Lessons in gratitude from a three year old
Praise for Waiting to Unfold - from Kristin Berkey-Abbott

Distinctions: a poem for Havdalah


In the end we're like children:
we thrive on distinctions
between me and you, us and them.
Made in Your image
we separate light from darkness,
family from stranger, weekday
from that fleeting taste of Paradise.

Wax drips from the braided candle.
Cinnamon tingles the nose
to keep us from fainting
as the extra soul departs.
Stop now. Notice this hinge
between Shabbat
and what's next.

Plunge the candle into the wine
but don't cry: even without a flame
our light still shines. This
is our inheritance, better than rubies.
And now it's Saturday night, the cusp
of a new beginning, another day.
This week, may our hearts be whole.



This poem was written to accompany havdalah, the ceremony which ends Shabbat and begins the new week. (Though if you don't have the custom of making havdalah regularly, I suppose you could read this poem in place of havdalah; it's not the same as actually doing the ritual, of course, but it's a way of marking the transition with mindfulness.)

I'm experimenting with seven-line stanzas, meant to evoke the seven days of the week. "[T]o keep us from fainting
as the extra soul departs" is a reference to the teaching that an extra or second soul descends and enlivens us during Shabbat. We smell sweet spices at the end of Shabbat in order to revive ourselves despite the departure of that extra soul.

"[E]ven without a flame / our light still shines" is a reference both to the practice of extinguishing the havdalah candle in the sanctified wine, and to a line from the prayer we read as we begin havdalah: layehudim haita ora v'simcha v'sasson v'ikar, ken tihiyeh lanu, "and for the Jewish people there was light and joy, gladness and honor; so may it be for us."