It's after Drew's bedtime. He's asleep in his crib. We've finished dinner. The sky is turning a glorious deep fading evening blue. I step outside to see if there are stars; I can only spot one, but I hear the first veery thrushes of the season. Their spiraling song amazes me again, and I call to David and Amberly and Rhonda to come outside and hear them with me. I say the shehecheyanu; I haven't heard this song since last year.
We return to the indoors, sit and natter a little longer. A short while later, when we go back outside, there are three stars. It's time.
We stand in a circle. I light the braided havdalah candle and hold it high, its many wicks making a bright flame which dances and casts shadows across the deck. I feel like Lady Liberty, holding my torch aloft.
We sing " לַיְּהוּדִים, הָיְתָה אוֹרָה וְשִׂמְחָה, וְשָׂשֹׂן, וִיקָר / layehudim haita ora v'simcha v'sason v'ikar" -- "'For the Jews there was radiance, and happiness, and joy, and honor' / so may it be for us!" (The quote is from Esther 8:16.) Let us be a light, I think, in the week to come.
We take turns offering the havdalah blessings -- over wine, over fire, over sweet spices, over separation -- interspersed with the melody we were already singing. This is a melody we learned from Rabbi Marcia Prager and Hazzan Jack Kessler. Some say the melody is by Shlomo; others say it's by Moshe Schur, written for Reb Aryeh. I grew up on Debbie Friedman's melody; it takes me back to summer camp and to childhood and to havdalah with my family of origin. But this other one stirs something deep in me.
Hearing it, I am mystically hyperlinked to the havdalah ceremony at the end of every Jewish Renewal Shabbat I've ever experienced. The end of smicha students' week at the old Elat Chayyim, in Albuquerque, in Ohio, at Pearlstone. The end of every DLTI shabbat and Elat Chayyim retreat Shabbat. It's so beautiful, and yet so bittersweet. It means Shabbat is over. The retreat is ending. It's time to return to ordinary life. I remember weeping through havdalah, time and again, not ready to say goodbye to the Shabbat bride or to my friends.
And yet here I am now, standing on my own deck at my own house, and I have brought those friends -- and the Shabbat bride! -- home with me. We are singing the same melody, with the same intentions, with the same heart. In our faces I see the radiance of Shekhinah.
After the candle is doused in the wine, as we sing Eliahu HaNavi and Miriam HaNeviah, David dips a finger into the kiddush cup and paints a drop of the sanctified wine above each of our eyes, an embodied blessing that we might see the world through the eyes of Torah and blessing in the week to come.
Shabbat comes, Shabbat delights, and then Shabbat leaves. But the connections we make with her, and with one another, remain.
Havdalah candle image by Kim Romain.