into the new week as new creations, redeemed by the blood of the sacrificial lamb. We also see the unity of both Jew and Goy in the body of Messiah, the Ecclesia (gathering together of believers).
In traditional Rabbinic thought the light of the Havdalah candle is a symbol of the Divine within humanity:
“The ruach—spirit of a human being is the light of HaShem,
Searching all the innermost parts of the soul.” –Mishlei/Proverbs 20:27
As followers of Yeshua we have received the deposit of the Ruach Ha-Kodesh (Holy Spirit), the spark of the Divine in us that is our assurance of our place in the Olam Haba (World to come).
With its many wicks the Havdalah candle becomes a burning torch, reminding us that our G-d is like a consuming fire (Deut 4:24, Hebrews 12:29), a jealous G-d Who calls us to be set apart (Havdalah). Wholly submitted to the reality of His rule as King of the universe.
The Overflowing Cup:
The Kiddush cup of wine is a symbol of joyous celebration and the provision of G-d. During Havdalah wine is poured into the cup and allowed to overflow into a plate or saucer beneath. The overflowing cup of abundance is a powerful image, best represented by King David’s Psalm:
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and chesed (loving kindness, mercy) will pursue me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of HaShem forever eternally.” –Tehillim/Psalm 23:5-6
The overflowing cup is a symbol of G-d’s abundant blessing as we leave the security and peace of the Shabbat and enter the turmoil of the week ahead. His promise to us is that even in the presence of our enemies we can expect His overflowing blessing. Not only do we receive the overflow, we also in turn, overflow into the lives of others, that they might receive the Son and experience rest in the Shabbat to come. We carry His rest with us into the week.
It is said that Havdalah was originally devised in order to extend the rest and wonder of G-d’s Shabbat. This is never truer than it is for the follower of Messiah Yeshua, we carry the salvation of HaShem with us every day of the week. The week is a unity, its parts are divided within the greater wholeness that is seen in the sacred covenant of the number seven. Without the Shabbat the week is no longer echad (one), and without the six days of creation the Shabbat is no longer rest. Therefore, Yeshua says:
“The Shabbat was made for human beings, and not human beings for the Shabbat. –Mark 2:27
Note that rest (Shabbat) comes both before and after creation. Sar Shalom, The Prince of Peace is the Author and goal of our faith. The essence of Shabbat is both the origin and the goal of creation.
Spilling wine is counter intuitive, messy and often reminds us of an accident at the dinner table. During Havdalah the overflow of wine is not only allowed, it is encouraged. It challenges our very way of thinking about G-d. He is seen here as an extravagant Father, pouring out His abundant love and chesed (mercy) for our benefit. Assuring us that we will carry all that we need and more into the week ahead.
The Aromatic Spices:
The fragrant aroma of the Havdalah spices is sweet and exotic, speaking of hope and of things to come:
“There remains a Shabbat rest for the people of G-d.” –Hebrews 4:9
This passage speaks of the eternal rest of G-d, the Olam Haba, the everlasting Shabbat. The spices also speak of the present delight and sweet aromas of the temporal Shabbat, extending the fragrance of G-d’s rest in order to dispel the illusion of loss. Shabbat may be departing, but it is departing on a journey toward further rest, a rhythm of unity.
The B’samim (Spices: cinnamon, cloves) box, are usually held by a child, blessed and then passed around from person to person. In this way all present are given the opportunity to inhale the sweet fragrance of G-d’s rest. It’s a shared experience that reminds us that we are one in Him. The concept of fragrance in relation to the believer is seen in the Renewed Covenant:
“But thanks be to G-d, who always leads us in triumph in Messiah, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.15 For we are a fragrance of Messiah to G-d among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16 to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life.” –2 Corinthians 2:14-16
Our lives are a testimony to the peace and rest of Yeshua, the hope of the eternal Shabbat. We carry the fresh, sweet spice of Yeshua’s gospel and G-d’s love into the work week.
The most commonly used combination of spices in modern times are cinnamon and cloves. In the past however, Jewish people used sweet smelling herbs such as Hadas (myrtle), fragrant flowers and even rose water. The transition to the spice box didn’t occur until the 12th Century C.E.
As we sit at the Shabbat table witnessing the departure of the Shabbat we are reminded of the King’s Table of Shir Ha-Shirim (Song of Songs):
“While the king was at his table,
my perfume gave forth its fragrance.” –Shir Ha-Shirim/Song of Songs 1:12
The Spikenard of the Kings Table was a precious aromatic herb used in antiquity to welcome love. Havdalah provides us with yet another opportunity to welcome and receive the love of G-d in Messiah Yeshua, a love that will strengthen us for all that lies ahead.
The Havdalah Ceremony:
The Havdalah candle is lit to begin the Havdalah ceremony, the blessing over the light will come later.
The head of the household recites, “Behold, G-d is my Salvation (Yeshua)”.
Behold, G-d is my Yeshua (salvation); I will trust, and will not be afraid, for G-d HaShem is my strength and song, and He is become my Yeshua (salvation). Therefore with joy shall you draw forth living water from the wells of Yeshua (salvation). Yeshua (salvation) belongs to HaShem: Your blessing be upon Your people. HaShem of hosts is with us. The G-d of Yaakov is our refuge. The Jews had light and joy and gladness and honour. So be it with us. I will lift up the Kos Yeshua (cup of salvation), and call upon the name of HaShem.
The wine is poured out into the cup until it overflows and floods the plate beneath: it’s blessed as follows:
Blessing comes from You O Adonai our G-d, King of the universe, Who creates the fruit of the vine.
The spice box is taken and blessed:
All blessing comes from You O Adonai our G-d, King of the universe, Who creates various kinds of spices.
The spice box is passed around and each person present inhales its sweet aroma.
The blessing over the light is said:
Blessing comes from You O Adonai our G-d, King of the universe, Who creates the light of fire.
The head of the household uses the light by holding his hands near to it and allowing the light to reflect from the palms, fingers and the back of the hands. Just as the light reflects off of the hands, so too the light of Messiah reflects from us and illuminates the world. Israel and now the followers of Yeshua, are called to be a light to the nations.
The wine cup is then taken and the following blessing is said:
Blessing comes from You O Adonai our G-d, King of the universe, Who makes a distinction between holy and mundane, between light and darkness, between Israel and the Goyim, between the seventh day and the six working days. All blessing comes from You O Adonai, Who makes a distinction between holy and mundane.
The wine is drunk and the sweet taste of G-d’s provision lingers on the tongue.
Finally the Havdalah candle is extinguished in the wine that has overflowed onto the plate beneath. We see that the light of G-d births provision and abundance through the sacrificial death of His Son Yeshua.
The Authorized prayer book reminds us that:
1. We have seen the symbols of Havdalah
2. We have tasted the wine
3. We have smelled the fragrant spices
4. We have felt the heat of the flame
5. We have heard the Word of HaShem
In this way all five senses are consecrated, set apart, distinguished for the L-rd as we return to the work week.
It is traditional to follow this ceremony with a reading that includes Yeshaiyahu/Isaiah 52:7:
“How lovely on the mountains
Are the feet of him who brings good news,
Who announces peace
And brings good news of happiness,
Who announces Yeshua—salvation,
And says to Zion, ‘Your G-d reigns!’”
As followers of Yeshua we are called to carry the good news of salvation with us into the week ahead.
To conclude the night it is traditional to sing Eliyahu Ha-Navi, a song that waits in expectation for Elijah to come and announce the coming Messiah.
Psalm 91 can also be read and the blessing for the week ahead is spoken over everybody”
“Shavuah tov, have a good week!”
Though many English translations of the Bible misunderstand Acts 20:7-12, the Greek text, as read and understood by a Jew, reads:
“Upon the first part of the week, motzei Shabbat (the time directly after Havdalah); the disciples gathered together to share a meal and Shaul/Paul began to speak with them…”
It was the custom of the early Jewish believers to continue to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem and in the diaspora they worshipped at the synagogues (Acts 2:46). After Havdalah they would gather together with the Ecclesia of Yeshua’s followers on Saturday night, the beginning of the Jewish day rishon, Sunday. The Shabbat was never replaced as the L-rd’s holy day of rest, nor does this text prove that it was. Those Gentile Christians who seek evidence for Sunday worship must look elsewhere. However, all days belong to G-d.
I wish to acknowledge my debt to the small booklet, “Havdalah, A Celebration of Separation for New Covenant Believers,” written by Neil and Jamie Lash for some of the information included in this blog. I prefer the words distinguish, set apart and divide rather than separation, when referring to Havdalah because in a very real sense we are never separated from G-d, in Whom all things exist and have their being.
We remain set apart through Yeshua within G-d.
Shavuah tov lekulam!
© Alastair Brown 2015