Havdallah, the ceremony that ends Shabbat, is one of the most beautiful and poignant Jewish rituals. We are grateful for a day of tranquility with family and friends, but are wistful that we are reentering the everyday world, with its stresses and demands.
Just as Shabbat begins with wine and candlelight and beautiful aromas, so too does Shabbat end. We light a special candle, and say a blessing over it, and the wine, and spices.
When we say the blessing on the light you will notice people holding their hands toward the candle, in order for the light to reflect upon them. There is a fascinating explanation for this from the kabbalistic tradition.
In order to understand it, you have to know that the Hebrew word for light and for skin are homonyms, that is, they sound the same when you hear them, but are spelled differently. The word for light is ohr spelled with an aleph. The word for skin is also ohr, but spelled with an ayin.
Here is the explanation. When Adam and Eve were created, they did not have regular skin like you and I do. Rather, there skin was pure light. They were literally radiant. When they turned against each other, they lost that luminous aspect of themselves and became mundane.
Holding our hands toward the light on Havadallah is a reminder to us of our capacity to live lives of light and inspiration. Our real selves are brilliant, pure and luminescent. The everyday world often causes us to lose sight of that, making us feel cloaked with burdens. Shabbat reveals our true nature. Havdallah is a reminder to carry that feeling into the week. We are not our tasks. We are our radiant souls.
Let me say a word about the lights of Shabbat themselves. On Friday night we light separate candles. We are glad to be coming together, but we still feel a little distant from each other and ourselves. By the end of Shabbat, we use a single candle with many wicks wrapped together. This represents the deep connection to our family that we renew, but also our integrated and whole selves. For twenty five beautiful hours we were truly and fully human. Let us never forget that during the rest of the week.