Havdalah


While most people are familiar with the blessings and Debbie Friedman melody for havdalah, the ceremony includes a series of verses before these blessings.

We will use this melody from the Modzitz community of Hasidim for these introductory verses before singing the familiar melody for the blessings.

These verses come from the Book of Isaiah, a few psalms, and one verse from the Book of Esther.

The ceremony emphasizes the way that Shabbat is a time where we start a new week but continue to hold onto the insights and joy from the past week. It mixes prayers for a redeemed world with the recognition that our role in continuing the process of creation.

הִנֵּה אֵל יְשׁוּעָתִי, אֶבְטַח וְלֹא אֶפְחָד

Hinei El yeshu’ati, evtach velo ef’chad

כִּי עָזִּי וְזִמְרָת יָהּ יְיָ, וַיְהִי לִי לִישׁוּעָה

Ki ozi vezimrat Yah Adonai, vayhi li lishu’ah

וּשְׁאַבְתֶּם מַֽיִם בְּשָׂשׂוֹן, מִמַּעַיְנֵי הַיְשׁוּעָה

Ush’avtem mayim b’sason, mimaynei hayeshuah

לַייָ הַיְשׁוּעָה, עַל עַמְּךָ בִרְכָתֶֽךָ סֶּֽלָה

L’Adonai hayeshuah al amkha birkhatekha selah

יְיָ צְבָאוֹת עִמָּֽנוּ, מִשְׂגָּב לָנוּ אֱלֹהֵי יַעֲקֹב סֶֽלָה

Adonai Tzevaot imanu, misgav lanu Elohei Ya’akov selah

יְיָ צְבָאוֹת, אַשְרֵי אָדָם בֹּטֵֽחַ בָּךְ.

Adonai Tzevaot ashrei adam boteach bakh.

יְיָ הוֹשִֽׁיעָה, הַמֶּֽלֶךְ יַעֲנֵֽנוּ בְיוֹם קָרְאֵֽנוּ

Adonai hoshiah Hamelekh ya’aneinu veyom koreinu.

לַיְּהוּדִים הָיְתָה אוֹרָה וְשִׂמְחָה וְשָׂשׂוֹן וִיקָר

Layehudim haitah orah vesimchah vesason vikar ken tihyeh lanu.

כֵּן תִּהְיֶה לָּֽנוּ. כּוֹס יְשׁוּעוֹת אֶשָּׂא, וּבְשֵׁם יְיָ אֶקְרָא

Kos yeshuot esa uveshem Adonai ekra.

Behold, God is my unfailing help; I will trust in God and not be afraid. The Lord is my strength and song: God is my deliverer. With joy shall you draw water out of the wells of salvation. The Lord alone is our help; May God bless God’s people. The Lord of the universe is with us; the God of Jacob is our protection. There was light and joy, gladness and honor for the Jewish people. So may we be blessed. I will lift the cup of salvation, And call upon the name of the Lord.

The first two verses come from Isaiah. We read this passage on the final day of Passover. It is a reference to the Jews crossing the Sea of Reeds when they escaped from Egypt. The words ozi vezimrat yah vayhi li lishu’ah also appear in the Song of the Sea. This prophecy evokes the redemption from Egypt as a model for celebrating the future redemption of a world-wide peace. Many rabbinic traditions imagine that Shabbat is supposed to feel like a taste of the world redeemed. Havdalah is a bittersweet ceremony because it marks the moment when we lose the attitude where we imagine ourselves living beyond time by plunging back into the hectic pace of the work week. By using these words from Isaiah, we express the hope that we can hold unto this hope for a redeemed world as we go back to the day to day struggles.

The verses throughout the paragraph express a sense of confidence that God is with us. This confidence imagines that Shabbat is a time to spiritually recharge, so that we can begin our week with a renewed sense of hope. When we rest on Shabbat, it should be an opportunity to release some feelings of pressure and anxiety. Perhaps, the time for reflection or the time spent celebrating the loving, supportive relationships of friends and family can give us a better perspective on life to prepare us for the challenges for the coming week.

Because of the way that we live each week as a repetition of the cycle of creation, the end of Shabbat is both beginning that cycle again as well as imagining how the history of the world begins after the week of creation. One Midrash describes how the light of the Havdalah candle represents the fire created after the first Shabbat since that was the first time the Adam wanted to bring light into the darkness. It also coincides with the creation of light on the first day of creation. With these images, we evoke the idea that each week can be a new beginning full of opportunity.

When we recite Havdalah as a community this week, we do so with the hope that we can continue to make our synagogue a home for reflection and community and recognize how each transition gives us new opportunities to build a life of deeper meaning and understanding.