Thoughts on Havdalah
A commenter named Asher asked me to post about the meaning behind "havdalah" the ceremony performed at the end of the Sabbath.
In a nutshell "Havdalah" means a "separation." This ceremony creates a separation between Shabbos which is holy and the rest of the week which is not.
There are many good websites that explain the meaning behind this practice.
There is even a little slide show in flash showing how it's done with about all the information you'll ever need on the subject.
Here are a few items of interest (at least for me) that you won't see on the websites:
Segulos are funny customs that Jewish people have developed over time which they hope will bring them a specific kind of good fortune. My husband, who is not the least bit superstitious or wasteful generally, insists on overfilling the cup of wine (or which ever beverage we happen to be using) so that some spills out on to the table. I think this is supposed to bring us great wealth (so far it's not working.) I've also seen people take some of the wine and apply a bit, with their fingertips, to their pockets and the sides of their heads. This I am told is promote wealth (the pockets) and brainpower (the head.) I believe this custom was started by drycleaners although I am not sure.
Another segulah I have heard of is having a single woman hold the candle at the height she would like her husband to be. I've always thought that was ridiculous and when it was my turn to hold the candle held it right at table level. My husband is 6' - so there you go.
I don't know why havalah has generated so many segulos or what their origins are but it's interesting to see what people will try.
2) How do you use the light?
Part of the Havdalah ceremony involves lighting a multi-wicked candle and looking at your hands in the light after making a blessing over it. We do this to make use of the light so that our blessing is not purposeless.
My mother in law likes to shake her hands all around in front of the candle- I have no idea where that came from...
When I was in 4th grade my Hebrew teacher went on maternity leave - leaving the class in the care of "Mr. Hajbi" a yeminite man none of us had ever met before. He told us that when we look at our hands during havdalah we should look at our nails and remember that before the fall of man Adam and Chava (adam and eve) were covered entirely in a protective fingernail like coating to keep them safe from harm, but when they sinned this was taken from them...
I've never hear that particular tale before or since.
He also spend a lot of time telling us about gigulim and basically scaring the crap out of us- oh and about Unkelus and how important he was (but I digress.)
3) The best besamim ever
Another part of the ceremony involves the smelling of fragrant spices. I really enjoy a good scent so I make my own besamim out of crushed dried haddass leaves, cloves, and other spices. I think it's the best besamim ever.
My sister-in-law prefers to take the cinnamon out of my spice cabinet and smell that instead which I find rather insulting.
OK Asher, I hope that answered your questions about havdalah or at least gave you something to think about.