Worth reading: Ethan Zuckerman's Rewire
Sharing mother poems with a crowd

Who separates, and connects, Shabbat and week

8991890544_aeb0e20fe9_mIt's not something I often do, by myself. I don't know why not. It only takes a few moments. At this season and at this latitude, of course, it happens well after putting our son to bed; in deepest midwinter it happens in the afternoon, well before even his early supper. I love that when we live attuned to the seasons around us, we experience that pendulum shift. The challenge, of course, is to enjoy what we have now without fearing what comes later; to enjoy what comes later without yearning for what we have now...

Havdalah makes me think of the end of the various retreats I went on as part of my rabbinic school journey: the end of a week at the old (or new) Elat Chayyim, the end of smicha students' week, the end of the ALEPH Kallah, the end of a week of DLTI. Our learning always culminated in a Shabbat which honestly felt like a foretaste of the world to come. And then we would gather for havdalah, standing in a big circle -- outdoors, if the season permitted it -- and the flame of the havdalah candle held aloft would streak our faces with gold.

I always used to cry during havdalah at those retreats. I would cry because the end of Shabbat meant that our retreat was ending; that my precious time with my community of fellow travelers, students and teachers alike, was waning; because as much as I looked forward to returning to my ordinary life back home, every time I parted from those beloved friends (and our shared paradigm, our shared language, our shared love of learning and of Torah and of God) felt like tearing myself away from something I wasn't sure how to live without.

Of course, the gift of havdalah is that it ushers in a new week, full of new joys and new adventures. And at the end of each week, Shabbat returns -- if we're willing and able to take notice. The flywheel keeps turning. Shabbat leads to week, which leads to Shabbat, which leads to week. Shabbat wouldn't be so special if it weren't experienced against the backdrop of weekday; but the weekday too has its ordinary pleasures.

There's something magical and bittersweet about havdalah, about marking the end of Shabbat with these words and these intentions. A last taste of Shabbat before it goes away for a week. The wine, a remembrance of how just last night we made kiddush. The fire, which gleams and glints on our fingernails, reminding us that we are beings made of light. The spices, which pre-emptively revive us lest we faint away at the removal of the second soul which tradition says we borrow during Shabbat. The blessing for God who separates between -- and, in the version I favor, also connects between -- Shabbat and week. (I learned that variation some years ago.)

Once the candle fizzles out in the wine, there's a palpable feeling of something missing. Singing Eliahu Hanavi and Miriam HaNeviah stirs my heart. What would it feel like, if the entire cosmos could live in Shabbat consciousness all the time? If cruelty and suffering could cease, if we could live in a world truly redeemed? God only knows. But at least we have the opportunity to dip into that feeling once a week, if we're willing and able to take it. And even when we sorrow at its departure, we know it will return.

Shavua tov / a good week, a week of peace; may gladness reign, and joy increase.




Distinctions (a poem for havdalah), 2013

As Shabbat wanes (2009)