The river of attention
Israel / Palestine: hoping for hope

Poem: havdalah in the toddler house






When we light the candle
you begin to wail

frightened by the unruly flame
spreading from wick to wick

(or maybe you aren't ready
for the Bride to leave us)

you refuse the strange silver tower
of cracked cinnamon curls

(at two, the extra soul
doesn't yet depart)

during the redemption song
we whirl and your face shines

This poem is the second in a small budding series (the first being Early maariv in the toddler house, written and posted at the tail-end of November.)

Havdalah means "separation;" it is this ritual which formally separates between Shabbat and workweek. It involves the lighting of a braided candle, blessing wine and blessing spices, blessing God Who creates separations, and then extinguishing the candle in the wine, after which one sings "Eliahu Hanavi" (and, in our house, "Miriam Ha-Neviah"), a song about prophets and redemption.

(At Jewish Women International there's a video of a havdalah ceremony, beginning with R' Shlomo Carlebach's melody for the prayer Hineh El Yeshuati and then moving into Debbie Friedman's melody for the havdalah blessings -- may both of their memories be for blessing. On that page you can also read my teacher R' Leila Gal-Berner's words for "Miriam Ha-Neviah.")

The scent of spice, associated with Shabbat and with Shekhinah (the immanent, indwelling Presence of God) is intended to revive one when Shabbat's extra soul departs. In our house we use a tall silver spicebox shaped like a tower.

Does Drew know what Shabbat is? He may know that sometimes he gets watered grape juice in his sippy cup instead of milk, and that on those nights, there are often candles on the table, and also challah, which is one of his favorite breads. At two, he's too young to intellectually understand concepts like Shabbat and work-week.

But in a certain way, I wonder whether babies and very young children experience life as a kind of perennial Shabbat. Shabbat is an opportunity to re-enter the garden of Eden; but before language is fully developed, I think our children may already be there, that "extra soul" and connection with the Infinite already part of who they are.