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Related Kits:
Spice Box
Kiddush Cup
Havdalah Candleholder
Havdalah Candlemaking

The Havdalah Ceremony

It has been said that the week is divided into three parts; three days we look forward to Shabbat, then there is Shabbat, then three days we remember Shabbat.

No theme or observance in Judaism is more pervasive than Shabbat, its holiness superseded only by Yom Kippur, its presence felt all the year around.

So central is it on an emotional as well as philosophical level, that nearly as much ceremony attends its departure as its arrival. In the Havdalah ceremony, the Sabbath is bid farewell with prayer and symbolism, with emotion and longing.

The text of the Havdalah ceremony may be found in the Siddur. It is recited when Shabbat has ended, the sky is fully dark, and after Maariv, the evening service. In it we note, as we make the distinction between Shabbat the day of rest and the six days of work, that G-d has made a world of distinctions. As we say also in the Maariv service: “You have made a distinction Lord our G-d, between the holy and the profane, between light and darkness, between Israel and the nations, between the seventh day and the six days of (creation) work.”

It is for us to discern these distinctions and their importance.

Three physical symbols are used in Havdalah, with a blessing being said over each. The first is wine, always a symbol of joy—in this case, joy for the spiritual restoration that Shabbat has given us with which to approach the new week.

Second is the Besamim, or spices, traditionally kept in a special container for the occasion, though no particular design or form is prescribed. The sweet fragrance of the spices is smelled to allay our sadness over the ending of Shabbat, remind us of its sweetness and spiritual fullness, and take some of it with us into the new week. Usually cloves or other fragrant spices are used. Flowers may also be used.

The third symbol is the flame of a multiple candle, having at least two separate wicks, the individual tapers often twisted or braided together to form one candle. The bracha is said over the light of fire, which symbolizes spiritual enlightenment, learning, Torah and G-d’s presence among us, as well as man’s mastery over nature; our ability to create and build during the working week. As we recite the blessing, we hold our hands so that the light casts the shadow of our fingers onto our palms, showing us the division between light and dark, while at the same time, the light reflects off our fingernails, symbolizing the receiving of light, G-d’s first creation on the first day.

When the blessing and other prayers are over, the flame is extinguished in the wine, we wish each other “Shavua Tov”—a good week, spoken or in song, and sing “Eliahu HaNavi” in hope of the speedy coming of the Messiah. Many people also do the well-known dance and song “U’shavtem Mayim,” whose words are found in the Havdalah text.


The Spice Box
As with many other Judaic objects, little governs the construction of a Havdalah Spice Box other than artistic traditions developed over centuries, and those are many and varied.

The general invocation to do everything that pertains to keeping the commandments in the most beautiful way possible (“Zeh Keli v’anvayhu--This is my G-d and I will make things beautiful for Him”) applies as always.

And of course, one would not use non-kosher materials, but aside from these two guidelines, the halacha (Jewish law) tends to concern itself with the contents required for a given observance more the mere container. The case for a Mezuzah is another such example. This gives great leeway to the manufacturer and fairly free rein to the creative artist.

Thus, a wide range of practice exists, from using no container at all for the Besamim, or just the container it came in, to simple small tins for the traveler, to highly ornate artworks for the home or synagogue.

Metal, both precious and base, ceramics and wood have all been used, as well as stone, glass, plastic and other materials. All shapes and sizes can be found, some with holes thorough which the fragrance rises, other which must be opened in order to smell the sweet spices within.

One of the most notable and familiar artistic traditions to Western Jewry is that of the metal “spice tower” made by highly skilled European artisans, particularly in Germany and Austria, for several centuries. Usually made of silver, they generally employed an architectural motif, the artists crafting elaborate square or cylindrical towers resembling castles or minarets, often topped by conical or multifaceted spires ending in banners flying from flag staffs. All this might be perched upon a pedestal base like that of a wine cup. On some, the spires were made removable for filling with spices, while others had hinged doors for the purpose. Windows might allow the spices; aroma to escape, and might even be closable to keep the contents fresh and strong. Inscriptions sometimes alluded to Jerusalem, or to the donor or honoree of the piece, or made reference to the havdalah ceremony.

While the variety found within this one tradition is astounding, it is a spice tower of this European style that inspires our modest wooden design. By keeping our model fairly simple as a starting point, it is hoped that those who assemble the kit will be similarly inspired to produce a countless variety of finished pieces.


Related Activities and Lessons

1. Learn the blessings (brachot) for firelight and/or spices (younger grades.)

2. Learn to read and/or sing the text of the Havdalah ceremony.

3. Learn songs for Shabbat; havdalah.

4. Make Havdalah items to give to residents at a Jewish nursing/retirement home.

5. Prepare a Havdalah service, with songs, readings etc. and use candleholders, Kiddush cups, and/or spice boxes made by the group. Have Havdalah together as a group, or present for another group.

6. Have students bring in special family Havdalah sets to compare and see decorative techniques and themes used. Find out origin/history of each item if possible. Photograph items and prepare an album or bulletin board comparing different styles and materials.

7. Visit a Jewish museum or exhibit that has examples of antique Havdalah sets, candlesticks, or other objects of Judaica, or contemporary examples made by artists.

8. Write a poem, story or play about a Havdalah set (and/or other Shabbat objects.) Topic ideas:

a) a spice box (candleholder, etc.) coming to America with an immigrant family in the 1880's, the trip, the family's story from the article's point of view.

b) A Havdalah set standing in an antique or thrift store window--how it came to be there; what becomes of it next.

9. Organize a debate, or write a play, in which students take sides of, or play the parts of the principal objects or persons:

a) Havdalah Candle, Wine Cup, Spice Box: Which is most important and why?

b) Silver, brass, glass, wood, clay and stone (or the artisans who work in each material):

c) A Kiddush cup, (or other item) is to be made for a special event or person (wedding, coronation, commemoration, visiting dignitary, coming of the messiah?) A person or committee must choose the best material from which to make it.

Copyright 2005-2012, Marc Glickman, PO Box 1904, Frederick, MD 21702. Phone/Fax: 301-695-4375