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What is Havdalah?

by Mrs. Dinka Kumer


Library » Shabbat » Havdallah | Subscribe | What is RSS?


Havdalah comes from the Hebrew word “l'havdil,” meaning “to separate.” The Mitzvah of havdalah is performed at the conclusion of Shabbat, and it involves making a verbal separation between Shabbat and the rest of the week. Havdalah functions as a time divider, separating the serenity of Shabbat from the workaholism of the weekdays. Havdalah is to the end of Shabbat what Kiddush is to the beginning—Kiddush ushers Shabbat in, Havdalah ushers Shabbat out. This mitzvah is actually rooted in one of the Ten Commandments: “Remember to sanctify Shabbat.” The sages interpreted this as a directive to sanctify the Shabbat when it enters – the Friday night kiddush – and when it departs – the havdalah. 

Havdalah must be performed in the following two manners:

1. Havdalah prayer—a special prayer is added to the fourth blessing of the Amidah in the Saturday evening Maariv prayers. This prayer acknowledges the separation between the Shabbat and the upcoming weekdays, and entreats G-d to grant us a spiritually wholesome week. Women or others who did not pray maariv, should say, “Baruch Hamavdil bayn kodesh l'chol”—“Blessed be He who separates between [the] holiness [of Shabbat] and the mundane [weekdays].” Before reciting one of the above, one should not perform any of the labors that were forbidden on Shabbat.1

It is customary to overfill the cup so that some will spill over as a “good sign” for the new week: “My cup overfloweth”
2. Havdalah service (it only takes about five minutes!)—this is a prayer recited by one person who may do so on behalf of his listeners as well.2 Havdalah is traditionally done with almost as much ceremony as Kiddush—the family gathers around the table to participate, and the ceremonial implements—the cup, the spice box and the candle—are ideally ornate and elegant.  All in attendance should stand during havdalah as is respectful of the Shabbat whom we are escorting away. The service has four components:

 i. wine—a blessing is recited over a cup of wine or grape juice3 which is then drunk by the person who recited havdalah upon the conclusion of the service. The cup must contain at least 2.9 fl. ounces. It is customary to overfill the cup so that some will spill over as a “good sign” for the new week: “My cup overfloweth.”

 ii. spices—a blessing is recited over spices such as cloves or cinnamon (some use myrtle leaves from the Four Species) which are then smelled by all. This is to calm the soul since it is saddened at having lost an “extra soul” which was added to it during Shabbat and which departs on Saturday night.

 iii. flame—a blessing is recited over a flame lit especially for havdalah. The reason for the flame is that fire was first created on Saturday night when Adam hit together two stones (a supernatural divine light illuminated the world during the first week of Creation). Fire is also being “recreated” on Saturday night, since kindling a flame was forbidden on Shabbat. Ideally, the flame should be comprised of at least two conjoined flames. In your local Judaica store you will find a selection of beautiful multi-wicked havdalah candles, but one may even use matches whose flames are held to combine into one. It is customary to gaze at one’s fingernails in the light of the flame after reciting/hearing the blessing on it.


  • 1. In the event of a Jewish holiday beginning upon the conclusion of Shabbat, there are also special havdalah verses recited in the evening maariv prayers and in the holiday evening kiddush. One who does not pray maariv should recite “Baruch Hamavdil bayn kodesh l'kodesh”—“Blessed be He who separates between [the] holiness [of Shabbat] and [the] holiness [of the holiday],” before making any holiday preparations.
  • 2. There is a dispute amongst the halachic authorities whether a woman is obligated to do havdalah. Therefore, although a woman may recite the havdalah on her own behalf, or on behalf of other women, she should not recite havdalah for a man.
  • 3. If no wine or grape juice is available, one may use beer, tea, or another classy, popular beverage for havdalah.


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(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Prayer recited at the beginning of the Sabbath or Holiday meal--both the evening and afternoon meals. This prayer, acknowledging the sanctity of the day, is recited over a cup of wine or grape juice.
Highlight of every prayer, recited silently while standing. Weekday Amidah consists of nineteen blessings, Sabbath and holiday Amidah contains seven blessings.
Evening prayer service. One of the three prayers a Jew is obligated to pray every day.
Four Species
There is a Biblical command to take "Four Species" on the autumn holiday of Sukkot. These species are: palm branch, citron, myrtle and willow. It is customary to shake these species to all directions.
The first man, created by G-d on the sixth day of creation. He was banished from the Garden of Eden after eating from the forbidden fruit of the forbidden knowledge. Died in 2830 BCE.
Prayer signifying the end of the Sabbath or Jewish holiday. This "separation" prayer is recited after nightfall over a cup of wine.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.