Saying Farewell to the Shabbat Queen

    June 2008            
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By Chavah Levine

The enticing scent of cloves and spices waft throughout the air…the sweet taste of Manischewitz wine tingles the tongue…the melodic tunes of the brachot pervade the room…and candlelight flickers over the pages in the siddur, and dances across the faces of the people gathered round. Shabbat has come to a close and the Havdalah ceremony is awakening our senses as we prepare ourselves for the week ahead. I love Shabbat. It's a guilt-free day of relaxation and blissful disregard for the piles of work that refuse to cease their hollering. It's a day to look back on, and thank G-d for, the blessings of the week and my life in general. It's a time I use for de-stressing, breathing and giving my body the break it needs in order to successfully make it through the coming week. Shabbat and I have a weekly love affair, and it's only fitting that it gets a proper send-off with a celebration as beautiful as Havdalah.

I've always loved Havdalah, both for its simplistic beauty and for the sense of peace it so often invoked in me. Growing up, it was a ritual I would spend all week looking forward to, and it never occurred to me that I would discontinue the custom when I left home to attend college. That's exactly what happened though. The melodies sounded empty without the rush of voices to join mine, the flame no longer had faces to enliven with its light, and drinking the wine succeeded only in making me feel lonely when I realized that I had no one with whom I was sharing its sweet taste. I discovered that a lot of the joy I associated with Havdalah was entwined with the community with which I had shared it and, rather than lose the love of it that I carried in my heart, I made the decision to stop doing Havdalah altogether. I've missed it though and so I have been trying to bring it back as a meaningful part of my life.

I've been doing Havdalah every week for awhile and it's been interesting. I had a good deal of trouble at the beginning because I was doing it on my own and still felt as I had in college…that something was missing when mine was the only presence in the room. So I tried, on a couple of occasions, inviting a few friends over to join me in honoring the end of Shabbat. That didn't work either though because I was the only one singing the brachot and felt as if I were, in a sense, on display. But I wasn't ready to give up on my effort and so have been continuing to perform the ceremony on my own every Saturday night. And a funny thing has begun to happen…I'm beginning to love it again. I'm not getting the same meaning out of it that I did when I had my family and community from home around me, but I'm responding to different aspects of it now on a more personal level. I no longer experience that sense of peace that came from sharing a beautiful ritual with people I love, but I am now experiencing a peace that comes from my love of Shabbat and connections that I am making within myself. I know that this sounds like a lot of nonsense, but I swear it's true.

It's interesting to think that maybe in trying so hard to get back the meaning that I used to find in Havdalah, I overlooked the fact that all I needed was myself.


from the June 2009 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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