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Havdalah David Birnbaum and Martin S. Cohen Editors


David Birnbaum & Martin S. Cohen

Havdalah with essays by

Rachel Adelman, Jacob Adler, Reuven P. Bulka, Catharine Clark, Martin S. Cohen, Elliot N. Dorff, Dena Freundlich, Elyse Goldstein, David Greenstein, Elie Kaunfer, Michelle J. Levine, Ora Horn Prouser, Jeremy Rosen, Gidon Rothstein, Barbara Thiede, Orna Triguboff, and Shmuly Yanklowitz

Saul J. Berman Associate Editor


New Paradigm Matrix Publishing New York 2016


From the Editor-in-Chief June 2017 It is a privilege to be serving as Editor-in-Chief of this unique 10-theme series. I am honored to be working with world-class editors Benjamin Blech, Martin S. Cohen, Saul J. Berman, and Shalom Carmy. It is our hope and prayer that the series be a catalyst for intellectual and spiritual expansion – as well as a unifying force both for our people as well as for individuals of good will globally. Sincerely,

David Birnbaum

Mesorah Matrix series in-progress

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About the Editors Martin S. Cohen is the rabbi of the Shelter Rock Jewish Center in Roslyn, New York, and a senior editor of the Mesorah Matrix series. Rabbi Cohen was educated at the City University of New York and at Jewish Theological Seminary of America, where he was ordained a rabbi and received his Ph.D. in ancient Judaism. He has taught at Hunter College, at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, at the Institute for Jewish Studies of the University of Heidelberg, and at the University of British Columbia and Vancouver School of Theology. Rabbi Cohen also served as the senior editor of The Observant Life, a compendium of Jewish law and custom published by the Rabbinical Assembly in 2012. Rabbi Cohen’s weekly blog can be viewed at His published works include The Boy on the Door on the Ox (2008) and Our Haven and Our Strength: A Translation and Commentary on the Book of Psalms (2004). He is currently writing a translation and commentary on the Torah and the Five Megillot.

About the Editors David Birnbaum is known globally as “the architect of Potentialism Theory” – a unified philosophy/cosmology/metaphysics. The paradigm-challenging theory is delineated in Birnbaum’s 3-volume Summa Metaphysica series (1988, 2005, 2014). A riposte to Summa Theologica of (St.) Thomas Aquinas, the Birnbaum treatise (see challenges both the mainstream Western philosophy of Aristotelianism and the well-propped-up British/atheistic cosmology of Randomness (see The focus of over 150 reviews and articles (see, a course text at over 15 institutions of higher learning globally (see, Summa Metaphysica was the focus of an international academic conference on Science & Religion April 16-19, 2012 (see David Birnbaum is, as well, the Editor-in-Chief of the in-progress Mesorah Matrix series on Jewish thought and spirituality: 10-volume, 10-theme, 150+ global Jewish thought leader essayists (see In the history realm, David Birnbaum is the author of the 2-volume The Crucifixion – of the Jews, and of the 7-volume Jews, Church & Civilization. His Crucifixion series, in particular, traces a direct trajectory from the Canon Gospels in the First Century to Auschwitz in the Twentieth. Birnbaum is a graduate of Yeshiva University High School (Manhattan), CCNY (City College of New York – Engineering) and Harvard. His commentary blog is See also

MARTIN S. COHEN MAJOR WORKS As Author (Non-Fiction) Travels on the Private Zodiac: Reflections on Jewish Life, Ritual and Spirituality (1995) In Pursuit of Wholeness: The Search for Spiritual Integrity in a Delusional World (1996) Travels on the Road Not Taken: Towards a Bible-Based Theology of Jewish Spirituality (1997) Sefer Ha-ikarim Li-z’maneinu (2000) Our Haven and Our Strength: The Book of Psalms (2004) Siddur Tzur Yisrael (2005) Zot Nechamati for the House of Mourning (2006) Riding the River of Peace (2007) The Boy on the Door on the Ox (2008) As Author (Fiction) The Truth About Marvin Kalish (1992) Light from Dead Stars (1996) The Sword of Goliath (1998) Heads You Lose (2002) As Senior Editor The Observant Life: The Wisdom of Conservative Judaism for Contemporary Jews (2012)

DAVID BIRNBAUM MAJOR WORKS As Author 3-volume Summa Metaphysica ( 2-volume The Crucifixion ( 7-volume Jews, Church & Civilization (

As Editor-in-Chief* 10-volume Mesorah Matrix ( (target completion: 2020)

As Conceptualizer 3-volume Summa Spinoffs ( 8-volume Potentialism Theory via Graphic-Narrative ( As Commentator *in-progress


– David Birnbaum Editor-in-Chief Author, Summa Metaphysica series – Martin S. Cohen Senior Editor Editor, Conservative Judaism Magazine (2000-2013) – Benjamin Blech Senior Editor Author, Academic, Scholar & Lecturer – Saul Berman Senior Editor Author, Academic, Scholar & Lecturer – Shalom Carmy Contributing Editor Editor, Tradition Magazine

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Havdalah: The Essence of Judaism REUVEN P. BULKA This essay explores the wide ranging concept of havdalah—that is, distinctiveness and uniqueness suffused with sanctity—as an allencompassing concept suggestive of a reality that permeates Jewish thought and Jewish life. In turn, this will lead readers to a more profound understanding of the words in the Havdalah ritual itself.


Havdalah: Distinctions That Provide Identity and Meaning ELLIOT N. DORFF Havdalah marks the distinction between Shabbat and weekdays. It eases us into the challenges of the week by invoking God’s power to protect us from the dangers of the everyday world, while simultaneously leaving us with a taste of Shabbat able to carry us into the week through the blessings over wine and spices. At the same time, but on a deeper level, the very act of marking this distinction and the other distinctions in our lives that Havdalah mentions gives us a sense of meaning and identity.


A Literary Approach to Havdalah: Structure and Intertexts 37 ELIE KAUNFER Havdalah is a liturgy whose brevity masks its complexity. This essay explores the deeper structure of the oppositions in the prayer and the numerous biblical texts that are referenced in it. With this larger context, we develop an alternative interpretation to the liturgy that focuses on the image of space rather than time as the core metaphor in the prayer. A Certain Time: An Intertextual Reading of Havdalah and Esther ORA HORN PROUSER A verse from Esther holds a prominent place in the Havdalah liturgy, but the relationship between Havdalah and the Book of Esther may be far


more extensive than at first appears to be the case. Reading these two texts together leads to new understandings of both texts on their own and in conversation with each other. For Just Such a Time as This: Esther, Havdalah and Mazal-Making Magic BARBARA SHULAMIT THIEDE Queen Esther arrives as Queen Shabbat departs, lending her marvelous story to the evocation of a future of hope, a world of enchantment. It’s magic.


Havdalah: A Social Justice Perspective SHMULY YANKLOWITZ Shabbat is our opportunity to reflect after six days of labor in a messy and broken world, but even more so are we invited to sample a taste of a world that is perfected and welcomed to recharge our vision for the world in which we want to live; Havdalah is the transition between these two mindsets. Havdalah, broadly and literally, is about separation, about the exploration of being distinct and unique while being one and the same; it is through this paradox of unity and diversity that people are empowered to grow. Thus, social justice activists should embrace the moral mission that the Havdalah ritual cultivates and use those lessons to go back and bring positive change to the world.


The Extra Soul and the Common Heart MARTIN S. COHEN The notion that the spices used in the Havdalah ceremony are meant to dispel the gloom brought on by the departure of the “extra soul” that supplements Jews’ regular souls on Shabbat sounds fanciful and is usually interpreted metaphorically. By taking the notion far more seriously than lyrically, the author uses that specific tradition to develop a theory about the human soul and its counterparts in the story of creation: the divine image and form in which the first humans were created.


The Jewish Myth of Prometheus or The First Havdalah 107 RACHEL ADELMAN Upon the banishment from the Garden of Eden, primordial Adam experiences darkness for the first time outside Paradise with the setting sun, whereupon God grants him the gift of fire. The midrashic narrative links the timing of this event with the conclusion of the Sabbath and the ritual of Havdalah. This essay compares the Jewish story as it is presented in rabbinic sources to the Greek myth of Prometheus. God, in contrast to Zeus, mitigates against the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin through the gift of fire, by which the first humans are given power over Nature. Havdalah, in reenacting this transition from Nature to Culture in primordial time, reminds the Jewish people that God ultimately serves as a partner to human enterprise in the making of civilization. The Lights of the Fire, Accepting the Secular and the Holy 131 ORNA TRIGUBOFF This essay presents mystical teachings from two thirteenth-century Spanish sources: the Zohar and Rabbi Avraham Abulafia’s The Life of the Soul. From these kabbalistic perspectives, Havdalah is seen as a ritual marking a “changing of the guard” of spiritual forces. This is mirrored by a change within the psyche of each person, transitioning from a Sabbath mode to a weekday mode. The teachings include musings about the Divine Presence, angels, and the holiness of the physical body. Who Are We Separating from Whom? Havdalah and the (Multigenerational) Interfaith Family 149 CATHARINE CLARK Praising God each week for separating the people Israel from other peoples can be difficult in families that include non-Jewish members. By examining the biblical source for this praise, the essay concludes that we praise God in the hope that we will distinguish ourselves through fine and principled behavior, rather than assume that the distinction is something innate in Jewishness itself.

Havdalah as Experience: Bidding Farewell to Shabbat 161 JACOB ADLER The word havdalah refers to two distinct liturgical events. There is the well-known ceremony involving a candle, wine, and spices preformed at the end of Shabbat, but Havdalah is also the formal declaration by which a person ends his or her Sabbath observance. This declaration is not a mere formality, but an important and integral part of the Shabbat experience. The way one ends Shabbat can enliven and deepens one’s entire experience of Shabbat. Havdalah: Does It Separate or Combine? A Memoir and a Legacy 193 JEREMY ROSEN In common parlance and common usage, l’havdil (the verb of which Havdalah is the nominal form) means “to divide” or “to separate.” However, it also means “to add” and “to complement.” This memoir of Havdalah in a Boys’ Boarding School in England over sixty years ago illustrates the power of a charismatic leader and the magic of the ceremony and how it brought a disparate community together in experience and thought. The idea of Havdalah is reinterpreted here not to mean the end of one and the beginning of the other, but rather a transition in which one spiritual state informs and enhances the other. The Artist Makes Havdalah 203 DAVID GREENSTEIN The Havdalah ceremony celebrates our ability to make distinctions. Can we avoid the danger of creating discriminatory hierarchies to which this ability might conceivably lead? The model of the artist can offer us some guidance. Havdalah—Emulating God in Mind and Deed: Israel’s Divine Mission and the Quest for Salvation 221 MICHELLE J. LEVINE The prayer for Israel’s salvation is expressed in the Havdalah prayer within the context of Israel’s divine mission as the chosen nation. This mission is understood against the backdrop of God’s purpose for the creation of the world, in which the Almighty desired that humanity would recognize the

greatness of its Creator and emulate God’s ways. The Havdalah ceremony reminds Jews that we must strive to fulfill this divine goal as we go about our daily lives in order to bring about our nation’s final redemption so that we may realize this lofty mission to the fullest. Differentiating Our Differentiations: Shades of Havdalah 251 GIDON ROTHSTEIN This essay discusses different ways we differentiate, sometimes as a way of creating distance, sometimes as a way of finding a fuller appreciation of that which we encounter. Havdalah: Sanctification of Ḥol 263 DENA FREUNDLICH This essay seeks to develop the idea that Havdalah is a ritual that not only ends Shabbat but also initiates and sanctifies the new week that is beginning and the “work” (m’lakhah) that will be done during it. By exploring the relationship between the specific labors forbidden on Shabbat and those involved in creating the great desert sanctuary, the mishkan, this essay suggests new perspectives on the significance of the labor that is prohibited on Shabbat, on Judaism’s approach to sanctity of time and space, and of course on Havdalah itself. Havdalah: The Spirituality of Separation 283 ELYSE GOLDSTEIN In Judaism there is a “spirituality of separation” which Havdalah typifies. The ongoing efforts to separate milk and meat, male and female, and Shabbat and workaday are all ways of seeing the world in binaries that make up boundaries while at the same time defining holiness. The beautiful Havdalah ceremony, though, tries to merge all those separations into a unified whole. This essay explores those binaries and their history and application, as well as challenge that theology of separation through a feminist reading of the concept of holiness. About the Contributors




Preface Martin S. Cohen In its famous opening chapter, the Hebrew Bible describes creation as consisting of twin acts of making and separating: God creates light on the first day and then separates it from the darkness, just as on the next day God creates the firmament and then sets it in place to separate the waters above from the waters below. And so it follows, at least in theory, that when human beings seek to create through the medium of their own artistry, creativity, or industry— and are obviously unable to mimic the uniquely divine act of creation ex nihilo—they seek to do so through the one part of the process they can imitate: separation. Indeed, the famous quip that the correct way to make a statue of a horse is to take a huge block of marble and then to chip away the parts that don’t look like a horse is just an amusing way of suggesting the same idea: namely, that the human creative process involves the perception of something embedded within something else and then the subsequent liberation of that thing from its former setting so that it may exist on its own and in its own right. For Jewish readers, the notion of creative separation will be most familiar in the many commandments that seek to instill reverence for the Creator by honoring the categories of creation. This is a notion that manifests itself throughout the rich panoply of rules set forth in Scripture and understood collectively to constitute the path the righteous may travel toward the knowledge of God. Indeed, the very


Martin S. Cohen

notion that humankind can best approach God through behavior that shows respect for the categories imbedded in the world from the time of creation—and that the concept of separation can be brought to bear productively and fruitfully in this context—will be familiar, and can hold tremendous spiritual potential, for those who hew to the commandments. Even something as ordinary (and seemingly nonspiritual) as showing respect for the boundary stones that set off a neighbor’s private property (Deuteronomy 19:14, cf. Proverbs 22:28), for example, is treated in the Torah not as merely a point of property law, but rather as a sacred obligation in which we can find embedded the ancillary obligations to respect and honor dividing lines of other sorts, to recognize differences between neighbors, and to maintain societal separations insofar as they reinforce and bolster our own integrity and well-being. And the other forms of ritual separation familiar to those who live a Jewish life—keeping separate dairy and meat foodstuffs and utensils, for example, or avoiding garments made of a mixture of linen and wool—are all similarly rooted in the same notion: that one can seek to know the Creator by showing respect to creation and the categories woven, some overtly and others subtly, into its warp and its woof. To worship in a synagogue, one may have first to choose from many available options. To find God in the world, however, one has no real choice but to live one’s life in the one created world, ever cognizant of the design imprinted on it by the Creator…which effort can only bring us closer to finding the Creator in creation, in the world. Most familiar of all separation rituals is Havdalah itself, the ceremony that formally marks the end of the Sabbath and the onset of the workweek. (The word havdalah means “separation” and is merely the nominal version of the verb used in Genesis to denote God’s creative effort to separate that which was priorly mixed together.) And it is thus the Havdalah ceremony that naturally serves



as the focus for most of the essays in this volume. Indeed, for most of our authors, the concept of havdalah manifests itself the most meaningfully and interestingly in Havdalah, with both its ritual and its liturgy deemed representative of its core concept of sacral delineation. But other authors have taken the concept in different directions, considering what it could possibly mean in a world that more often values integration and cross-cultural fertilization. Our authors in this volume form a varied group, but they all embrace the simple notion that the great path forward toward an enhanced, rich sense of what it means to be a Jew in the world leads through the studied contemplation of the rituals and prayers that are the stuff of traditional Jewish life. But although this book is about the Jewish ritual and Jewish ideas, I hope that it will appeal not only to Jewish readers but to many others as well. In the digital age, to imagine that the high road to learning about anything at all is through the studied contemplation of the written word is a bit of a daring idea seriously to put forward. But that is exactly what I and the other editors of these volumes actually do think: that the high road to understanding Judaism and Jewishness is through the thoughtful consideration of the commandments and their attendant liturgies and rituals, as well as through the study of the classical texts that together form the corpus of ancient and medieval Jewish literature. I can only hope that readers of these books come to agree with those basic suppositions. Unless otherwise indicated, all translations of classical Jewish texts quoted in this volume are the authors’ own work. Biblical citations footnoted to the NJPS derive from the complete translation of Scripture first published under the title Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures by the Jewish Publication Society in Philadelphia in 1985. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the authors who have contributed to this volume for their time and their energy, and also for their boundless creativity. And similarly must I also


Martin S. Cohen

acknowledge the other senior editors of the Mesorah Matrix series, David Birnbaum and Benjamin Blech, as well as Saul J. Berman, our associate editor. They and our able staff have all supported me as I’ve labored to bring this volume to fruition and I am grateful to them all. As always, I must also express my gratitude to the men and women, and particularly to the lay leadership, of the synagogue I serve as rabbi, the Shelter Rock Jewish Center in Roslyn, New York. Possessed of the unwavering conviction that their rabbi’s book projects are part and parcel of his service to them (and, of course, also to the larger community of those interested in learning about Judaism through the medium of the well-written word), they are remarkably supportive of my literary efforts as author and editor. I am in their debt, and I am pleased to acknowledge that debt formally here and wherever I publish my own work or the work of others.

Martin S. Cohen Roslyn, New York May 19, 2016/11 Iyar 5776


A Note from the Editors

Abbreviations A.T. -

Arba·ah Turim



Babylonian Talmud




M.T. - Mishneh Torah T.

- Tosefta


- Yerushalmi

A Note from the Editors Every effort has been made to retain a good level of consistency between the essays that appear here in terms of the translation and transliteration

of Hebrew. Many of our decisions have, needs be, been arbitrary, but we have done our best to create a book that will be as accessible to newcomers

to the study of Judaism as it is inspiring to cognoscenti. The four-letter name of God, left unpronounced by pious Jews as a sign of reverence, is

mostly rendered in this volume as “the Eternal” or “the Eternal One,"

occasionally as “Lord” or “the Lord,” or as YHVH. Other divine names are either transliterated or translated to create in English something akin

to the way the text reads in Hebrew. All translations are their authors’ unless otherwise indicated.



Havdalah: The Essence of Judaism

Havdalah: The Essence of Judaism Reuven P. Bulka

When we hear the word havdalah, we instinctively think about the conclusion of Shabbat and the yamim tovim, the festivals, when we are obliged to delineate the ordinary days from the sacred days through what has come to be known as the Havdalah ritual. But in actuality havdalah as a concept goes back a long time, pre-dating both Shabbat and the festivals. It is havdalah as a general concept that is the primary focus of this essay and, in the end, we will circle back to the Havdalah ritual specifically, and the meaning of its words.

Separation in Creation We are first introduced to the notion of havdalah very early in the story of creation. We are told that “God saw that the light was good, and God separated (va-yavdeil) between the light and the darkness” (Genesis 1:4). The verse is quite perplexing. Why the need to separate light from darkness? What would have occurred had light and darkness mixed? Is that not what we have in the period around dusk or at daybreak? Yet the world survives. Moreover, God separated the light from the dark after seeing “that the light was good.” We are prompted to wonder: In what way is light good, rather than just real? And why is the separation of light


Reuven P. Bulka

from darkness seemingly contingent on God’s seeing that the light was good? The creation chronicle continues with more references to havdalah, to separation. On the second day (or, rather, phase) of creation, we are introduced to the separation of the waters (Genesis 1:6–7). On the fourth day, we are again presented with the notion of separation, this time between day and night (Genesis 1:14, 18). It seems clear that the biblical narrative presents the concept of havdalah as a deeply engrained feature of creation. Nathan Aviezer, in his outstanding work In the Beginning: Biblical Creation and Science, puts our original question into a more scientific framework. On God’s having separated light from darkness (Genesis 1:14), he observes that “darkness is not a substance that can be separated from light. The word ‘darkness’ simply denotes the absence of light. If there is darkness, then there is no light; if there is light, then there is no darkness. Thus, there is no logical content to the notion of the separation of light from darkness.”1 Aviezer notes that matter, when it was originally formed, existed neither as atoms nor as groups of atoms called molecules, because the enormous temperature of the primeval fireball—an intense concentration of pure energy—would have disintegrated any atom. At that time, matter existed in a form called plasma. The atom is electrically neutral; plasma consists of particles having either positive or negative charges. The properties of the charged particles are such that a plasma “traps” light and prevents its free passage. To an outside observer, a plasma always appears dark. Within a fraction of a second after the big bang, Aviezer explains, the universe consisted of the light of the primeval fireball interspersed with a plasma. The light of the fireball, though extremely intense, could not escape to be seen, since it was trapped by the plasma. After what Aviezer refers to as time zero, the intensely hot primeval


Havdalah: The Essence of Judaism

fireball cooled very rapidly, enough to allow the charged particles of the plasma to combine and form atoms. When the plasma was transformed into atoms, the light of the fireball was no longer trapped by the plasma and began to visibly shine, filling the entire universe.2 Regarding our question concerning the separation of light, Aviezer states the following: “The big-bang theory explains that the universe originally consisted of a mixture of a plasma and the light of the primeval fireball. At that time, the universe appeared dark because of the plasma. The sudden transformation of the plasma into atoms shortly after the creation caused the electromagnetic radiation (‘light’) of the primeval fireball to separate from the previously dark universe and shine freely through space. This separation is called decoupling in scientific terminology.”3 Aviezer then delivers the punch line for our question: “The biblical passage ‘And God separated the light from the darkness’ may be understood as referring to the decoupling of the light from the dark fireball-plasma mixture.”4 All this is beyond brilliant and illuminating. On a scientific level, it addresses what actually happened in creation. But the question with which we began remains, perhaps demanding a response even more acutely. To a certain extent, what happened with the light, the decoupling, was a separation of sorts. But it was more a freeing up, rather than a separation. For what reason does the Torah describe what occurred as separation, as havdalah? Scripture could have referred to it as God extricating or freeing the light from being trapped in a plasma.

Seeing the Light But what if Scripture intends, through the ongoing use of the language of separation, to describe creation in order to teach us something


Reuven P. Bulka

unrelated to science, but rather something instructive about our own spiritual lives? That message could be that separation inheres in creation, and is an essential concept for humans to understand if we are to interact successfully with God’s universe. The concept of havdalah, of separating, of seeing difference, is critical for fully appreciating God’s world and living according to God’s word. Put simply, creation made order out of chaos; that is what creation achieved. The “world order” came via separation. Previously the world was a mishmash. This pattern of God making order from chaos is meant to suggest to us our ongoing role in sustaining creation: the obligation to create and maintain order in the world by creating zones of goodness and justice, and making them separate from the chaos from which they will emerge. What is so good about light? God saw that the light was good (Genesis 1:4). God saw that it was good to be able to see, to discern, to delineate, to separate, to realize and appreciate differentness in the proper way. There is little possibility of differentiating if one cannot see. In the dark, everything is the same. What happened right after creation—the ill-fated episode involving Adam and Eve and the fruit of a certain tree—can be seen as somewhat related to idea of havdalah. It remains a riddle as to why Adam was not able to eat everything, why there was one fruit of a certain tree that he was proscribed from eating (Genesis 2:16–17). If God did not wish for Adam to eat of one specific tree, why was it there at all? Could the plan have been, just perhaps, for Adam to learn something of the concept of havdalah from the very beginning of his time on earth? We can imagine God turning to Adam and saying, “You, Adam, must not look at everything as being the same. There is a hierarchy of values in the world: there are do’s and do not’s, there are behaviors that are acceptable and behaviors that are out of bounds, there are


Havdalah: The Essence of Judaism

foods that are permitted and foods that are not. Often the differences are subtle, but failing to realize that there are distinctions, that there are things permissible and things prohibited, will compromise your ability to flourish. Without boundaries, everything goes and nothing matters.” Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, in his monumental Torah commentary, suggests that the word havdalah goes beyond the notion of mere separation, and implies a positive allocation, a separate existence, a separate purpose.5 Indeed, the idea of meaningful separation, as we are about to discover, pervades the Torah in so many dimensions.

Sun and Moon In further contemplating creation, it is instructive to look at the sun–moon relationship. That relationship is introduced as follows: “Let there be luminaries in the firmament of the heaven to separate between the day and the night; and they shall serve as signs, for festivals, and for days and for years” (Genesis 1:14). These luminaries, the sun and the moon, have clear directives and boundaries. Their respective roles are to dominate “by day and by night, and to separate between the light and the darkness” (Genesis 1:18). Rabbi Ḥayyim ibn Attar (1646–1793) indicates in his commentary Or Ha-Ḥayyim to Genesis 1:17 that these constellations were ordered not to encroach on each other, that each is commanded regarding its own boundaries that it must not trespass; thereby day and night will be recognizable. Regarding the setting in order and the fixing of boundaries between the newly created light and the old darkness, Hirsch observes:


Reuven P. Bulka

Both are henceforth to rule the world, both to have their uses for the world. Light to awaken everything to individual life and growth, darkness to give opportunity for forces to penetrate and work internally by relaxing from stimulation. Light is not to work unceasingly, both light and darkness receive their kingdoms, and again it is God, the same God who called “Light” into the darkness, who intervened, with His Almighty Power of arranging and limiting, between these two greatest and most important contrasts which were henceforth to rule the world; “and God divided the light from darkness”... All life germinates in the womb of obscure darkness, everything matures to independence under the rays of light. And this change accompanies us throughout the whole of our existence here below. In our temporary stay on earth we cannot bear constant light. When we have used all our forces for twelve hours in the ray of light, working and attempting and accomplishing, we sink back, weary and enervated, into the old darkness, and, sheltered under the motherly wing of Night, imbibe fresh forces to be able to develop a fresh life of light.6 The sun–moon, day–night, light–dark balance, intricately bound up in creation, is the time-related aspect of life in the real world. Both day and night figure prominently in how to live properly. The night paves the way for the day, be it through regrouping, re-energizing, or creating. The day brings to the fore all that was made possible by the contemplative, recuperative night period. Moving beyond the realm of time, let us now see how the havdalah concept functions in other aspects of life.


Havdalah: The Essence of Judaism

The L’mino Concept There are a host of biblical regulations that prohibit the eradication of the havdalah notion embedded in creation. These include, for example, the laws that forbid mating diverse kinds of animals or even planting single fields with diverse crops (Numbers 19:19 and Deuteronomy 22:9, respectively). The medieval Sefer Ha-ḥinnukh, traditionally ascribed to Rabbi Aaron Halevi of Barcelona (1235– c.1290), explains the rationale for these laws as follows: At the root of the precept is that God created God’s world with wisdom, understanding, and knowledge, and made and shaped all the forms according to what they required to fit into the purpose of the world...and that explains why it is written, regarding the work of creation, “God saw everything that God made, and behold it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).... Since God knows that everything God made is perfectly suited to its purpose as needed in the world, therefore God commanded each and every species to produce its fruit of its own kind, as written in the order of creation (Genesis 1:11, 21, 24), and the species must not be mingled, lest their completeness be diminished, and God will not command the godly blessing for them. According to our thought, it seems that this is the root reason why we were forbidden to mate different species of animals; similarly for this same reason...were we warned regarding plants and trees.7 This idea of species preservation is more than a mere precept. It is an enveloping concept, critical to the entirety of Jewish expression. This is most obvious in the writings of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch. In his great philosophical work Horeb: A Philosophy of Jewish Laws and Observances, Hirsch states:


Reuven P. Bulka

It may be that these laws were directly intended to remind us in...our cattle breeding, our agricultural activities, our work in general, in our clothing and in our food, of the fact that God’s law lies at the basis of the existence and development of all organic life; and that God’s law, which has been set down in the Torah for mankind and Israel, is nothing but the Divine l’mino-declaration on behalf of the life of man and of Israel, so that man might fulfill that Divine task in free, dutiful loyalty which all other species of earthly beings bring to realization in their existence and activity—unerringly and of necessity—bound by instinct and the laws of nature.8 Hirsch enlarges on the l’mino (“for its species”) theme in his commentary to Genesis 1:11–13, seeing it as a critical component of our faith system. He states that this law, which God implanted in the organic world of nature, is of the very highest importance for our human and Jewish calling, for it has interwoven consideration of it in the whole of our life. Not only does it forbid us actual interference with this law by the prohibition of...the unnatural crossing of species of plants and animals which are of different species in nature, but in our whole association with the organic world—at sowing and planting, at the use of animals for work, at using materials obtained from animal and vegetable sources for our clothes, and at the food we teaches us to keep such order that brings to our minds again and again the great law of “keeping species separate.”9 Hirsch actually sees the Torah as the l’mino, the uniqueness, of the Jewish people, embracing the entirety of life—the animal world, the vegetable world, eating, drinking, clothing, sexual relations, etc. In a penetrating discourse on the famous, thrice-mentioned prohibition


Havdalah: The Essence of Judaism

to “cook no animal flesh in the milk of its mother” (Exodus 23:19, 34:26, and Deuteronomy 14:21), Hirsch considers this regulation as belonging to the general category of forbidden mixtures, in violation of the law of l’mineihu (a variant form of l’mino), God’s law of nature—even though the meat-milk mixture does not actually involve an interference with the laws of nature.10 Hirsch contends that the human being is “endowed with the alimentary and sexual objects of the plant, and the thought and movement of the animal,” but in addition is “endowed with the breath of God, which raises his animal power of thought into an understanding and discerning spirit, and the animal power of action into free untrammeled power of exercising his will, and which is able to, and meant to rule, as a human being, over both the vegetable and animal nature of his being.”11 Hirsch goes on to argue that in the human being, “the vegetative is to submit itself to the animal, and both to the human intellect, which is called upon to rule and master them...”12 So crucial is this idea of separation that it is mentioned here three times, including the first time as the crescendo-finale of the many social laws immediately preceding it, as expressed submission to the law of the species, the l’mino law. The l’mino law is the quintessential havdalah: the separation, the delineation, the embedding of a value hierarchy that is described in the Torah. And it all derives from creation.

Uniqueness Among Humans The most elementary creation-related delineation is that which distinguishes between humans and animals. Adam’s search for a viable partner, when the only choices available were in the animal kingdom, speaks eloquently to this. Adam’s frustration at not finding


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a suitable match (Genesis 2:19–20) expresses quite clearly how distinct the animal kingdom is from the human. Both spheres—that of human and that of animal—have their purpose, but this does not suggest the viability of a biosphere that successful integrates all parts of creation without blurring their inherent distinctiveness. On the one hand, having respect for the animal kingdom is entrenched in the Torah via many laws that forbid cruelty to animals, such as prohibiting the muzzling of an ox when it is doing its work on the threshing floor (Deuteronomy 25:4). On the other hand, treating an animal as a fully acceptable sexual partner— the ultimate act of eradicating species-specific distinctiveness—is considered a heinous crime (Leviticus 18:23 and 20:15). There is also distinctiveness within the human realm; not all human beings are the same. Yes, they are all human—but there are important distinctions even among humans. Males are different from females, even as they share obvious similarities. Both are created in the divine image, and both are capable of great achievements and horrible deeds. But a man cannot bear children and a woman cannot impregnate a man. Similarly, crossing other social and spiritual gender-based boundaries merely because these can actually be crossed is no less a distortion of God’s creation. Is one better than the other? Absolutely not. But they are distinct from each other. Surely this does not mean that women and men cannot learn from each other. Nor does it imply that gender-based distinctions rooted in the supposition that one gender is superior to the other should be slavishly maintained. But what it does mean is that the creation of humanity in two distinct genders—surely not the only options open to an allpowerful Creator—is meant to enhance the human experience, and should be celebrated as part of God’s plan for humankind. We are obliged to love our fellow human beings (Leviticus 19:18), but the very nature of creation forces us to realize that not all love


Havdalah: The Essence of Judaism

is the same; how we interact with our parents or with our spouse, for example, differs from how we interact with other people. These relationships are unique, sanctified, separated (that is to say, distinct) from other relationships. Unique relationships beget unique ways of expressing respect, love, and admiration. Were this not the case, then all relationships would suffer.

Priests and Levites Within the community of Israel, not everyone is the same. The sanctity of every human life is a universal value, but different individuals have different roles and responsibilities. Consider, for example, the Levites. After listing some of their special responsibilities, God says to Moses: “So shall you separate the Levites from among the Israelites, and the Levites shall be Mine” (Numbers 8:14). Moses recollects this delineation years later, when he recapitulates his life with the people of Israel: “At that time, God set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the Ark of God’s covenant...” (Deuteronomy 10:8). This hierarchy of responsibility, however, degenerated into a power conflict in the Koraḥ rebellion, described in the Torah at Numbers 16–17. In the heat of that bitter conflict, Moses said: “Is it not enough for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the assembly of Israel to draw you near...And God drew you near, and all your brethren, the offspring of Levi, with you; yet you seek priesthood as well” (Numbers 16:9–10). For Koraḥ and his cohorts, levitical status was not sufficient. Their aspiration, which they attempted to attain in high-handed fashion, was to cross over a boundary and become priests. The Levites are a distinct tribe, but within the levitical family there is a further delineation that separates kohanim (that is, those


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Levites descended from Aaron) from other Levites. Each of these groups have clear and distinct responsibilities. Is one group better than the other? Clearly not. But can one group arrogate to itself the responsibilities that were handed to another group? Again, the answer is no. Consider the fact that the Levites were responsible for the mishkan (that is, the desert Tabernacle), its furniture, and all that pertained to it—including setting it up and dismantling it. What if a non-Levite wanted to assume this responsibility? The Torah is clear and unequivocal: “The stranger that draws near shall be put to death” (Numbers 1:51). In other words, a stranger, a non-Levite, who assumes levitical function, commits a capital offense. The Talmud poses a somewhat odd question: “To whom does this verse apply?” And the answer given is even more unexpected: “Even to David, King of Israel.”13 Why such an unexpected answer? Why not say simply that the rule applies to all non-Levites? The Talmud’s answer is profound: even a monarch, who can generally do more or less whatever he wishes, has limited power—because even a king can no more assume levitical duties (if he is not a Levite) than a man can bear children. (David and all his descendants were members of the tribe of Judah.). The king has his role; the Levite has his. Even David, because of whose merit the Jerusalem Temple was able to function,14 could not claim special status, special entrée. Once we start dismantling the hierarchy of responsibility and introduce false distinctions by blurring the real ones, we invite chaos. Anyone could take care of the Tabernacle, and for a while it might work to have this role open to anyone. But if anyone can do it, then no one is directly responsible, because there will always be others around to do it. Eventually, the task likely falls into the cracks and does not get done at all. The idea of strangers not imposing themselves into responsibilities delegated to others has a further instructive nuance.The priests of Israel


Havdalah: The Essence of Judaism

were members of the tribe of Levi, but the term “Levites” is generally used to denote those members of the tribe who were not descended from Aaron. So although it would be theoretically correct to refer to the priests as Levites (and the Torah, particularly in Deuteronomy, does that in many different passages, e.g. Deuteronomy 17:9, 18 and 18:1), current usage, as well as mainstream rabbinic usage in classical Jewish texts, is to use the term “Levite” to denote only members of the tribe of Levi who were not Aaronide priests. Both the kohanim (that is, the Aaronide priests) and the Levites have specific roles, relating to distinct sets of responsibilities. The priests dare not get involved in assuming levitical responsibilities, and the Levites dare not get involved in priestly responsibilities. The author of Sefer Ha-ḥinnukh actually codifies this distinctiveness as one of the commandments: At the root of the precept is that the service of these two groups is precious and sacred, therefore this work must be very carefully guarded from abandonment, laziness, and forgetfulness....There is no doubt that in any work incumbent on two people or more, negligence occurs more frequently than with a task that is incumbent on only one person....because many times, the two will rely on each other and between them the work will be left unattended from between them; this is clear to everyone.15 The author goes on to suggest that the same logic would apply even inside the priestly family, in that it is also prohibited for a kohen to assist in the work of a fellow kohen.16 This is quite remarkable, and vigorously reinforces the idea that delegated responsibilities dare not be encroached upon by outsiders—and not even by insiders. There is an impregnable wall separating those who are tasked from everyone else. That this notion is itself a biblical precept is a powerful expression of how deeply the need to distinguish is embedded in Jewish


Reuven P. Bulka

tradition. The logic of the potential consequence deriving from failure to respect this border is compelling: if anyone can fulfill the task, eventually it will not get done. The lines of obligation are clearly drawn; erasing or blurring those lines is forbidden. The concept of distinction and delineation that undergirds the creation narrative, with which the Torah opens, is clearly meant to characterize human life in subsequent generations—and particularly Jewish life.

Holy and Ordinary Lines are blurred when one is drunk. Nothing is clear, and the ability to distinguish is severely compromised. The priests were warned not to be inebriated when entering to perform their duties in the Tabernacle (Leviticus 10:9). And the Torah goes on to say specifically that among their sacred tasks was the obligation “to distinguish between the sacred and the ordinary, and between the tamei and the tahor, and to teach the Israelites all of the statutes that God spoke to them through Moses” (Leviticus 10:10–11).17 Rabbi Baḥya ben Asher ibn Halawa (1255–1340, called Rabbeinu Baḥya) makes a telling point in his comment to Leviticus 10:4, noting that anyone who must distinguish between the sacred and the ordinary, or who needs to render judgment, may not drink wine. In fact, Rabbeinu Baḥya explains the extra “ands” with which these verses begin to imply that the wine prohibition extends beyond the service in the sanctuary, to any situation demanding discernment. And discernment, as is clearly stated (Leviticus 10:10), refers to teaching the entire Torah.18 The entire Torah, as Hirsch so eloquently pointed out, is a Torah of delineation.19 The Tabernacle is sacred, distinct from other places. Within the Tabernacle itself, however, there is a sacred section and a more sacred


Havdalah: The Essence of Judaism

section, which are set apart from each other by a curtain, a partition, which acts to “separate for you between the holy and the Holy of Holies” (Exodus 26:33). The Holy of Holies was a severely restricted area, reserved for the High Priest and only on the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur. This notion of delineation had already been introduced prior to the revelation on Mount Sinai. In preparation for revelation, Moses was to set boundaries around the mountain, preventing the people from ascending the mountain or even touching its edge (Exodus 19:12). These boundaries are part of the story of Israel at Sinai, a part that was no less visible to the Israelites camped at the foot of the mountain than was the mountain itself. Revelation itself is all about setting borders, establishing uniqueness in many dimensions. God is unique; there are no pagan deities. Every day is important, but Shabbat stands in a separate category of time. Other men’s wives are off limits. (That would be adultery.) Someone else’s property may not be taken. (That would be theft.) Even the mental erasure of borders, through coveting what belongs to others, is strictly forbidden. The revelation at Mount Sinai, the Ten Statements, is thus all about legislating havdalah, the cornerstone of Judaism’s social as well as ritual laws. Finally, consider the idea of havdalah as regards someone who accidently trespassed the sacred border of taking someone else’s most sacred possession, life itself. Such individuals were exiled to cities of refuge, which were set aside by Moses: “Then Moses set aside three cities on the bank of the Jordan, toward the rising sun” (Deuteronomy 4:41).20 The biblical word for “set aside” is yavdil, etymologically related to the word havdalah. The punishment for this accidental but serious action of the ultimate trespass, killing another person, removes the perpetrator from interactive society and requires that he or she be put into a place set apart. For one who disregarded


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the havdalah of life’s sanctity, the consequence is being placed in a city created by havdalah. Perhaps this expresses the hope that the accidental killer, when put into a place created by havdalah, will learn the lessons of the borders in life, of havdalah.

The World of Eating Eating is an area of life that is suffused with delineation regulations: “This is the torah of the animal, the bird, every living creature that swarms in the water, and every creature that teems on the ground: to distinguish between the tamei and the tahor, and between the creature that may be eaten and the creature that may not be eaten” (Leviticus 11:46–47). Rashi, commenting on verse 47, notes that observing this law requires going beyond merely memorizing its rules. The explicit language of the verses leads to the conclusion that one must know, recognize, and be conversant in these regulations. In our highly organized world, we do not pick up the true essence of this concept. To really delineate that which is permitted from that which is forbidden is an onerous, but necessary, task. If every Jew were to embrace these core concepts as part of his or her worldview, then the sense of separateness would become a major motif in daily discourse. Observing the laws of kashrut is relatively easy today: all one has to do is buy one product and avoid another. But the great goal of having the world’s foodstuffs available and then actively choosing only the permitted foods, thereby personally making the distinction between permitted and forbidden, between tamei and tahor—that is not so much a feature of our Jewish lives today. And that is something we should probably regret. On this matter of distinguishing, Rashi makes a telling point. It is not necessary to obligate us to differentiate between a cow and


Havdalah: The Essence of Judaism

donkey, as that distinction is quite obvious.21 The directive is for us to know what is permitted to us and what is forbidden, an exercise that is often more subtle and can be quite demanding. At the same time, it is a basic necessity for living life responsibly.

Among the Nations Critical to the uniqueness of Israel is its rejection of idolatry. This was the differentiating mark of Abraham, called ha-ivri at Genesis 14:13. Usually translated as “the Hebrew,” the word ivri actually denotes being on a side—the Hebrew word for “side” is eiver—as was the case with Abraham, who was alone on one side and the rest of the world on another side.22 It was in the rejection of idolatry that Abraham stood apart from the rest of his society. Later on, idolatry became the dividing line between Israel and the nations: “I am the Eternal your God, who has separated you from the nations” (Leviticus 20:24). This follows God’s admonition to Israel not to follow the ways of the idolaters, lest they be deemed unworthy of the Holy Land that God planned to bequeath to them. And a bit further on, this theme of separation is again emphasized: “You shall be holy unto Me, for I, the Eternal, am holy; and I have separated you from the nations to be Mine” (Leviticus 20:26). This is followed by the strict prohibition of sorcery, a clearly idolatrous practice. In his comment to Leviticus 20:26, Rabbeinu Baḥya insists that this separateness is not an end in itself, but should rather be understood as a means to an end. He explains: “Your separating from [the nations] is for heaven, just as one distances oneself from sinfulness and accepts on oneself the obligation [to serve God].” One cannot be immersed in idolatry and at the same time embrace God. Indeed, one must move away from idolatry, by categorically rejecting


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it as out of bounds, in order to embrace God. In his comment to that same verse, Rashi is quite blunt: “If you are separated from them, then you are Mine.” His implication is perfectly clear: but if not, then you belong with other idolaters. Separateness—in creation, in our human interplay with the world—is for a purpose. Just to be apart for no reason is of little value. If it is being separate in order to reject what must be rejected, namely idolatry, then it is separation with a purpose, as in freeing up the light from the darkness. Abraham himself is perfect evidence of this separation with a purpose, separation undertaken in order to achieve a greater goal. He is said to have “made” souls (Genesis 12:5), which the midrash takes as referring to the people that he and his wife Sarah brought under the protection of God’s presence.23 As much as Abraham and Sarah were alone in their beliefs, compared with the rest of their immediate world, the point was not being alone for its own sake. Their legendary hospitality certainly does not fit the description of loners. They were unique in their beliefs, but fervently desired a world in which everyone was united in the belief in the one and only God.

The Unity of Israel As much as separation, delineation, differentness, and uniqueness are dominant themes in Judaism, so is the notion of togetherness. The distinct components of the Jewish community are the components that, working together and working responsibly, make a viable community possible. When working at contrary purposes, the community splinters. Consider God’s words to Moses and Aaron regarding Koraḥ and his effort to splinter the community, precisely by breaking down the


Havdalah: The Essence of Judaism

boundaries God imposed on the Israelite nation: “Separate yourselves (hibbad’lu) from amid this assembly” (Numbers 16:21). The word hibbad’lu is from the same verbal root as havdalah. And as for one who would separate out to join evildoers, the Torah says that “the Eternal will set him aside (v’hivdilo) for misfortune from among all the tribes of Israel” (Deuteronomy 29:20). The word v’hivdilo, too, is clearly related to havdalah—once again bringing the havdalah theme to the fore. Why was it necessary for God to do a havdalah with the renegade Koraḥ, to “set him aside...from all the tribes of Israel”? Couldn’t he just be punished without actually being removed from the midst of his own community? Rabbi Ḥayyim ibn Attar, writing in his Torah commentary Or Ha-ḥayyim, explains that a Jewish soul has an affinity to all the tribes of Israel. Therefore, God has to separate this person’s soul from all the tribes, to ensure that the evil that befalls this person will not have harmful repercussions on those tribes.24 There is thus no inherent separation within the Israelite community. We are all intimately bound up together. Our destinies are intertwined to such an extent that even one who has rejected the community, who has made a personal havdalah, is still not fully separated. God has to finish the separation (as in the case of Koraḥ). This is quite a powerful way to appreciate what is meant by Jewish unity, a people spiritually joined at the hip.

Back to Havdalah It is worthwhile now to circle back to the havdalah with which we are most familiar, namely: the Havdalah prayer recited on Saturday night following the conclusion of the Shabbat. The essential blessing of Havdalah extols God as the One who delineates between the holy


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and the ordinary, between light and darkness, between Israel and the nations, between the seventh day and the six working days. In light of our above discussion of the nature and importance of the havdalah concept in Judaism, the ceremony of Havdalah takes on an entirely new meaning: • Holy and ordinary: In life, there is the ordinary and the holy, the sacred. That is the all-encompassing divide. • Light and darkness: This all-important delineation was projected from the very distinguishing character of creation, based as it was on the notion of distinctiveness, on light and darkness, on discerning the relative importance of different values. • Israel and the nations: Israel, via its embrace of the Torah, thereby embraces the very blueprint of value differentiation. By the way, that embrace is available to everyone. Everyone can adopt the way of Israel, at the same time that people born into Israel can, and sadly do, occasionally opt out. The embrace is a conscious choice. • The seventh day and the six working days: It is these three delineating markers—the holy, the light, and the embrace of the Torah by Israel—that come together to highlight what Shabbat represents. Shabbat is the final day of creation, a day distinguished from the rest of the week as much as the day is separated from the night, a day that is therefore holy, a day embraced by Israel that invokes sanctity of creation and the uniqueness of Israel. But Havdalah marks not only the conclusion of the Shabbat. It also marks the beginning of the six working days, wherein the havdalah theme will be central to every day of the week—simply because there is prioritization in everything we do, just as there is value hierarchy and differentiation.


Havdalah: The Essence of Judaism

In other words, the havdalah in play when we recite Havdalah on Saturday night is not only a separation from Shabbat. It is at the same time a havdalah that introduces the workweek. In the course of that entire week to come, whether we realize it or not, we will be making clear choices. In a sense, each of those choices will be a kind of havdalah. From creation on, havdalah has been a feature of human life‌and will certainly continue to be.


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NOTES Nathan Aviezer, In the Beginning: Biblical Creation and Science (Hoboken, NJ: KTAV, 1990), p. 7. 2 Ibid., pp. 9–12. 3 Ibid., p. 6. 4 Ibid. 5 Samson Raphael Hirsch, The Pentateuch Translated and Explained, trans. Isaac Levy (London: Isaac Levy, 1963), p. 9 (comment to Genesis 1:4). 6 Ibid. 7 Sefer Ha-ḥinnukh, mitzvah 244. 8 Samson Raphael Hirsch, Horeb: A Philosophy of Jewish Laws and Observances, trans. I. Grunfeld (1962; rpt. New York, London, and Jerusalem: Soncino Press, 2002), chap. 57, pp. 288–289. The transliterated word appears in Hebrew letters in the original. 9 Hirsch to Genesis 1:11–13 in The Pentateuch, p. 18. 10 Hirsch to Exodus 23:19 in The Pentateuch, pp. 408–409. 11 Ibid., p. 411. 12 Ibid. 13 B. Shabbat 31a. 14 See B. Shabbat 30a. 15 Sefer Ha-ḥinnukh, mitzvah 389. 16 Ibid. 17 There is really no satisfactory translation for tamei and tahor. Some have used the English pairs “impure and pure” or “unclean and clean,” but these do not accurately convey the meaning of these terms. I have therefore chosen to retain the Hebrew (in transliteration). 18 Rabbeinu Baḥya to Leviticus 10:9, s.v. yayin v’sheikhar al teisht. 19 Hirsch, Horeb, section 57 (end), p. 289. 20 And cf. Numbers 35:14. 21 I am referring to Rashi’s comment to Leviticus 11:47, s.v. bein ha-tamei u-vein ha-tahor, and cf. also his comment to Leviticus 20:25, s.v. v’hivdaltem bein hab’heimah ha-t’horah la-t’mei·ah. 22 Bereishit Rabbah 42:13. 23 Bereishit Rabbah 39:14. 24 Ḥayyim ibn Attar, Or Ha-ḥayyim to Deuteronomy 29:19–20, s.v. v’om’ro. 1


Havdalah: Distinctions That Provide Identity and Meaning

Havdalah: Distinctions That Provide Identity and Meaning Elliot N. Dorff

The Hebrew word havdalah means separation, a fitting title to a ceremony whose intent is to separate Shabbat or a festival from weekdays. In the same way that we mark the distinction between Shabbat and rest of the week on Friday night, by sanctifying it—that is, marking it off—with the Kiddush prayer, so too, at the end of Shabbat, we formally mark the end of Shabbat and the beginning of the week with Havdalah. Although some people, aware of what they have to do immediately after Shabbat is over, may not always be focusing on the meaning of the liturgy and instead may be waiting anxiously for Havdalah to be over, the liturgy presumes that we leave Shabbat reluctantly. The first paragraph of Havdalah is actually a collection of verses from the Bible that bespeak our trust in God to save us from the dangers of life. We are leaving the cocoon of Shabbat, which created, in Abraham Heschel’s felicitous phrase, “a palace in time,”1 when we are commanded to create walls and moats between this holy day and the pressures of work and the other stressors of life; and now, at the conclusion of Shabbat, we are about to re-encounter them all again. We are leaving, to use the rabbis’ phrase, “a foretaste of the world to come”2 and re-entering this world. We are leaving, to use Erich Fromm’s model, the ideal world of the Garden of Eden3 and entering the real and much more flawed world of our everyday lives. As the liturgy recognizes, this transition understandably causes anxiety. We now have to face the challenges and dangers of life. It is


Elliot N. Dorff

for that reason that the first group of verses that we recite at Havdalah speak of God as our Deliverer and our Fortress. It is specifically “the Eternal One of Hosts [armies]” (Adonai tz’va·ot) whom we invoke— that is, the name of God that bespeaks God’s power to protect us from all that we fear. This phrase is used many times in the Bible to describe God, but the verse that describes God in that way in Havdalah comes from Psalm 46:12, in which God is specifically hailed as a stronghold in times of attack. Because God can and will shield us from the people and aspects of life that would do us harm, we need not be afraid of the challenges and dangers we will face in the week to come. Indeed, as the final verse asserts, “God will save us; the Sovereign will answer us in the day we call [upon Him]” (Psalm 20:10). Thus God’s protection will be with us whenever we need it. This introductory section then leads us to the blessings themselves. We first recite a blessing over the wine, which is a symbol of joy whenever we mark happy events in the Jewish calendar and in our personal lives. We thus use wine at a b’rit milah (“bris”), the circumcision and naming of a newborn boy on the eighth day of his life, and many of the new birth ceremonies for girls (often called a simḥat bat, the celebration of a daughter) similarly use wine as a symbol of our joy for the new individual who has joined the Jewish people. We also use wine to express our joy at a wedding, and it is part of the evening Kiddush prayer with which we begin Shabbat and festivals. Here, in Havdalah, we are using wine to end Shabbat, and its association with joy tells us that we need to appreciate the distinction between Shabbat and the weekdays so that we can recognize and enjoy Shabbat as a special day. After all, if all days were Shabbat, we would not appreciate its special qualities! So even if we leave Shabbat with regret, we nonetheless express our joy at its end—joy for the privilege of having Shabbat in our lives—as we demark the boundary between Shabbat and the other days of the week about to begin.4


Havdalah: Distinctions That Provide Identity and Meaning

The second blessing in the Havdalah liturgy is over fragrant spices. Smelling them enables us to leave Shabbat with sweet associations in our minds and bodies. We are leaving a weekly encounter with the Sabbath Bride, who enriches our lives and those of our family and community. The spices symbolize that we remember Shabbat fondly and long for the next Shabbat, when we will have the pleasure of experiencing Shabbat again. They betoken our joy in the Shabbat that has just passed, our wistfulness in wanting to hold onto it yet longer, and our anticipation of a Shabbat to come next week. In addition to this straightforward meaning of the spices in Havdalah, many other symbolic meanings can be, and have been, attributed to their use. So, for example, the rabbis maintained that we have “an extra soul” on Shabbat,5 and so we end Shabbat with spices in part to do what smelling salts do: to give us an extra dose of strength and consciousness that we will need as we carry on during the week without the extra soul of Shabbat. The use of a candle also has a straightforward meaning, as well as many more symbolic ones. We are not allowed to light or extinguish fires on Shabbat, and so one graphic indication that Shabbat is over is lighting this candle. A common custom is to darken the room in which Havdalah is recited (or to recite Havdalah outside), and people raise their hands and look at their fingers in the light of the candle to signify that they now may light fire again. The blessing that we recite over the candle is “who creates the lights [plural] of the fire,” and so at least two wicks must be lit. “Havdalah candles,” though, often consist of three or more intertwined wicks, each colored differently. This makes them beautiful, a wonderful expression of the Jewish value of hiddur mitzvah, fulfilling a commandment in an aesthetically pleasing way. That said, any candle with at least two wicks—of any color, and whether separate and just held together, or wound around each other to form a single flame—may be used for this purpose.


Elliot N. Dorff

After a festival, we do not use a candle for Havdalah because transferring fire from a source and lighting another candle is permissible on a festival. We also do not use spices because they are associated with the greater sweetness and extra soul of Shabbat. So Havdalah after a festival consists only of the blessing over the wine and the last blessing, described in the next paragraph. (On Yom Kippur, as on Shabbat, we are not allowed to kindle a fire, so Havdalah after Yom Kippur does include lighting at least two wicks—but, as on other festivals, the spices are omitted.) Nightfall—marking the distinction between daylight and darkness—indicates the end of Shabbat or the festival and thus occasions the recitation of Havdalah. In its last blessing, the liturgy juxtaposes the distinction between the Sabbath and weekdays to other distinctions that are important to us: “between the holy and the secular, between light and dark, between Israel and the (other) nations, between the seventh day and the six days of work.” Why are distinctions like these important? The Torah recognizes that distinctions are important in its very first chapter, where God creates the various parts of the world by distinguishing them from the original chaos and then one from another. In like manner, the distinctions listed here in the liturgy give us as a Jewish people and Shabbat as a special day their identity as such. If we were not distinct from other nations, and if Shabbat were not distinct from the other days of the week, neither Jews nor anyone else could recognize Jews as a people with its own identity different from the other nations of the world, and we Jews could not recognize Shabbat as a day different from all the others. Thus, in its concluding blessing, Havdalah celebrates these distinctions because they give us nothing less than our own sense of self, our understanding of the world, and our way of finding meaning in who we are as a people and in how we mark and celebrate the passage of time.


Havdalah: Distinctions That Provide Identity and Meaning

NOTES Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Young, 1951), p. 21. 2 Their phrase is novelet ha-olam ha-ba in Bereishit Rabbah 17:5 (17:7 in some editions) and in the Mekhilta to Exodus 31:13; it is mei-ein olam ha-ba in the midrash entitled Asarah Harugei Malkhut (“The Ten Martyrs”) as published in Otzar Ha-midrashim, ed. Judah David Eisenstein (New York: J. D. Eisenstein, 1915), p. 442. 3 Eric Fromm, The Forgotten Language (New York: Grove Press, 1951), pp. 243– 248. 4 I will return to the idea that meaning derives from the effort to mark off time and things from one another in my essay for the Search for Meaning volume in the Mesorah Matrix series, to be published 2018. 5 B. Beitzah 16a; B. Taanit 27b. For more on the idea of the “extra soul” and its connection with the Havdalah spices, see the essay elsewhere in this volume by Martin S. Cohen. 1


A Literary Approach to Havdalah: Structure and Intertexts

A Literary Approach to Havdalah: Structure and Intertexts Elie Kaunfer

Havdalah is a well-known ritual that marks the separation between the end of Shabbat (or a festival) and the rest of the week. The text of the blessings is found in the Talmud.1 The purpose of this essay is to explore the underlying structure of the Havdalah blessings, as well as the biblical allusions in one of the phrases, as an illustration of a mode of liturgical interpretation.

Talmudic Sources The Babylonian Talmud (Bavli) preserves a series of anecdotes2 in which Rabbi Yaakov bar Abba comes to the house of his teacher Rava and questions actions taken by the latter. In one of these dialogues, Rava3 recites a specific formula to mark the end of the Sabbath, thus providing us with the earliest textual witness to a particular Havdalah liturgy: “He began a prayer by saying:4 ‘who separates between holy and profane, between light and dark, between Israel and the nations,5 between the seventh day and the six days of doing.’”6 A nearly identical liturgy is reported in the name of Rabbi Zera (who lived a generation before Rava): “Rabbi Zera said, ‘[At the end of ] a holiday that falls on a weekday, one [nevertheless] says: ‘who separates between holy and profane, and between light and dark, and between Israel and the nations, and between the seventh day and


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the six days of doing.’”7 Rabbi Zera notes that, even when a festival concludes in the middle of the week, the usual post-Shabbat formula of Havdalah is to be recited, which includes the phrase “between the seventh day and the six days of doing.” This suggests that the Havdalah formula employed by Rava seems to have been standard already in the days of Rabbi Zera.8 But Rabbi Yaakov bar Abba does not agree that this should be the standard formula. He challenges his teacher Rava by noting that Rabbi Judah the Patriarch, called in this text simply “Rabbi” (as reported by Rav Yehudah in the name of Rav or Shmuel9), recited simply: ha-mavdil bein kodesh l’ḥol, “who separates between holy and profane.”10 And so we have a debate: should Havdalah list four separations (following the opinion of Rava and Rabbi Zera) or just one separation (following the opinion of Rabbi Judah the Patriarch)?11 But the Talmud preserves yet a third way to recite Havdalah, which is even longer than the approach of Rava and Rabbi Zera. For our purposes of analyzing structure and its contribution to meaning, we will focus on the longer form of Havdalah given in the following talmudic passage: An objection [from a baraita, the earliest stratum of Jewish law]: The order of Havdalah—how [does one recite it]? One should say: [Blessed are You, God,] who separates 1. between holy and profane, 2. between light and dark, 3. between Israel and the nations, 4. and between the seventh day and the six days of doing; 5. between the impure and the pure, 6. between the sea and dry land, 7. between the upper waters and the lower waters, 8. between priests, Levites, and Israelites.12


A Literary Approach to Havdalah: Structure and Intertexts

This baraita lists eight contrasting separations. The first four havdalot are the same that we have elsewhere seen quoted by Rava (and Rabbi Zera), and then an additional four havdalot follow. We will analyze the structure of this text below as we explore the biblical texts that stand behind this version of Havdalah. But this text is subject to clarification in the Babylonian Talmud itself, which is trying to satisfy two criteria stated as critical earlier in the discussion: (1) all the phrases mentioned should quote the Bible, and (2) the number of separations should be either three or seven, but not anything in between. We will turn our attention to that clarification now. Earlier in this passage, the Babylonian Talmud states a requirement from the sage Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi that each of the separations mentioned in the Havdalah liturgy must quote the Bible. Indeed, prayers are best understood when recognized as part of a larger intertextual field, employing what I have called elsewhere “the literary-intertext method.”13 In Reuven Kimelman’s words: “The meaning of the liturgy exists not so much in the liturgical text per se as in the interaction between the liturgical text and the biblical intertext. Meaning, in the mind of the reader, takes place between texts rather than within them.”14 In other words, a prayer text cannot fully be understood until one first recognizes which biblical text is being quoted in the prayer, and then examines the prayer in light of the biblical text referred to. The Talmud objects to this list of havdalot in the baraita because the phrase bein ha-yam le-ḥaravah (“between the sea and dry land”) has no Torah intertext that includes the root bet-dalet-lamed (also the root of “Havdalah,” and signifying “separation”), and therefore violates Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s rule.15 The Bavli thus removes the phrase bein ha-yam le-ḥaravah, so as to make the baraita fit with Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s rule16—which would leave seven havdalot in the list. But the Bavli then notes that the phrase bein yom ha-sh’vi∙i l’sheishet y’mei


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ha-ma∙aseh (“between the seventh day and the six days of doing”) is not considered part of the numbering, in keeping with the conclusion above from Rava.17 Thus we are left with only six separations. The Bavli solves this problem of requiring seven separations by dividing the final phrase—“between priests, Levites, and Israelites”— into two subdivisions: “between priests and Levites” and “between Levites and Israelites,” both of which have biblical intertexts, identified by the Bavli itself as Deuteronomy 10:8 and 1 Chronicles 23:13. The final text settled on is this: who separates 1. between holy and profane, 2. between light and dark, 3. between Israel and the nations, and between the seventh day and the six days of doing, 4. between the impure and pure, 5. between the upper waters and lower waters, 6. between priests and Levites, and 7. between Levites and Israelites.

Literary Structure Analysis of Havdalah Above we discussed the various texts of Havdalah, which contain anywhere from one to eight separations. A better understanding of the structure will help us discover the meaning embedded within these texts. The Havdalah text with only one separation, as recited by Rabbi Judah the Patriarch, leaves us very little to analyze on a structural basis since there is only one separation clause: bein kodesh l’ḥol (“between holy and profane”). Once we move to Rava’s four-part Havdalah (counting, for now, bein yom ha-sh’vi·i l’sheishet y’mei ha-


A Literary Approach to Havdalah: Structure and Intertexts

ma·aseh [“between the seventh day and the six days of doing”] as one of the separations), we have to ask: What is the structure of this short liturgical piece? Is bein kodesh l’ḥol the primary category, functioning as a headline—with everything that follows just an expansion of this main idea? In this conception, the other separations (light/darkness; Israel/nations; seventh day/six days) act as examples of the primary category. Or perhaps the structure is such that each separation is its own primary category, on par with holy/profane? In addition, the very terms “holy” and “profane” are ambiguous. Do they refer to something general (which has multiple sub-categories), or to something more specific? An answer to this linguistic question would help us unlock the structure of this liturgy. Only when we look at the longer Havdalah do we start to understand the structure of Rava’s Havdalah. The longer Havdalah is complex because, even in the talmudic passage itself, three versions of it are proposed. However, based on the understanding of David Weiss Halivni, one of the most important of today’s critical Talmud scholars,18 and the likelihood that a seven-part (rather than an eight-part) Havdalah makes literary sense for a blessing marking the week (which is itself based on the number seven), we will analyze the following version of that baraita from B. Pesaḥim 104a, as we discussed above: “…who separates (1) between holy and profane, (2) between light and dark, (3) between Israel and the nations, (4) and between the seventh day and the six days of doing, (5) between the impure and the pure, (6) between the upper waters and the lower waters, and (7) between priests, Levites, and Israelites. The baraita itself informs us that there is an order (seder) to the Havdalah, when it asks: “What is the order of the separations (seder havdalot hei·akh)?” In order to discover this order, it is necessary to contextualize the terms in their original biblical literary contexts, using the literary-intertext method described above.


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First, the phrase bein ha-kodesh u-vein ha-ḥol appears only one time in the Torah: in Leviticus 10:10, which reads as follows: “…to separate between the holy and the profane [and between the impure and the pure].”19 This biblical text makes clear that kodesh and ḥol (“holy” and “profane”) areto the terms tamei and tahor (“impure” and “pure”). This helps explain another aspect of the seven-separation Havdalah, namely: Why does the negative term (tamei/impure) precede the positive term (tahor/pure) in the Havdalah of the baraita, even though all the other terms seemingly lead with the positive item? The answer seems to be: Because the Havdalah text is quoting this verse in Leviticus, which also has this negative-first order. The parallel structure of the two phrases (kodesh/ḥol, tamei/tahor) makes the literary structure of the prayer clear: the first three separations are parallel to the last three separations. The phrase bein or la-ḥoshekh is related to bein mayim ha-elyonim la-mayim ha-taḥtonim also through a biblical intertext, the story of creation: “God separated between the light and between the darkness…it was a separator between the (upper) water and the (lower) water”—in which these separations are only two verses apart (Genesis 1:4 and 6). Finally, bein yisrael la-ammim is associated with bein kohanim li-l’viyim u-l’yisra·eilim, representing concentric circles of separation, with Israel differentiated from the nations, and priests and Levites separated from Israelites.20 Of the seven terms, six of them match easily based on themes and biblical proximity, as illustrated in the chart below: 1. Between holy and profane → 2. Between light and darkness → 3. Between Israel and the (gentile) nations →

4. Between impure and pure 5. Between the upper and lower waters 6. Between priests, Levites, and Israelites


A Literary Approach to Havdalah: Structure and Intertexts

Related by theme, these separations match up well: Categories of Distinction Among Humans

Categories of Distinction Categories of Among Natural Distinction in Phenomena/Creation Ritual21

→between Israel and the (gentile) nations →between priests, Levites, and Israelites

→between light and darkness →between the upper and lower waters

→between holy and profane →between impure and pure

The second set of three separations following the “standard” Havdalah of Rava and Rabbi Zera thus serve as an expansion of, and commentary on, the categories set up in the first three separations. This also helps us understand the context of those first three separation, which will be useful when we analyze the biblical intertexts in the next section of this essay. In this reading, the phrase bein yom ha-sh’vi·i l’sheishet y’mei hama·aseh would seem to serve as a culminating phrase. If the phrases are read linearly, the order of the separations makes little sense. However, if the passage is read as composed of parallel structures, as suggested here, the text bein yom ha-sh’vi’i l’sheishet y’mei ha-ma·aseh then appears as the summation phrase—the one without a parallel, and which is emphasized through the structure. This reading of the Havdalah liturgy echoes a reading of the creation story itself, where themes in Day One are echoed on Day Four, themes from Day Two are echoed in Day Five, and those from Day Three are echoed in Day Six.22 This leaves Day Seven, the Sabbath, to stand on its own—much like the liturgical phrase bein yom ha-sh’vi·i l’sheishet y’mei ha-ma·aseh, which thus echoes a reference to the seventh day and resonates with its unique quality.23


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Identification and Analysis of the Intertext(s) Havdalah clearly draws on a series of biblical allusions, as prescribed by Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s rule: “The one who separates [i.e., recites Havdalah] must say an aspect of the separations (havdalot) referenced explicitly in the Torah.” What additional meaning emerges, as a result of these prayer texts referring directly to the Bible? For the purposes of this essay, we will look only at one illustrative example: “between the seventh day and the six days of doing.” The fourth “separation” in the series is between the seventh day and the six other days of the week. While this fits the pattern of the previous separations in form, it is distinct in that it does not quote a phrase from the Bible that contains the root bet-dalet-lamed, thus apparently violating Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s rule. Indeed, the medieval siddur commentators do not point to the intertext of this line, presumably because it does not fit the rule.24 However, this phrase still has a number of possible biblical intertexts. Identifying this intertext is a bit complex, because the words themselves do not appear verbatim in the biblical text. Some possible candidates are the following verses: Six days shall you do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease…(Exodus 23:12). Six days may work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be a ceasing of complete ceasing, holy to the Eternal… (Exodus 31:15). …for in six days the Eternal made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He ceased from work and was refreshed (Exodus 31:17). Six days may work be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a holy ceasing of complete ceasing to the Eternal…(Exodus 35:2).


A Literary Approach to Havdalah: Structure and Intertexts

Six days may work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be a ceasing of complete ceasing, a sacred occasion… (Leviticus 23:3). Indeed, each of these verses contrasts the “doing” of work six days a week to the ceasing on the seventh day.25 However, in looking for the intertext for our phrase, none of them offers the exact phrase found in Havdalah: “the six days of doing” (sheishet y’mei ha-ma·aseh). In fact, that phrase only appears once in the Bible: “Thus has the Lord, the Eternal, proclaimed: The east gate of the inner court will be closed, during the six days of doing but open on the Sabbath day and open on the New Moon” (Ezekiel 46:1).26 The downside of this possible intertext is that it is missing the phrase yom ha-sh’vi·i (“seventh day”), using instead yom ha-shabbat (“the Sabbath day”). The choice is significant, for in almost all of the potential intertexts listed above, the distinction between the six days and the seventh is the ability to do work (m’lakhah). In the phrase from Ezekiel, however, the distinction does not mention work at all; instead it is focused on the Temple gate. (I will analyze this image further below.) One possible additional support for the Ezekiel text as the intended intertext is the version of Havdalah from one of the Genizah fragments published by Ezra Fleischer: You have separated between darkness and light, between upper and lower waters, between sea and dry land, between impure and pure, between Shabbat and the six days of work, between Israel and the nations— as it says: “You shall be holy to Me, for I the Eternal am holy, and I have set you apart from other peoples to be Mine” (Leviticus 20:26).


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And it says: “A man may arrange his thoughts, but what he says depends on the Eternal” (Proverbs 16:1). Blessed…who graces with knowledge.27 Here the intertext clearly seems to be Ezekiel 46:1, as both terms— yom ha-shabbat and sheishet y’mei ha-ma·aseh—are used. Consider the larger biblical context for this intertext: Thus has Adonai, the Eternal, proclaimed: The east gate of the inner court will be closed during the six working days (sheishet y’mei ha-ma·aseh) but open on the Sabbath (ha-shabbat) and open on the New Moon. Having entered through the vestibule of the gatehouse the prince will stand by the doorpost, while the priests offer up both his whole burnt offering and his well-being offering. He will then bow low on the threshold of the gatehouse and leave; the gatehouse, however, will not be closed until evening. The general population will [also] bow low before the Eternal at the entrance of that gatehouse on the Sabbath and the New Moons.28 (Ezekiel 46:1–3) This is part of a much larger angelic tour of the future restored Temple, in exact measurements and detail (Ezekiel 40–48).29 Two additional texts from this larger selection (Ezekiel 42:15, 20 and Ezekiel 44:1– 3) will be important to our analysis of the specific intertext of Ezekiel 46:1, which I will again present in the Milgrom/Block translation: Ezekiel 42:15, 20: When he had finished the measurements of the inner Temple [area], he led me out by way of the gate which faces east, and he measured the entire area… Thus he measured it on four sides; it had a wall completely surrounding it, 500 [cubits] long on each side, to separate the holy from the profane (l’havdil bein ha-kodesh l’ḥol).


A Literary Approach to Havdalah: Structure and Intertexts

Ezekiel 44:1–3: Then he led me back by way of the outer gate of the sanctuary that faces east; but it was closed. Then the Eternal said to me, This gate will remain closed; it must not be opened (ha-sha·ar ha-zeh sagur yihyeh lo yippatei·aḥ)! And no one may go through it because the Eternal, Israel’s God, has gone through it. Therefore, it must remain closed. But the nasi, and only the nasi, may be seated there to dine before the Eternal. He will enter by way of the vestibule to the gate and exit the same way. Note that in these passages, the connection between holy and profane takes place in the arena of space (as opposed to time). Specifically, it is the wall and the gate that function as the physical barrier between holy and profane.30 In addition, this physical separation is intimately connected to the arrival of the presence of God. This image may be jarring to modern sensibilities, but if the Temple represents the meeting point between the Divine and the human, this image makes that meeting space very tangible and real. The closing of the gate after the re-entry represents a permanence of God’s presence. God no longer intends to abandon the city and the people; in this vision, God is here to stay.31 This image also resonates with our intertext (Ezekiel 46:1): while the outer gate is closed forever, the inner gate is open on Shabbat and holidays.32 The opening of this gate provides a different image—one in which the presence of God is more palpable, inducing the people fall prostrate in front of the open gate (Ezekiel 46:3). Relating this back to the Havdalah prayer, the phrase bein yom ha-sh’vi·i l’sheishet y’mei ha-ma·aseh offers a different image of the end of Shabbat. Instead of the temporal image, closely related to bein or l’ḥoshekh, this phrase offers a spatial image. The worshipper can thus experience the ritual of Havdalah—and specifically its final line in the litany of separations—as an invitation to feel the closing of a gate that, when open, leads to the presence of God.33 This is a powerful


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example of the distinction between Shabbat and the rest of the week, which may be characterized not only by the work that may be done in the course of its days (an idea that finds powerful expression in the other possible intertexts from the Torah, presented above), but also by the fact that the great gate to God remains closed for all of those days. Against this backdrop of ideas, the holiness of Shabbat has an almost practical feel to it: it is a holy day because it is then that the gate to holiness, which leads to the holy God of Israel, may open.34 In addition, the ethical imperatives embedded in these phrases take further shape with this set of intertexts from Ezekiel. The return of God’s presence, and the opening of the gate on Shabbat and holidays, only follows the correct instruction by the priests themselves (Ezekiel 44:23).35 By alluding to the text that follows the ethical rejuvenation of the priesthood, the Havdalah ritual offers the worshipper additional literary reminders of the need to maintain a moral and distinct life, especially at this liminal moment in the week.

Rabbinic Understanding of Biblical Intertext One rabbinic understanding of these texts from Ezekiel adds another layer of interpretation to the phrase bein yom ha-sh’vi·i l’sheishet y’mei ha-ma·aseh: Rabbi Yehudah says: On New Moons and Shabbatot, Israel sits there and sees the doors open by their own accord, and knows that the Shekhinah of God is there, as it says: “For the Eternal, the God of Israel, came into it” (Ezekiel 44:2). Immediately they fall and prostrate before God, both in the past and in the future, as it says: “And the nation (will) prostrate at the opening of that gate on Shabbatot and holidays.”36


A Literary Approach to Havdalah: Structure and Intertexts

In Rabbi Yehudah’s understanding of the text from Ezekiel, we encounter another emotion: one of longing. On Shabbat and New Moons, according to this midrash, the people Israel are sitting outside the sanctuary, but looking at the open door and feeling the presence of God. They react in worship by falling prostrate to the ground. They attempt to strengthen a relationship in the face of an opportunity, an open door. Rabbi Yehudah also connects the text from Ezekiel 46:3 to the future vision of a redeemed world. Playing with the word v’hishtaḥavu by taking it slightly out of context as an imperfect verb, Rabbi Yehudah takes the verse to be presenting part of the prophet’s vision for the future. For Rabbi Yehudah, the vision of Ezekiel presents a picture of the past as well as a vision for the future. This is also significant for the ritual moment of Havdalah, when Shabbat—a “taste” of the world to come37 —is ending. By completing the ritual with an allusion to the perfect time, a time that is entirely Shabbat, the Havdalah liturgy leads the worshipper to look toward a full redemption.38

Conclusion The liturgy of Havdalah proves very rich when considered in light of its intertexts.39 In addition, we saw how the structure of Havdalah itself points to specific recurring themes in the ritual. The intertexts helped us to understand why certain linguistic choices were made, including the ordering of tamei before tahor. These structural clues led us to better identify the intertexts and their broader themes.


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NOTES Talmudic sources themselves date Havdalah to an even earlier period (see B. Berakhot 33b = B. Megillah 25a), although it is not clear what the text of that Havdalah was. 2 B. Pesaḥim 103b–104b. 3 Following Rashi, ad locum. 4 Literally: “opened and said.” In the Babylonian Talmud, this phrase often introduces a specific liturgical formula. See, for instance, B. Berakhot 38a, B. Pesaḥim 56a and 116a, B. Mo∙eid Katan 9a, B. Ketubot 8b, and B. Gittin 34a. 5 In some manuscripts, the text reads la-goyim (rather than the more familiar formulation la-ammim). See Raphael Natan Neta Rabinowitz, Dikdukei Sofrim (1886/1887; rpt. Jerusalem: Iggud Meḥabrim, 5749 [1988/1989]), vol. 4, p. 157b, note dalet. This appears also in the text found in Seder Ḥibbur B’rakhot, a later work that preserves liturgy from the Land of Israel. See Abraham I. Schechter, Studies in Jewish Liturgy (Philadelphia: Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning, 1930), p. 118. Note also that some manuscripts read bein (“between”) whereas other have u-vein (“and between”). See the note in Dikdukei Sofrim and see the text in B. Ḥullin 26b, discussed below. 6 B. Pesaḥim 103b. 7 B. Ḥullin 26b. Note that the version cited by Rav Hai is missing the word bein, in Simha Assaf, T’shuvot Ha-ge’onim Mi-tokh Ha-g’nizah ( Jerusalem: Darom, 1929), p. 88, lines 6–7. 8 It is worth noting that Rabbi Zera moved between Palestine and Babylonia, but he most likely represents a Babylonian ritual tradition. See Avraham Goldberg,“Rabbi Zera U-minhag Bavel B’eretz Yisrael,” Tarbiz 36 (1967), pp. 319–341. Interestingly, Rabbi Zera (also known as Rabbi Zeira) apparently knew of a version of Havdalah that includes mention of the distinction between tamei and tahor (pure and impure), which appears later in the Bavli passage (which is discussed below). This is evidenced by the rejoinder of Rav Yehudah at Y. Berakhot 5:2, 9c: “Rabbi Zeira said in the name of Rav Yehudah [and] Rabbi Abba said in the name of Abba bar Yirmiyah: Even [at the end of ] a holiday that ends in the middle of the week one says: ‘between the seventh day and the six days of doing.’ Rabbi Zeira said to Rav Yehudah: ‘Are the six days of doing before him?’ He replied: ‘Are impurity and purity before him?’” Rav Yehudah’s rejoinder to Rabbi Zeira only makes sense if the text of Havdalah includes some version of bein tamei la-tahor (“between impure and pure”) in the list of distinctions mentioned in the blessing. See the commentary of the P’nei Moshe, ad locum. Note too that Tanya Rabbati also links these two texts; see Tanya Rabbati, ed. Israel Baron ( Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 2011), p. 94. 9 See Dikdukei Sofrim, vol. 4, p. 158a, note hei. 10 There is a version of Rabbi Judah the Patriarch’s Havdalah that reads: “who separates between holy and profane, between light and darkness.” Rabinowitz 1


A Literary Approach to Havdalah: Structure and Intertexts

sees this as a scribal error (Dikdukei Sofrim, vol. 4, p. 158a, note vav). However, see Rashbam, s.v. hakhi garsinan, end of B. Pesaḥim 103b. It should be noted that Rabbi Yaakov bar Abba’s objection to Rava seems, in the context of his other objections (why bless multiple times on the wine during the meal; why use a torch for Havdalah instead of a candle) to be one of questioning excess, and not claiming that the actions are invalid. His objection in each case—lamah lakh kullei hai (“Why do all this?”)—indicates that Rava would be able to use a less wordy formulation and still perform the ritual correctly. 11 For the practice to say one or two havdalot only, see T. Berakhot 5:30, B. Pesaḥim 104a–b, and Y. Berakhot 5:2, 9b. There is one text that mentions three havdalot, preserved in a Karaite siddur published by Louis Ginzberg in his Ginzei Schechter (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1929), vol. 2, p. 490: “We bless to the God of Israel, who separates between holy and profane, and between Israel and the nations, and between the seventh day… and the six days…of doing.” And cf. also p. 638, where Ginzberg notes that this siddur has only three havdalot. For more on the Karaite Havdalah liturgy, see Natan Fried, “Minhagim ‘Lo Y’du∙im’ Ba-t’fillah,” Or Yisrael 13 (1999), pp. 109–117. 12 B. Pesaḥim 104a. 13 Elie Kaunfer, Interpreting Jewish Liturgy: The Literary-Intertext Method (doctoral dissertation; New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 2014), p. 16; available online at “Intertextuality” refers to the approach to reading in which “…a text cannot be studied in isolation. It belongs to a web of texts which are (partially) present whenever it is read or studied.” See also Steven Moyise, “Intertextuality and the Study of the Old Testament in the New Testament,” in The Old Testament in the New Testament: Essays in Honour of J. L. North, ed. Steven Moyise (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), pp. 14–41, here pp. 15–16. 14 Reuven Kimelman, “The Shema Liturgy: From Covenant Ceremony to Coronation,” in Kenishta: Studies of the Synagogue World 1 (2001), pp. 9–105; quote appears on p. 28. 15 B. Pesaḥim 104a. The parallel in Y. Berakhot 5:2, 9b reads: “Levi said: As long as they are from the havdalot (separations) mentioned in the Torah.” This rule has significant implications for the claim that prayer texts have intertexts from the Bible. Louis Ginzberg notes that oftentimes the same halakhot are mentioned by the father and the son; see his Peirushim V’ḥiddushim Birushalmi (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1941–1961), vol. 4, p. 273. Although sea and dry land are often separated in the Bible, the verbs associated with this division are not taken from the root bet-dalet-lamed. The words associated with waters dividing are: yikkavu (Genesis 1:9), va-yasem (Exodus 14:21), va-yeḥatzu (2 Kings 2:8), and bakata (Nehemiah 9:11).


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David Weiss Halivni (Mekorot U-Mesorot: Eruvin U-Pesahim [New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1982], p. 567) posits that the phrase bein ha-yam le-ḥaravah was added because of Rava’s understanding that bein yom ha-sh’vi∙i l’sheishet y’mei ha-ma∙aseh did not count toward the number of havdalot, and if bein kohanim la-l’viyim v’yisra∙eilim was considered as one phrase, one more separation needed to be added. 17 See Rashbam ad locum and Tosafot s.v. bein yom ha-sh’vi∙i. See also Eleazar ben Judah of Worms, Peirushei Siddur Ha-T’fillah La-Rokei∙aḥ, eds. Moshe and Yehudah Hershler ( Jerusalem: Machon Hershler, 1992), vol. 2, pp. 588–589; and Issachar Jacobson, N’tiv Binah (Tel Aviv: Sinai, 5724–5738 [1963/1964– 1977/1978], vol. 2, p. 390. 18 See note 16 above. 19 It also appears in Ezekiel 22:26 and 42:20. Indeed, Jacob Milgrom points out that the term ḥol itself only appears here in Torah. See Jacob Milgrom, The Anchor Yale Bible: Leviticus 1–16 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991), p. 615. 20 See Milgrom, Leviticus 1–16, p. 722 (and fig. 13): “The tripartite division of the human race corresponds to three of its covenants with God: mankind (Genesis 9:1–11, including the animals), Israel (i.e., the patriarchs, Genesis 17:2; Leviticus 26:42), and the priesthood (Numbers 25:12–15; Jeremiah 33:17–22).” See also Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 17–22 (New York: Doubleday, 2000), p. 1718 (and fig. 3). 21 The connection between separating pure and impure animals and moral behavior is discussed at length in Milgrom, Leviticus 1–16, pp. 718–736. 22 See Nahum Sarna, The JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1991), p. 4. 23 In fact, even the number of words in the phrase supports this reading. The phrase ha-mavdil…bein yom ha-sh’vi·i l’sheishet y’mei ha-ma·aseh numbers seven words, echoing the number of words in the first verse of Genesis (which Sarna [ibid.] notes is significant there). It is perhaps significant that the ḥatimah (the formula that ends the blessing) there (barukh atah Adonai ha-mavdil bein kodesh l’ḥol) also has seven words. 24 See Eleazar ben Judah of Worms, Perushei Siddur Ha-t’fillah La-rokei∙aḥ, vol. 2, p. 592; Sefer Abudarham Ha-shaleim, ed. Shlomo A. Wertheimer ( Jerusalem: Usha, 1963), p. 183; Siddur Rabbeinu Sh’lomo Mi-germaiza, ed. Moshe Hershler ( Jerusalem: Ḥemed, 1972), p. 186. The latter calls this phrase ikkar havdalah, “the essence of Havdalah.” 25 Interestingly, the word sheishet does not appear in Genesis 1 or 2, which one might have expected, given the associations of the creation week with Havdalah. See, for instance, Pirkei D’rabbi Eliezer §20. 26 My thanks to Talia Milgrom-Elcott and Jeremy Milgrom for arranging to deliver to me this translation and commentary on Ezekiel by Jacob Milgrom in advance of its publication as Ezekiel’s Hope: A Commentary on Ezekiel 38–48 16


A Literary Approach to Havdalah: Structure and Intertexts

(Portland, OR: Cascade Books, 2012). The translation was based on that of Daniel Block. 27 Ezra Fleischer, T’fillah U-minhagei T’filah Eretz-Yisra·eiliyim Bi-t’kufat Hage’onim ( Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1988), p. 28. The technical designation of the manuscript is MS Adler 2824 in the library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. In the manuscript, this passage appears on page 16. 28 Milgrom/Block translation, edited slightly to conform to the standards in use in this series. See above, n. 26. 29 See generally Walter Zimmerli, Ezekiel 2: A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel: Chapters 25–48, trans. James D. Martin (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), pp. 327–328 and Jon D. Levenson, Theology of the Program of Restoration of Ezekiel 40–48 (Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1976). 30 See Zimmerli, Ezekiel 2, p. 404, and Rimon Kasher, Mikra Yisrael Yeḥezkel ( Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 2004), p. 823. 31 “[God] closes behind him the doors which he no longer intends to open for a new departure of the nature of that in 11:23. Thus, in addition, the closed gate could proclaim also [God’s] fidelity.” Zimmerli, Ezekiel 2, p. 440. 32 Most commentators, modern and traditional, note the distinction between these two gates as outer and inner. However, cf. Rashi ad locum. 33 “The cosmic significance of the Temple, then, is owing to the presence of God within rather than to the Temple as a human artifact to serve as a place of worship” (Levenson, p. 10). 34 In certain ways, this imagery recalls the Neilah imagery at the end of Yom Kippur. See Rabbi Yoḥanan’s opinion that the gates being locked were the Temple gates (as opposed to Rav, who claimed the gates were the heavenly gates = skies); see Y. Berakhot 4:1, 7c. 35 Cf. Zimmerli, Ezekiel 2, p. 460: “The lack of order in the behavior of the priests before the great time of judgment will find no further place in the new temple of the future.” 36 Pirkei D’rabbi Eliezer, chap. 50 (in some editions chap. 51), citing Ezekiel 46:3. The term Shekhinah is the regular rabbinic name for the perceptible presence of God in the world. 37 See M. Tamid 7:4; B. Rosh Hashanah 31a; B. Sanhedrin 97a; B. Tamid 33b; Mekhilta D’rabbi Yishmael, Ki Tissa, eds. Hayim Horowitz and Israel Rabin (1931; rpt. Jerusalem: Shalem Books, 1997), p. 341. 38 The theme of redemption and Havdalah is further supported by the references to Elijah at the end of the expanded ceremony. See Lawrence A. Hoffman, Beyond the Text: A Holistic Approach to Liturgy (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1987), p. 44. 39 See the essay elsewhere in this volume by Ora Horn Prouser for another interpretation of Havdalah using the intertext method.


A Certain Time: An Intertextual Reading of Havdalah and Esther

A Certain Time: An Intertextual Reading of Havdalah and Esther Ora Horn Prouser

The Havdalah liturgy, which marks a separation in time between the holiness of Shabbat and the remainder of the week, comprises a series of biblical verses and a number of blessings. While we generally only think about Havdalah in terms of the blessings, as addressing issues of separation, in this essay I will examine the verses that open the Havdalah ceremony and consider the significance of their placement and meaning. The structure of the Havdalah ceremony includes a selection of biblical verses; blessings over the wine, spices, and light; and then a concluding blessing recognizing God as being responsible for these instances of separation.1 The opening verses are primarily from Psalms, with two from Isaiah and one from Esther.2 These verses are interesting in that they are not about Shabbat, weekday, or time at all. They are very much about salvation, with five of the verses using the word y’shu∙ah (“salvation”) in some form. They describe God as the source of all salvation, and the importance of having faith in God and God’s protection. They depict a life of faith and confidence in God’s support. The liturgically climactic verse is Esther 8:16, “The Jews enjoyed light and gladness, happiness and honor.” It differs from the verses that precede and follow it insofar as it is the only one that is from a biblical narrative; the others are all drawn from poetic texts. In


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addition, the Esther verse is highlighted liturgically, as it is chanted aloud by all present, not only the leader. Moreover, this verse does not use the word y’shu∙ah and does not talk about God at all. The unique emphasis given this verse suggests that we might look for a more complex relationship between Havdalah and the Book of Esther. This essay will undertake an intertextual reading of Esther and Havdalah, reading both Havdalah in light of Esther and Esther in light of Havdalah. The idea of reading liturgical and biblical texts intertextually has led to meaningful insights into both sets of texts.3 Following Rabbi Elie Kaunfer’s method of reading liturgical and biblical texts together, we will look at the allusions in the liturgical text, examine the biblical text that is alluded to in its original context, take into account rabbinic interpretation of the biblical text, and then draw conclusions about the prayer and the biblical text.4 More specifically, we will look at how the Book of Esther, in its biblical context and as seen through the eyes of rabbinic midrash, illuminates our understanding of Havdalah and how, in turn, Havdalah impacts our reading of Esther. This connection between Havdalah and Esther has been noted by others. Tamar Frankel, for example, remarks that “by appropriating this verse and inserting it here within this liturgical pastiche from Psalms and Isaiah, it too has been redeemed from its original profane setting. And with it, Esther takes her place, albeit belatedly and through a back door, as a psalmist and prophet in Israel.”5 Frankel’s focus is on the character of Esther herself and she looks at this reading as redeeming Esther as a character. This is valuable, but it is important to explore the Book of Esther more comprehensively, not merely to look at the character of Esther per se.6 There are a number of interesting connections that can be drawn between the Book of Esther and Havdalah; in each case, the connection is filled with complexity. To begin, the theme of salvation (or the need for salvation) underlies both of them. In Esther the Jews,


A Certain Time: An Intertextual Reading of Havdalah and Esther

threatened with extinction at the hands of Haman and his hordes, are facing genocide. Their only hope for salvation lies with Esther, who intercedes on their behalf with the king and saves her people (Esther, chapter 7). She is encouraged to stand up for her people by her cousin, Mordecai (Esther, chapter 4). The support she solicits from her people involves fasting only, not praying (4:16). There is no explicit mention of God in the entire book; all hope for salvation is contingent upon human actions. Havdalah, by contrast, begins with a series of verses that explicitly emphasize God’s saving power, the need to call out for God’s protection, and the confidence that comes with faith in God’s acts of salvation. In Havdalah, human understanding of the world is bound inextricably to an understanding of God’s power to deliver. There is a focus on God being a personal God.7 The verses emphasize that God is in control, and able to provide protection and support. In addition, the idea is put forward that individuals can feel faith and support in God’s presence.8 These two approaches to God and salvation in the Book of Esther and Havdalah are totally different. Interpretive rabbinic readings (generally called d’rash in Hebrew sources) of Esther differ from contextual reading of the text (generally called p’shat, in contradistinction to d’rash), in that they make real space for God in the book.9 They find a variety of textual clues that they interpret as references to the Divine throughout the book, including instances of what they read as “hidden meaning” in the text itself. For example, Mordecai claims that if Esther does not use her leadership position to save the Jews, then “salvation will come to the Jews from a makom aḥeir” (different place; Esther 4:14). Rabbinic readings of this verse understand the word makom as a divine epithet, and thus read this verse to imply that if Esther doesn’t take her place in saving the Jews, then God will send someone else to do so. They effectively reread the book assuming God’s role as the saving presence. The rabbis likewise interpreted various verses in the book as references to God’s


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presence.10 For someone familiar with the rabbinic reading of Esther, these perspectives will naturally be present when reading Havdalah and Esther together. On the one hand, the verse from Esther reinforces the emphasis on salvation by calling to mind the dangers confronting the Jewish people, their need for help, and the realization that Jews have been saved from near-destruction repeatedly. On the other hand, this intertextual reading begs the question of the source of that salvation. Are we supposed to look to God as the One who will save in every situation, as the rabbinic reading makes clear, or is it our responsibility to act and save ourselves, as seems implied by the p’shat of Esther? The intertextual reading makes this question unavoidable. The attentive worshipper reads the verse from Esther embedded in a pastiche of verses expressing absolute faith in God’s power, inevitably giving rise to the question of what the human role is, in that equation. At the same time, it responds to the seeming absence of any divine role in the salvation narrated in the Book of Esther and emphasizes the importance of contemplating a divine source of redemption. Another interesting connection between the two texts relates to sensuality. Havdalah is a ceremony that uses multiple sensory stimuli and modalities. We taste the wine, smell the spices, see the light of the candle, hear the singing of the liturgy, and extend our fingers toward the candle as if to experience the tactile impact of the flame. In Esther, the senses are in evidence throughout the book. Wine and drinking are highlighted repeatedly, as the descriptions of the Persian court include tremendous emphasis on excessive drinking, on excessive eating, and the results of that extreme level of indulgence. For example, Ahasuerus hosts a 180-day party for ministers and the elite (Esther 1:3–4), followed by a 7-day party for the whole community (Esther 1:5); at the same time, Vashti makes a party for women (Esther 1:9). It was in a drunken state that the king called for Vashti to come to the party to exhibit her beauty, an act that had long-term consequences both for their marriage and for


A Certain Time: An Intertextual Reading of Havdalah and Esther

the monarchy (Esther 1:10ff ). This pattern of the role of wine and parties continues throughout the book.11 While b’samim are the spices used in Havdalah for smelling, b’samim appear in Esther as products used by women in bathing and beautification, making them more alluring in anticipation of their encounter with the king. Esther, as a prospective bride, prepared herself to see the king for the first time through a regimen of bathing over a period of twelve months: six months in myrrh, and six months in b’samim, aromatic spices (Esther 2:12).12 The light that is used in Havdalah (referenced liturgically in the plural as the “lights of flame,” me’orei ha-eish) can be compared to the use of the word light (orah) in Esther as a symbol of joy, as seen in the verse under discussion. Lastly, the visual aspect of Havdalah can be compared to the very visual elements in Esther, such as the description of the ostentatious décor in the Persian royal palace.13 While both texts are sensual, the use of these images is very different. In Havdalah, the use of all of the senses is part of the ritual itself. It emphasizes that we experience this ritual and the distinctions it marks with every part of ourselves. In Esther, however, the sensual aspects are used to show excess. They don’t simply drink at a party; they drink at a party that lasts for six months, with an explicit royal policy eschewing restraint: the text makes a specific point of saying that the king ordered that they pour wine without restraint of any sort (k’dat ein oneis, Esther 1:8).14 Women don’t simply use spices; they bathe in spices for six months. The palace is not simply beautiful; it is filled with every kind of precious stone and metal. These excesses are very much a part of the Persian kingdom and are not mentioned in reference to the Jews and their practices. Esther uses the spices under the direction of the Persians, while she is hiding her Jewish identity in a scheme not of her own design. The role of the senses in both Havdalah and Esther, however, highlights the points of similarity between both texts and the value of reading them together.


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A third point of comparison between the two texts is that both Esther and Havdalah have as a major theme the idea of separation. Havdalah ritually separates between Shabbat holiness and the unsanctified nature of the weekday. It highlights God’s role in separating, emphasizing distinctions between ordinary days and sacred time, between light and dark, and between Israel and other nations. These separations are seen as necessary, and are highlighted as God’s gifts to humankind in general and to Israel in particular. These separations are also put on equal footing with each other. The separation of light and dark, which is so basic to nature, is seen on the same level as the separation between Israel and other nations, a particularistic theological idea. The Book of Esther also places great emphasis on separation. One of the themes of the book is that the relationship between Jews and non-Jews is complex and difficult. Haman describes the Jews to Ahasuerus as “a certain people, scattered and dispersed among the other peoples in all the provinces of your realm, whose laws are different from those of any other people and who do not obey the king’s laws; and it is not in Your Majesty’s interest to tolerate them” (Esther 3:8). The distinction between Jews and non-Jews is seen as negative, as something to be feared by the ruling country. From the Jewish perspective within the book, there is tremendous ambivalence about the question of the relationship between Jews and non-Jews. On the one hand, Mordecai emphasizes the need for Esther to hide her identity. At the same time, Mordecai displays no hesitation about publicly self-identifying as a Jew and he ultimately receives an appointment to a high governmental position despite his Jewishness. The book seems to be struggling with the question of the positives and negatives of a Jewish community that lives within a non-Jewish dominant culture, yet preserves its religious and ethnic distinctiveness from the non-Jewish world. It struggles with the question of what it means to live in a foreign country and to deal with dual loyalty.15


A Certain Time: An Intertextual Reading of Havdalah and Esther

The idea of dual loyalty pervades the text, in fact, with Esther and Mordecai dealing with issues of their identity and their loyalty both to the Persian court and to the Jewish community. And the answer ultimately is mixed. The Book of Esther emphasizes that the Jews have tremendous difficulties living in Persia, and yet, at the same time, they succeed and hold governmental positions. They survive by engaging with non-Jews, but the book also makes it clear that the Jews need to stick together and cannot necessarily trust others. Our intertextual reading thus highlights the great ambivalence in the Book of Esther about issues of separation. It is possible to think of the highlighting of the Esther verse in Havdalah as pointing to the need to read the texts together, and to read Havdalah as a rabbinic response to Esther, categorically responding to the book’s ambivalence about issues such as separation and the role of God in the world. For example, in the Book of Esther, there are real questions about the role of God. While God is not mentioned in the book, it is possible to identify a struggle within the text as to the role of God. For example, when Esther is preparing to go before the king unbidden, she does not pray, but she fasts and asks the people to fast with her (Esther 4:16). This action is completely human-centered. One may ask, however: What is the role of fasting, if not to curry divine favor?16 Thus, although there is no explicit reference to the Divine in the book, the reference to fasting in this verse raises a question. The intertextual reading then addresses this matter. The verses in the beginning of Havdalah make clear that it is God who is the source of salvation. It is God to whom humans can address themselves when in danger, and it is God in whom humans can have faith. Havdalah can be read as a response to Esther in terms of issues of separation as well. In Esther, it is not clear whether separation from non-Jews is positive or negative. Haman talks about the Jews as “a people apart� (Esther 3:8) and this is said in a very negative way.


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In Esther, one might argue that the Jews were saved because they maintained their particularity. They responded as a community, fasting together and calling on each other for support. Or one could make the case that the Jews survived because they did have connections with the Persian world. The combination of Mordecai’s efforts on behalf of the king and Esther’s position might be understood to suggest that the Jews can only survive when they do not separate from the non-Jews with whom they live. One could argue that it was only the relationships that were nurtured and preserved with the Persian regime that made it possible for the Jews to be saved. Havdalah responds to this, however, by saying that it is all about separation. This separation of Jews and non-Jews is as natural and basic as the separation of light and dark. Havdalah also responds to the sensuality of the Book of Esther by taking the areas that were used to excess and that led to difficult situations, and redefining them as elements in the service of God. It makes the point that sensuality in and of itself is not problematic; it is the excess that is objectionable. A good intertextual reading must work in both directions. What do we learn when we read Havdalah in light of Esther? Havdalah emphasizes dualities that coexist: holiness and everyday life, light and dark, Israel and other nations. In Esther the focus is on reversals (Esther 9:1). The day of fear becomes a day of celebration. The one who had been elevated in the government was brought low. The one who had been considered lowly became a leader. The book highlights these reversals and makes them the essence of the story.17 When reading Havdalah in light of Esther, the point is made that one needs to look not only for reversals, but rather needs to figure out how to live with dualities. One needs to be able to recognize that light and dark both exist together. We have to live in a world of dualities, and not one in which we await reversals.


A Certain Time: An Intertextual Reading of Havdalah and Esther

Havdalah is a very moving liturgical experience. It engages the senses and variously includes ritual, prayer, and song. Esther is the biblical book read on Purim, a holiday of joy and principled silliness, coupled with concern for the future of the Jewish people. While each ritual and liturgical expression has meaning in and of itself, the relationship of the two, the combination, is deeper and richer than either one alone. The intertextual reading helps us to think about our relationship with God, and our understanding of the source of our salvation. It urges us to steer clear of excess and to use our full selves in the service of God. It leads us to understand that we live in a world of dualities and combinations that we need to know how to negotiate. Each of these issues is an important area in Jewish life. This reading addresses us as sensual beings, it deals with our relationship with God, and it speaks to our relationship with the larger world. The presence of the Esther verse in Havdalah, and the intertextual reading that it encourages us to undertake, allows us to explore each of these areas in depth, and to find our own answers to these very difficult questions.


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NOTES The history of Havdalah includes several versions of the liturgy, as well as a version said at home and a version said at the synagogue. In addition, the history of the development of Havdalah includes some fluidity in the choices of verses to begin the liturgy. For the purpose of this essay we will only focus on Havdalah in its current traditional form. For a discussion of the history of Havdalah and the variants in its liturgy, see Lawrence A. Hoffman, Beyond the Text: A Holistic Approach to Liturgy (Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1987), pp. 23ff. 2 The verses are Isaiah 12:2–3; Psalms 3:9, 46:12, 84:13, and 20:10; Esther 8:16; and Psalm 116:13. 3 See the work done by Elie Kaunfer in his Interpreting Jewish Liturgy: The Literary-Intertext Method, PhD dissertation (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 2014), available online at interpreting-jewish-liturgy-literary-intertext-method, and by Jeffrey Hoffman in The Bible in the Prayerbook: A Study in Intertextuality, DHL dissertation (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1996). And see also Kaunfer’s essay elsewhere in this volume for an application of the intertext method to the Havdalah prayer. 4 Kaunfer, pp. 31–32. 5 Tamar Frankel in My People’s Prayer Book: Traditional Prayers, Modern Commentaries: Vol. 7: Shabbat at Home, ed. Lawrence A. Hoffman (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2003), p. 172. 6 For another point of view concerning the character of Esther, see the essay by Barbara Thiede elsewhere in this volume. 7 See, especially, Isaiah 12:2. 8 According to Lawrence Hoffman, Havdalah occurs at a liminal time of day, the separation between day and night, and at a liminal social time, as Jews went from the Sabbath day in synagogues back to their lives in secular society. As liminal times can be considered dangerous, Havdalah’s emphasis on salvation is especially fitting. See Beyond the Text (Bloomington, IN: University of Indiana Press, 1987), p. 42. 9 Interestingly, the rabbis were not the first ones to attempt to add divine elements to Esther. The early Greek translation of the Bible, the Septuagint, made considerable additions to the Book of Esther, adding religious elements such as lengthy prayers, and showing Esther’s concern about being able to observe Jewish law. See, e.g., Carey A. Moore, Daniel, Esther, and Jeremiah: The Additions, A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (New York: Doubleday, 1977). 10 See, e.g., B. Megillah 7a. For example, Esther 6:6 refers to Haman’s inner dialogue. The rabbis ask how we would know Haman’s inner thoughts if the book was not divinely written. Another example is the description of Esther’s beauty in 2:15. In that verse Esther is described as a woman who was considered beautiful 1


A Certain Time: An Intertextual Reading of Havdalah and Esther

by anyone who saw her. The rabbis assume that no woman would be considered beautiful by all people, so, it must be that this book was divinely written. 11 See, for example: 3:15, where Ahasuerus and Haman sit and drink together after deciding to kill the Jews; and chapters 5 and 7, where Esther hosts multiple parties for Haman and Ahasuerus, at which Haman is accused and eventually punished. Food and feasting thus play an important role in these major turning points in the story. Note also that the Jews celebrate their victory with feasting (9:17ff ). 12 It is interesting to note that because in earliest times the most common spice to use for Havdalah was myrtle, one traditional name for a spicebox was hadas. Cf. Hoffman, My People’s Prayer Book, p. 167. This is, of course, strongly reminiscent of Esther’s Hebrew name, Hadassah, as mentioned at Esther 2:7. 13 See, e.g., Esther 1:6. 14 This verse is especially interesting as it makes the point, using legal language, that there be no restraint in the serving of wine. In other words, it emphasizes that it is a legal matter (k’dat) that there should be no restraint in the serving of wine. 15 See, e.g., Edward L. Greenstein, “A Jewish Reading of Esther,” in Judaic Perspectives on Ancient Israel, eds. Jacob Neusner, Baruch. A. Levine, and Ernest. S. Frerichs (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987), p. 235. 16 Cf., e.g., the text at Jonah 3:5–10 that specifically connects fasting with the effort to earn God’s favor. 17 See Adele Berlin’s analysis in her The JPS Bible Commentary: Esther (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2001), pp. xxiv ff.


For Just Such a Time as This: Esther, Havdalah, and Mazal Making Magic

For Just Such a Time as This: Esther, Havdalah, and Mazal-Making Magic Barbara Thiede

Once, and only once, is the Book of Esther quoted in our liturgy.1 On the face of it, the fact that this text is quoted at all is absurd. Esther is the Bible’s book of bawdy. God plays no discernible part in its outrageous proceedings: A 180-day party is followed by another party. Virgins are bathed in oil for half a year and in perfume for another six months before being bedded by the king. Persians masquerade, publicly “Jewing” for fear of the Jews who, in turn, mysteriously manage to kill 75,810 Persians without taking a single scratch. A monarch becomes a buffoon. Nobodies become royalty. Haman, insider and best buddy to the king, is actually an Amalekite outsider. Mordecai, the obvious outsider, will eventually displace Haman as the consummate insider. “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.”2 The sages argued whether the Book of Esther should be included in the canon at all.3 Why, then, in the name of its absent God, was a verse from Esther introduced into the medieval liturgy of Havdalah, the service marking the end of Shabbat?4 For whether one prays from an Ashkenazic or Sephardic siddur, the Book of Esther will be found in the prologue to the Havdalah prayers, which tenderly traverse the threshold between holy and everyday: “For the Jews there was light and gladness, joy and honor” (Esther 8:16).5 Each Saturday night, after the requisite three stars are sighted in the sky, the Book of


Barbara Thiede

Esther, like an old friend, sings an ancient version of the Paul Simon tune: “Time it was, and what a time it was…”6 Havdalah marks a liminal moment: the intersection of light and dark, of holy and profane.7 “The threshold is the limit,” Mircade Eliade writes, “the boundary, the frontier that distinguishes and opposes two worlds—and at the same time the paradoxical place where those worlds communicate, where passage from the profane to the sacred world becomes possible.”8 And vice versa: Shabbat is over, and a holy people must prepare to re-enter an unholy realm. Medieval European Jews lived in a time of unprecedented danger. The Book of Esther arrived in the prayerbook for just such a time, and for just what was needed.9 Placed precisely at the point of division and distinctions, at the boundary between the peace of Shabbat and the uncertainties of the workaday week, Esther 8:16 summoned up images of Jewish strength and glory. Embedded in a liturgical prologue filled with declarations of God’s saving power,10 Esther 8:16 was particularly suited for recalling a time of victory and, by implication, foretelling a time of triumph. After all, Esther herself, according to the rabbis, was one of seven biblical prophetesses.11 Chanting the verse, Jews could envision a longed-for future when they might be, once again, assured of light and gladness, joy and honor.12 Esther 8:16 is a biblical wormhole—its own charmed portal. Esther 8:16 was added to the liturgy as Havdalah and its rituals became steeped in magical practice. Medieval Jews frequently called on charms and spells—particularly as Shabbat ended and Jews re-entered the unholy and uncertain world. They would need the mazal tov, the starry sign of good fortune they petitioned for in their prayers.13 The Book of Esther was a marvelous, biblical fit: obsessed with calendars, dates, and the importance of divining the right time, featuring wondrous reversals of prophesied disaster, the text was perfectly apropos for a time when enchantment was needed once again.


For Just Such a Time as This: Esther, Havdalah, and Mazal Making Magic

The Book of Esther canonized the trauma of exile, which became, over the centuries, an unnatural natural habitat for the Jews. In medieval Europe, Jewish might was a thing of collective memory. The Jews lived barely tolerated and often despised lives, marked and labeled by dress and address, their synagogues sharply restricted in size and scope.14 No wonder, then, that their spice boxes took the shape of palaces, temples, and castles complete with towers, turrets, and tiny silver flags—each a miniature stronghold, a refuge from persecution. Havdalah’s ritual items symbolized strength, offering Jews fortitude as they crossed the threshold from holy, safe space to an unholy, often menacing world. Haman’s horrors were hardly a thing of make-believe. The destruction of German Jewish communities during the First Crusade of 1096, the forced conversions and mass slaughters of Sephardic Jews in fourteenth-century Spain, the imposition of laws that limited movement and marked Jews across Europe for easy identification and persecution—these were the nightmarish realities of life. Medieval Jews endured mob violence after blood libels and after charges of desecrating the host. They were attacked as the architects of the Black Death. They knew of rigged “disputations” and forced emigrations, of inquisitions and of the auto-da-fé. Power and the lack thereof marked the entry and the exit from the Sabbath. Jews ushered in Shabbat with songs describing a God who would stand and (finally!) deliver, who would inflict a crushing defeat on Israel’s enemies. Jews of the tenth century sang D’ror Yikra (“Let God Proclaim Freedom”), praying for God to visit anguish upon those who had anguished the Jews. By the fifteenth century, Shabbat songs included Yom Zeh L’yisrael (“This Is Israel’s Day”); the lyrics opened with words from Esther 8:16. The day of Esther’s triumph was compared to Shabbat, always and forever Israel’s day of “light and joy,” a weekly opportunity for glimpsing the world to come and Shabbat without end. Jews closed Shabbat by reciting a number of biblical texts


Barbara Thiede

from Isaiah, from Psalms, and from Samuel—here, too, surrounding Esther 8:16 with manifest reminders of God’s saving power.15 Song and liturgy evoked Queen Esther, both as Queen Shabbat arrived and as she departed. The former lent strength to the latter. Biblical texts have, for at least two and a half thousand years, provided the enchanted and enchanting texts that Jews have employed for their protection and healing. The oldest amulet known to us is one found in a priest’s grave from the late seventh or early sixth century BCE; it contains the text (with slight variation) of what has become known to us as the Priestly Blessing (Numbers 6:24–26).16 The Priestly Blessing continued to have magical, apotropaic force in later centuries.17 Biblical verses were thought to protect against the evil eye and were recited to ward off all manner of the demonic.18 Torah scrolls were taken into rooms of sick children and of women giving birth, to add the protection of Scripture to mother and child.19 For centuries, even millennia, Jews relied on biblical texts to ward off danger. Shimmush T’hillim and Sefer G’matriyot, works of uncertain provenance that were once widely known and revered, list biblical verses and their virtues—including the ability to drive off demons and cure sterility.20 For most medieval Jews, nothing could guard a Jew like Torah: it was wisdom and light, a tree of life. By reciting particular verses, one honored God’s miracles. By honoring God’s miracles, one could invoke (and hope) for more of the same. One conjured the future with sacred and powerful words of the past. Despite the apparent warnings in the Bible against conjuring of any kind,21 both the biblical canon and later Jewish history are filled with reports (and evidence) of magical practices, from the work of holy men who could revive the dead (1 Kings 17:19–24) and produce fire that would consume armies (2 Kings 1:9–12) to tales of a golem, a man of super strength created from clay and brought to life by Rabbi Loew to protect the Jews of Prague.22 Rabbinic tradition has it that High Priests of the Second Temple period employed magical arts,


For Just Such a Time as This: Esther, Havdalah, and Mazal Making Magic

killing each other with k’shafim—a term that could reasonably be translated as “muttered spells,” “incantations,” or even “sorceries.”23 Mystical texts, like Sefer Y’tzirah, Sefer Raziel, and Sefer Ha-razim, instructed readers on charm-making; adjurations against demons (that call on God’s various names) conjured good health, passion and love, and the ability to overcome enemies. Magic lived in Jewish texts, in Jewish history, in Jewish ritual. God can do wonders. So can Jews, by channeling divine and angelic power into earthly realms. The Book of Esther describes the marvelous. Esther’s own survival is a matter of miracles for the rabbis. In an ancient midrashic text,24 the rabbis imagine a prequel to the Purim story in which Mordecai searches all Shushan for a wet-nurse to suckle the orphaned Esther. Oddly unable to find one among the Jews of the city, he simply— magically—begins to breastfeed the infant himself. The rabbis even claim that all miracles of Scripture end with Esther. Their heroine can be compared to the dawn come to end the terrors of nighttime. So, too, did Esther arrive at exactly the right time to save her people, who had long suffered the darkness of exile.25 The Book of Esther is suffused with references to calendrical and astrological divination. It owes its very existence to justifying Purim, a holiday named after a well-attested magical ritual of the ancient Near East: the casting of lots.26 Esther herself, according to the rabbis, was named after the planet Venus (Istahar) and was served by seven maids—a likely reference to the Pleiades, otherwise known as the “seven sisters.”27 For the rabbis, Esther is star stuff: You find that when the moon is not visible in the sky at night, the darkness in the world is such that a person cannot [see to] walk about even in the city. But once the moon appears in the sky, all rejoice and are able to walk about. So, too, in the days of Ahasuerus, when it was decreed that Israel should be destroyed, slain, and exterminated. But then


Barbara Thiede

Esther appeared and gave light to Israel, as is said, “The Jews had light and gladness, and joy and honor” (Esther 8:16).28 Medieval commentaries explore the Book of Esther in just such astrological terms, including, among others, Abraham ibn Ezra (1089–1167), Baḥya ben Asher (1255–1340), and Abraham Shalom (d. 1492).29 Esther is associated with the planet Venus. Ahasuerus and Haman represent Saturn and Mars, respectively. King Ahasuerus’s wise men, described as “knowers of the times” (1:13), were understood to be astrologers. The month of Adar was chosen for exterminating the Jews because the stars were in the correct conjunction for enacting Israel’s downfall.30 Haman casts lots for the exact day on which the Jews are to be destroyed; Esther averts doom, and an unlucky day becomes a lucky one. The Book of Esther, preoccupied with chronology and dates, is a literary treasure trove for depicting the magical regulation of time. Associating the movement of heavenly bodies with earthly events was an accepted and respected tradition in the ancient Near East, and it remained so for medieval Jews. At the behest of kings, prophets and priests cast lots, identified auspicious and inauspicious days, and regulated the calendar by consulting the heavens. Calendars were adjusted to sidestep evil prophecies or to usher in positive predictions. Manipulating time was (and is) a most powerful expression of magic.31 The Book of Esther is a tale of time: of the right time to arrive, the right time to act, and the right time to tell. If your timing is right, you can become the queen, turn tables on your enemy, speak truth to power, and change the future. You can traverse thresholds of danger and transform them into doorways to safety and security. For medieval Jews, the departure of Shabbat meant re-entering an unholy, dangerous world. Esther 8:16 necessarily evoked much that Jews found uplifting, that inspired hope. Despite all the forces arrayed against them, Jews triumphed. Esther, the starry heroine,


For Just Such a Time as This: Esther, Havdalah, and Mazal Making Magic

conjured victory against evil. Time was on her side because she made it so: “For the Jews there was light and gladness, joy and honor.” Havdalah, too, marks a time-bound, magical threshold. It is, then, no wonder that magical charms were most effectively recited at the close of Shabbat, either during or just after the close of the Havdalah ceremony.32 Magical practices even found their way into Havdalah rites in medieval synagogues. Genizah fragments suggest that Havdalah liturgy around the turn of the first millennium incorporated not only the mostly biblical prologues to the four blessings, but also the performance of magical formulas in synagogues.33 As early as the ninth century, Havdalah rituals included conjuring angels against evil forces, which inevitably reassert their power as soon as the sun has set on Saturday evening.34 The opening statement of the Havdalah D’rabbi Akiva noted that Havdalah served against all witchcraft and against any injury from an evil spirit.35 The Zohar reminded Jews that Psalm 91, which it called “the incantation against demons,” is to be recited at the close of Shabbat; when the demons hear Israel reciting the song, they will be forced to flee.36 Jews needed renewed strength, healing, and courage to cross the threshold from a divinely protected space into the everyday world. Thus, the Zohar insisted, Jews must strengthen their souls by inhaling the healing property of fragrant plants, particularly the myrtle—for just as the odor of the burnt offerings effected reintegration and restoration, so too did the sweet scents of Havdalah.37 In their turn, the bright flames from the braided Havdalah candle reflecting on Jewish hands can be an opportunity for predicting the future through palm reading.38 The liturgy and ritual of Havdalah do not merely wish for a shavua tov, a good week; they try to will it into existence. And further: if Jews could just manage one perfect observance of Shabbat, the Jerusalem Talmud relates, the Messiah would arrive.39 A perfect Shabbat, a perfect Havdalah: Elijah might arrive to usher in the restoration of the kingdom of the Almighty. We might realize the world to come.


Barbara Thiede

Even today, the rituals of Havdalah invoke desired ends by performing symbolically suggestive outcomes. Jews pour wine until it overflows the cup to channel divine blessing. As they pour out the symbol of joy and gladness, so shall the blessed Holy One pour out the very same on God’s beloved (and beleaguered) people.40 Some Jews still touch their eyelids with wine and simultaneously recite Psalm 19:9: “The commandment of the Eternal enlightens the eyes.”41 Sephardic Jews place a drop of wine behind the ears (for health) and in their pockets (for wealth), symbolizing the mazal they hope for in the week to come.42 Each ritual is—literally—magical, a way to enact a longed-for future of blessing and prosperity. Havdalah is enchanting. We look for three sparkling stars (Venus, Saturn, and Mars, perhaps?); we pass spices hand to hand. We honor tastes and smells of earthly pleasure, which are divinely granted, divinely given. We offer them back like modern-day priests, making libations and kindling a fiery flame. We achieve what seems so often lacking in our synagogues: Playfulness. Lightheartedness. A magical state of being. Clearly, we have compelling reasons to retain the liturgical prologue to Havdalah’s blessings, and Esther 8:16 with it. We must, however, justify the recitation of such verses on different terms than our medieval ancestors did. They wished for a magical outcome for their people and their times; they did their best to charm one into existence by glorifying a mythologized past. But few Jews of our age will chant triumphalist biblical verses with the full intention of invoking or inducing an actual, present-day miracle—especially on solely Jewish terms. And we have learned finally, unequivocally in the Shoah: God does not save—not in that way, at least. Medieval Jews possessed limited capacity to create and to control their conditions. They tuned to magic to do that for them. Now, instead of wishing for magical outcomes, we must bring them about ourselves.


For Just Such a Time as This: Esther, Havdalah, and Mazal Making Magic

Where we once hoped magic could help us save ourselves, we have an even more daunting task in this age: to save the world. Personally. The Book of Esther is a vehicle for that mandate, too. The rabbis told us long ago that the “light” of Esther 8:16 alludes to Torah herself—a font, still, of wisdom and understanding, a source for reappraising what the world requires from us.43 In our time, as in the Book of Esther, human players are the ones who must create the miracle of redemption. The magic must be in us. In the words of Paul Celan: ON EITHER HAND, there where stars grew for me, far from all heavens, near all heavens: How one’s awake there! How the world opens for us, right through the midst of ourselves!44 Today, when we imagine days of light and gladness, we must be conscious not only of the disenfranchisement of Jews, but of the earth as well. Today’s Havdalah needs to remind us of the dangers humanity faces in the days ahead, of the abundance that will have to transform an earthly realm so stretched and strained that riverbeds have gone dry, forests have withered around the globe, and millions of children die of preventable causes each and every year. We must do the wondrous, make the magic. We alone can make it possible for the entire world to achieve light and gladness, joy, and honor. For, if we fail, there will be no future for any in it.


Barbara Thiede

NOTES That is, outside the liturgy for the festival of Purim. The Book of Esther has also inspired piyyutim over the centuries and has been claimed as the source for using ten pieces of bread in b’dikat ḥameitz (the “search for leaven” conducted on the evening before Passover). See Macy Nulman, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, Inc., 1993), pp. 75, 195, 242, and 335. 2 The Beatles, “I Am the Walrus,” by John Lennon (recorded April 25–November 7, 1967), on Magical Mystery Tour, Capitol MAL-2835. 3 B. Megillah 7a. 4 The rabbis had long since created the four blessings that form the core of the ritual, attributing the origins of Havdalah to the Men of the Great Assembly (B. Berakhot 33a). Discussions about which distinctions should be enumerated (holy/profane, light/darkness, Israel/nations, Shabbat/six working days) and in which order the blessings should be pronounced (wine, spices, light, separation) found their way into a number of talmudic tractates. See also B. Pesaḥim 103b–104a, 53a and B. Shabbat 150b. 5 Both the Ashkenazic and Sephardic prologues became part of the rites of Havdalah during the medieval period. Both are composed largely from a set of biblical passages. Over the centuries, Havdalah rituals in both synagogue and household settings accrued additional texts and traditions. A thirteenth-century fragment from the Cairo Genizah describes a cantor beset by the complaints of an unhappy congregant in a Babylonian synagogue; apparently, his choice of liturgical poetry for the synagogue Havdalah did not meet with approval. See Moshe Lavee, “Literary Canonization at Work: The Authority of Aggadic Midrash and the Evolution of Havdalah Poetry in the Genizah,” AJS Review 37:2 (2013), pp. 287–288. The liturgy around the four blessings was canonized— attaining the form in which we have it—after some measure of experimentation. 6 Simon and Garfunkel, “Old Friends,” by Paul Simon (recorded September 1966, January 1967, June 1967, October 1967−February 1968), on Bookends, Columbia KCS 9529. 7 Anthropologists have long since observed that cultures define liminal moments as dangerous ones, as Lawrence Hoffman points out. Hoffman also asserts that “certain of our liturgical additions to Havdalah clearly display such efforts to protect oneself at a moment of danger.” See Lawrence A. Hoffman, Beyond the Text: A Holistic Approach to Liturgy (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), p. 42. 8 Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion, trans. Willard R. Trask (1959; rpt. New York: Harcourt Brace and World, 1987), p. 25. 9 Another medieval addition to Havdalah involved invoking Elijah at its close. Elijah, the miracle worker and unpredictable holy man whose wonders never ceased, arrived liturgically to evoke the comfort of a messianic future. The conclusion of 1


For Just Such a Time as This: Esther, Havdalah, and Mazal Making Magic

Shabbat and the beginning of the workweek was deemed a propitious time to pray for the miraculous. See Hoffman, Beyond the Text, pp. 43–44. 10 The Ashkenazic prologue includes eight biblical verses: Isaiah 12:2–3, Psalm 3:9, Psalm 46:12, Psalm 84:13, Psalm 20:10, Esther 8:16, and Psalm 116:13. The Sephardic prologue includes seven biblical verses: Psalm 116:13, Psalm 118:25, Psalm 24:5, Esther 8:16, 1 Samuel 18:14, Genesis 6:8, and Deuteronomy 4:4— as well as a request that God bless the work of “our hands,” invoking prayers for prosperity. 11 B. Megillah 14b. 12 So too with the invocation of Elijah; see note 9 above. 13 Mazal in the Bible can refer to a constellation of the zodiac (see 2 Kings 23:5); in Jewish Aramaic mazala is a “lucky star.” See also Hoffman, Beyond the Text, p. 43. 14 The most common form of oppression was financial, according to medievalist Robert Chazan: “Heavy fines were imposed on Jewish communities, special taxes were levied, Jews were detained or imprisoned and their goods confiscated.” See Robert Chazan, Church, State, and Jew in the Middle Ages (Springfield, NJ: Behrman House, 1979), p. 12. On the economic situation of medieval European Jewry in general, see Jacob Radar Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World: A Sourcebook, 315–1791 (1938; revised ed., Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1999). 15 See note 10 above. 16 See Gabriel Barkay, Marilyn J. Lunberg, Andrew G. Vaughn, and Bruce Zuckerman, “The Amulets from Ketef Hinnom: A New Edition and Evaluation,” in Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 334 (May 2004), pp. 41– 71. On the Ketef Hinnom finds in general, see the essays by Michael Graetz, Avram Reisner, Yeshaya Dalsace, Michael Knopf, Aubrey Glazer, and Jonathan Sacks in the volume in this series devoted to Birkat Kohanim (New York: New Paradigm Matrix, 2016). 17 For the ongoing and creative use of the Priestly Blessing, see Joshua Trachtenberg, Jewish Magic and Superstition: A Study in Folk Religion (1939; rpt. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), pp. 92–94, and Gideon Bohak, Ancient Jewish Magic: A History (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), p. 309. Bohak also describes the practice of writing God’s name on various objects (even including the human body) as an apotropaic or magical device that may have originated as a First Temple practice. See Bohak, p. 117. 18 See Chaim Nathan Marx, “How Biblical Verses Became an Enchantment against the Evil Eye (Genesis 48:16; 49:22 in B. Berakhot 20a; 55b),” in Studies on Magic and Divination in the Biblical World, eds. Helen R. Jacobus, Anne Katrine de Hemmer Gudme, and Philippe Guillaume (Piscataway, NJ: Georgia Press, 2013), pp. 211–226 and, in the same volume, Christa Müller-Kessler, “The Use of Biblical Quotations in Jewish Aramaic Incantation Bowls,” pp. 227–245.


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Shalom Sabar, “Childbirth and Magic: Jewish Folklore and Material Culture,” in Cultures of the Jews: A New History, ed. David Biale (New York: Schocken, 2002), pp. 677–678. Bill Rebiger has produced an edition of Shimmush T’hillim with translation and commentary into German: Sefer Shimmush Tehillim: Buch vom magischen Gebrauch der Psalmen—Űbersetzung und Kommentar (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010). See Daniel Adams and Israel Ta-Shema, “Sefer Gematriot” of R. Judah the Pious: Facsimile Edition of a Unique Manuscript (Los Angeles: Cherub Press, 1998). 20 See also Trachtenberg, Jewish Magic and Superstition, pp. 104–113. 21 See, for example, Deuteronomy 18:9–15. Bohak notes that the Torah generally proscribes magical arts when they are used by untrustworthy foreigners but permits such arts to Israel’s prophets and leaders; neither magic nor divination are prohibited per se. See Bohak, Ancient Jewish Magic, p. 14. 22 For a full discussion of magical acts found in Bible, see Bohak, Ancient Jewish Magic, pp. 8–69. Biblical texts include sanctified God-given wonders, of course, but the ritual of the suspected adulteress in the Book of Numbers is the stuff of magical practice. See Anne Katrine de Hemmer Gudme, “A Kind of Magic? The Law of Jealousy in Numbers 5:11–31 as Magical Ritual and as Ritual Text,” in Studies on Magic and Divination in the Biblical World, pp. 149–168. 23 Y. Yoma 1:1, 38c. 24 Bereishit Rabbah 30:8. 25 B. Yoma 29a. 26 In the Bible, lots are cast to identify Samuel as the first king of Israel (1 Samuel 10:20, 21), as well as to determine the division of land to the tribes of Israel (Numbers 26:52–56, 33:54m 34:13, 36:2). Casting lots was, in the medieval period, also a common Jewish practice. See Trachtenberg, Jewish Magic and Superstition, p. 217. 27 The maids are mentioned at Esther 2:9. See the rabbinic discussion of Esther’s association with Venus in B. Megillah 13a. 28 Shemot Rabbah 15:6. 29 Abraham ben Isaac ben Judah ben Samuel Shalom was as a Catalonian philosopher and translator of philosophical writings. He is also known for his work Neveih Shalom. 30 See Barry Dov Walfish, Esther in Medieval Garb: Jewish Interpretation of the Book of Esther in the Middle Ages (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993), pp. 55–61. For biblical passages that connect the Hebrew term ḥakhamim to astrologers and practitioners of mantic arts, even including Joseph himself, see, e.g., Genesis 41:8, Exodus 7:11, and Isaiah 44:25. 31 Helen R. Jacobus, “Calendars in the Book of Esther: Purim, Festivals, Cosmology,” in Studies on Magic and Divination in the Biblical World, pp. 51–75. Jacobus discusses the seventh-century BCE “Babylonian Diviner’s Manual,” which contained instructions on changing or “correcting” a date to avert evil omens: “The whole point of intercalation during the eighth and seventh 19


For Just Such a Time as This: Esther, Havdalah, and Mazal Making Magic

centuries BCE was to manipulate the calendar for divinatory purposes and avoid malefic predictions” (p. 63). 32 Trachtenberg, Jewish Magic and Superstition, p. 114. 33 Lavee, “Literary Canonization at Work,” p. 298. He includes short passages of what he adduces as magical incantations in note 41. 34 Potah, the angel of forgetfulness, was particularly requested. See Michael D. Swartz, Scholastic Magic: Ritual and Revelation in Early Jewish Mysticism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014), p. 45. Lawrence Hoffman notes that Havdalah texts called on God for good luck. He advocates understanding the expression mazal tov in terms of its actual meaning: “a good astrological omen.” “Clearly,” Hoffman writes, “Havdalah participated in something of the magical” (Beyond the Text, p. 43). 35 “Havdalah D’rabbi Akiva” in Abbi·ah Ḥidot, ed. Avraham Hamavi ( Jerusalem: Hotza∙at Bakal, 1996), p. 8. The text paraphrases Esther 8:16: “For the Jews let there be light and gladness, joy and honor.” The text dates to between late antiquity and the early medieval period. 36 Zohar I 14b. The rabbis declare Psalm 91 the “song against evil occurrences” in B. Shevuot 15b. 37 Zohar II 20a, III 35b. It is worth keeping in mind that Esther was associated with Venus, who was, in turn, associated with pleasant smells. As Ibn Ezra put it in his Sefer Ha-te’amim, “Venus [indicates] all the essences with a pleasant smell…” See The Book of Reasons: A Parallel Hebrew-English Critical Edition of the Two Versions of the Text in Études sur le Judaïsme Médiéval, vol. 35, ed. and trans. Shlomo Sela (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2007), p. 193. Regarding the use of the spices as an agent of post-Shabbat restoration, see the essay by Martin S. Cohen elsewhere in this volume. 38 Cf. Trachtenberg, Jewish Magic and Superstition, p. 217: “...the wise man can read in them our fate and the good fortune which is about to befall us.” 39 Y. Taanit 1:1, 64a. The Babylonian Talmud claims two perfect Sabbaths must be observed to ensure Israel’s redemption (B. Shabbat 118b). 40 Trachtenberg describes this ritual as a “libation to the spirits” (Jewish Magic and Superstition, p. 168). 41 They may also be invoking associations between wine and the font of knowledge. Rabbinic literature claims that the fruit Eve took from the Tree of Knowledge were actually grapes; see Bereishit Rabbah 19:5. 42 Marc Angel, Exploring Sephardic Customs and Traditions (New Jersey: KTAV, 2000), p. 34. 43 Cf. B. Megillah 16b: “‘Light’ (Esther 8:16)—this is Torah.” 44 “Zu Beiden Händen” in Poems of Paul Celan, trans. Michael Hamburger (New York: Persea Books, 1995), pp. 166–167. The German reads “ZU BEIDEN HÄNDEN, da / wo die Sterne mir wuchsen, fern / allen Himmeln, nah / allen Himmeln: / Wie / wacht es sich da! Wie / tut sich die Welt uns auf, mitten / durch uns!”


Havdalah: A Social Justice Perspective

Havdalah: A Social Justice Perspective Shmuly Yanklowitz

Separation Through Connectedness with the World At this crucial moment in human history, we live in a culture that is permeated with cynicism and a lingering sense of moral murkiness. It seems that at every passing moment, we are inundated with news of political crises both domestic and foreign, famines, the flight of innocent refugees from war zones, and other far-off disasters. It would seem that we are powerless to stave off the complete vanquishing of light from the world. But this is not so. One of our most basic responsibilities with respect to this frail world is to bring light to the darkness, to confront the evils that surely exist, and to work toward their destruction. This notion is central in Jewish thought. There is a reason that the hasidic teachers called Noah a tzaddik in peltz, a righteous person wearing a fur coat. What did they mean? There are two ways to stay warm: to put on a fur coat to keep oneself warm or to light a fire to keep others warm as well. While there is something good about taking care of one’s own shop (although one isn’t really a tzaddik for doing this, even if the Torah does use that precise word to describe Noah1), it is even greater to go out and make sure that others, too, have that same layer of protection. It is this latter task that we are charged to do. Let us consider the meaning of one of Judaism’s most lasting concepts: the notion of a regularly kept day of rest. The observance


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of a weekly day of rest, Shabbat, presents an opportunity to reflect after six days of difficult labor in a messy and broken world. But even more so, Shabbat offers us a beautiful, metaphysical vision of something that is intangible to the mortal mind, something that the human being cannot fully fathom. Every Shabbat is an invitation to sample a taste of a world that is perfected, a world where everyone comes together under the banner of a singular vision of peace. It is in the context of this brief respite from business and labor that we are invited to refocus our vision for the world: a world suffused with tranquility. Havdalah is the transition between these two mindsets. On Shabbat we focus on our inner world, while on the other days of week we focus on the outer world. The former is called tikkun atzmi (“repair of the self ”) or tikkun bayit (“repair of the home”) and the latter is called tikkun m’dinah (“repair of the nation”) or tikkun olam (“repair of the world”). These concepts, used by thinkers like Rav Salanter and Rav Kook,2 coalesce during the celebration of Shabbat. Thus, Havdalah at its most basic level becomes a ritual that celebrates the separation of these two realities (inner-consciousness and outerconsciousness). And indeed, the ritual of Havdalah is meant to challenge us to explore the possibility of being unique individuals as well as active, constructive members of society. It is through the paradox of embracing unity while preserving individuality that people are empowered to grow. The esteemed Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik wrote: “Conflict enriches existence, the negation is constructive, and contradiction deepens and expands the ultimate destiny of both man and the world.”3 Thus, the human mission to cultivate positive change in the world—which we are powerfully reminded of at the liminal moment of Havdalah—is more than enough justification for Jewish social justice activists to embrace the ritual. For Jewish social justice activists, it is vital to embrace the value of separation in all aspects of life: between light and darkness, the


Havdalah: A Social Justice Perspective

formed and the unformed, good and evil, the ephemeral and the eternal, the rational and the irrational, the terrestrial and the celestial, order and chaos. These dyads constitute the bulk of our normative actions within this world. And certainly, these aspects of life are what makes us human. That we can distinguish between night and day is a basic feature of the minds of virtually all living creatures. On the other hand, what makes distinguishes human beings is the ability to see areas of gray where less astute observers see only black or white. In contemplating Descartes’ dualistic world view (that is, one in which dual realities co-exist), we come to appreciate the world’s dualities. In contemplating Spinoza’s monism (that is, a worldview that posits a harmonious oneness to reality), however, we see the concept of separation falling away. This paradox produce multiple, even conflicting truths. Sorting out these truths requires a degree of faith. From a human perspective, everything may appear mixed up and confusing. From a divine perspective, however, everything is unified and harmonious. Spiritually complex people struggle to fully differentiate between light and dark, between good and evil. We see the good and the dark in all, the virtuous and the iniquitous. In the creation story, with the first Saturday night came the beginning of humanity’s experience with physical darkness: “This was the first time that darkness began to descend upon the world after the pinnacle of a Shabbat....and the Almighty prepared for Adam two flint stones; Adam rubbed them together and there emerged fire....”4 Hence this day is parallel to the first day: on the first day God created light for the world, and at the conclusion of the first Shabbat—at the beginning of the eighth day—Adam emulated God and created light and warmth for the world. We light the candle to recall this holy moment and to emulate Adam emulating God.


Shmuly Yanklowitz

The Three Cosmic Ruptures of Havdalah Underlying the Havdalah experience are three cosmic ruptures. Each of these ruptures represents a facet of our soul yearning for a more complete understanding of the partition between the holy mandate of rest versus work: ● Spiritual transformation. The first paragraph of the Havdalah service, consisting of a series of biblical verses, emphasizes the salvation of the world. While this may seem like an effort by the liturgist to promote a cosmic-messianic outlook, the end result is precisely the opposite. The transformation is primarily of an internal nature. Therefore, the change comes not from an intermediary, but from the individual who consciously reenters the workweek and chooses to devote time to locating the fundamental goodness available in the world. ● Sensual Reawakening. There are three blessings recited during the typical Havdalah service that reconnect the mind with the senses. We taste the sweetness of the wine, we inhale the pleasant aroma of the spices, and we also meditate on the candle—the unified light on which all are focused. The kabbalistic tradition teaches that we gain an extra soul on Shabbat (called in Hebrew the n’shamah y’teirah).5 As Havdalah begins, we lose this sixth sense (that is, this ability to view the world spiritually and charitably) but reawaken our other five senses as deeply as we can. The rabbis taught that two specific parts of the human body—fingernails and hair—are not living tissue, and that is why we gaze at our fingernails in the light of the candle at Havdalah: because tradition imagines the extra soul departing through the part of us the least alive. Why do we do this? A midrash suggests that when Adam was first created, his entire body was covered by a patina akin to human fingernails, as a kind of protective coat; as a result of his having eaten of the forbidden fruit of from the Tree of Knowledge of Good


Havdalah: A Social Justice Perspective

and Evil, this protective coat was then removed, with only the fingernails remaining as a reminder of his earlier more protected and invincible state.6 When we pray during the Havdalah service for redemption, which tradition imagines Elijah the prophet to herald, we are in effect requesting a return to the more exalted and guarded human estate of Eden. This sensual experience reawakens us to the physical world; it reawakens our resolve to repair the world. ● Intellectual and Moral Distinctions. The ritual of Havdalah acts as an experiential marker between two extremes: absolutely no work and being absorbed with work. In the brief time it takes to make Havdalah, we learn how to distinguish between these poles, thus dividing our need for rest with our inner drive to go back out and complete the holy tasks that are given to us.

Going Out Into the World To that point, Shabbat brings us physical comfort through the cessation of work, emotional comfort through uninterrupted time with family, and spiritual comfort through melodies, prayers, and songs that connect community. Compared with the time it takes to prepare for Shabbat, the time required formally to end the day of rest is as minimal as the tradition itself is abrupt; when three stars appear in the sky (called tzeit ha-kokhavim, literally “the emergence of the stars”), the rest that is so crucial for repairing the self, the soul, and the broader world ceases. Yet, Havdalah offers us a transition from the perfected world—the utopia that figures so much into our dreams and messianic yearnings—back into the world as it is. This ritual prepares us to keep our eyes focused on essence of holiness, brought down to earth, as we start to get busy once again. When we conclude the Havdalah ceremony, we venture back into our broken,


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dark, and flawed world, but now imbued with the strong desire to repair the world in the course of the coming six days—a desire that derives directly, if slightly paradoxically, from our Shabbat dreaming. It must be noted however, that it is hard to stay committed to this empyrean enterprise. In today’s world, we only have fleeting moments of clarity, focus, holiness, and purity. We can’t fully remove the darkness of the world, nor can we dominate it. Reluctantly, we have to learn to compromise with the reality of the situation: recognizing the dark while not investing in it. Yet, though we begrudgingly have to acknowledge the existence of darkness, learning from it can be a spiritually edifying experience. We accomplish this through connection with our spiritual selves. There are, classically, four dimensions to spirituality: comprehension, connection, compassion, and creativity. The spirituality of Havdalah is to experience comprehension by learning to see more; to feel more connected with divinity, humans, and the earth; to become more compassionate toward all beings; and to re-engage both our creative spiritual energies of Shabbat and our creative worldly energies of the other six days of the week. To fully embrace this spiritual paradigm, however, we must constantly be aware of the newness that can be discovered in the world, the novelty of a reality that is ever-shifting. It is spiritually rich to see newness and difference in everything, rather than putting all into the same old boxes. Every human face in history has its own special essence and every person remains a wholly unique creation. As we age and grow in our experiences, our faces and bodies becomes physically different. We might regret that, as we want everything to stay the same, but nature forces aspects of our lives to change. Though it is natural to lament the loss of the status quo, the current state is not the end of our obligations to this world. Far from it: it is the sign that our tasks are only beginning.


Havdalah: A Social Justice Perspective

As such, learning to operate on the ultimately incompatible echelons of the natural realm and the metaphysical realm takes a lot of work. Consider this teaching from Rav Kook: The world suffers from the mixture of ḥol and kodesh without order. This leads to mutual opposition between the two foundations, the ḥol against the kodesh and vice versa. And this opposition also leads to confusion of ideas until it becomes very difficult at times to discern what is ḥol and what is kodesh. All the labors of the wise of the nation must be concentrated on discerning these two foundations (from which together the world is built, human society is established, and all longings will be uplifted) to discern their special boundaries and values and where each one is to be used; and when they must be separate, each one in its boundaries, and when they must be unified for the overall benefit.7 While we may enjoy a weekly gift of Shabbat rest, we yearn to be creative and active during the other six days of the week. As Rabbi Soloveitchik writes regarding the individual who lives by Jewish law: [The] Halakhic man prefers the real world to a transcendent existence because here, in this world, man is given opportunity to create, act, accomplish, while there, in the world to come, he is powerless to change anything at all….The earth and the bodily life are the very ground of the halakhic reality.8 Living a life that is committed to Jewish values means rejecting asceticism. We are not meant to retreat from the world and its concomitant evils, but rather to sanctify it through acts of charity and good deeds. Indeed, one of the core purposes of life itself is the sanctification of the mundane, through which effort we concomitantly transform its base nature into something redolent


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of holiness. We bring sanctity to our lives by taking acts as banal as eating and drinking, or even smelling something pungent and pleasant, and sanctifying those actions—just as we do with the rest of our daily activities, with work and with the pursuit of intimacy in our marriages, and with countless other tasks and chores that life brings to us and charges us with doing. This embrace of sanctity is not merely a meditation of mysti==cism. Far from it. Rather, when humankind unites in the pursuit of the sacred, God’s presence becomes palpable in our midst. Havdalah, then, is the most common and simplest way to bring about this connection: our weekly charge to cultivate precisely those feelings of commonality and kinship for all people. Accordingly, during the Havdalah service, we return to the world with fervency. Consider Elie Wiesel’s widely cited apothegm: “The opposite of faith is not heresy but indifference.”9 Here, in his pithy wisdom, Wiesel offers a universal precept to consider the seriousness of our call to action. Havdalah, when practiced with regularity and deliberation, elevates our experiences to new spiritual heights. We are connected to the Eternal through the human stimuli of smell, sight, taste, touch, and hearing, and again through that incorporeal sixth sense of separation (that is, the final spiritual consciousness we experience before the extra soul departs). Though there are conflicts that seek to ravage the world in chaos—through internecine ideological battles and wars of economic supremacy—they are formed from an illusory place, a place where the notion that humanity can subjugate the will of the Divine reigns supreme. This is folly. As we strive to make our world a more just and equitable place, we start by joining together! When we light the Havdalah candle, we bring forth the vision of a world awakened from a too-long induced torpor and reinvigorate ourselves to make meaningful, lasting change in our mundane domain made holy.


Havdalah: A Social Justice Perspective

NOTES Noah is referred to as a tzaddik (“a righteous person”) at Genesis 6:9. Rav Salanter is Rabbi Israel ben Ze’ev Wolf Lipkin (1810–1883), the founder of the Musar movement. Rav Kook is Rabbi Avraham Yitzḥak Hakohen Kook (1865–1935), the first Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of British Palestine and one of the most important Jewish thinkers of the twentieth century. 3 Joseph Dov Soloveitchik, Halakhic Man (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1983), p. 4. 4 Bereishit Rabbah 11:2. For more on this idea of Adam’s first Havdalah, see the essay by Rachel Adelman elsewhere in this volume. 5 For more about the idea of the n’shamah y’teirah, see the essay by Martin S. Cohen elsewhere in this volume. 6 Pirkei D’rabbi Eliezer, chap. 14. 7 Abraham Isaac Kook, Ma·amarei Ha-re’ayah §12, as cited by Hillel Rachmani in his “Introduction to the Thought of Rav Kook,” Lecture 7, as published online on the website of the Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash at http:// Transliterations have been altered to conform to the system used in this volume. 8 Soloveitchik, Halakhic Man, pp. 32–34. 9 As cited in the US News & World Report on October 27, 1986. 1 2


The Extra Soul and the Common Heart

The Extra Soul and the Common Heart Martin S. Cohen

The history of the Havdalah ceremony that marks the end of the Sabbath or of a festival is complicated; no one ceremony ever evolved to fit all occasions, and different versions of the ceremony are used formally to conclude the Sabbath, holidays, and Yom Kippur—with even more variations on the theme in play when a festival follows the Sabbath or Shabbat follows a festival.1 Indeed, even the correct order of the blessings remained under discussion into talmudic times.2 But although each component of the larger ritual would surely be interesting to consider in its own right, I wish here to focus on one single part of Havdalah, the use of b’samim. Usually translated as “spice” or “spices” (the word is invariably used in the plural in Hebrew-language sources, but no text known to me suggests that more than one kind of spice was ever requisite or customarily in use), the rules laid down regarding its use are interesting in many different ways.3 But although all would be worthy topics for scrutiny, I wish to narrow my focus in this essay even more dramatically by considering one sole aspect of the b’samim ritual: the fact that it, in this regard unique, is used only at the end of the Sabbath when it is followed by a “regular” weekday and not a festival.4 There is, among our classical authors, a certain assumption that Shabbat, as it departs from the world on Saturday evening, will naturally leave in its wake a sense of wistfulness and melancholy. And it is this specific dimension of inner despondency connected


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with the end of the Sabbath that the sweet savor of the b’samim was understood, at least by some, to ameliorate. Consider, for example, the simple remark by Maimonides (1135–1204) in the section of the Mishneh Torah relating to the Sabbath: “Why do we recite the blessing over the spices at the end of Shabbat? Because the soul suffers over the departure of the Sabbath, so we attempt to cheer it up and to restore it through the use of pleasant scent.”5 Or the comment of Rabbi Jacob ben Asher (c. 1269–c.1343), writing in his magnum opus, the Arba·ah Turim, when he explains that “one need not exert oneself overly to locate usable spices for the ceremony because the sole point of reciting the blessing over the spices is to soothe the soul that is suffering over the departure of Shabbat.”6 Other classical sources attempted to identify more specifically the source of this post-Shabbat unhappiness. In two of the shorter tractates of the Talmud, for example, we find a tradition preserved in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish (also known as Resh Lakish) to the effect that on the eve of the Sabbath the blessed Holy One endows every individual with a n’shamah y’teirah, literally an “extra soul,” only for it to be taken again away as the Sabbath departs.7 Although not spelled out in so many words in the talmudic text, it is presumably this sudden deprivation of the enhanced soul, the “Sabbath soul” as some have called it,8 that awakens the glum dejectedness that so many feel as Shabbat ends and the workaday week with all its relentless exigencies begins anew. Rabbi Shimon anchors his lesson in a verse from Scripture that he interprets just a bit fancifully. Exodus 31:17, he notes, justifies the obligation to rest on the Sabbath with reference to the story of creation: the people Israel are to rest on Shabbat because God made the world in six days and then, on the seventh day, shavat va-yinnafash. These last two words are clear in context—they unambiguously reference the fact that God “ceased [work] and rested” on the seventh day—and do not seem to present any sort of lexicographical or


The Extra Soul and the Common Heart

etymological puzzle.9 Yet, Resh Lakish takes them as an elliptical shorthand of sorts, expanding them to read vai, av’dah nefesh, “Oy, a soul has gone lost.”10 Did Resh Lakish mean for his words to be taken literally? It would certainly be easy to take his midrash as a mere flight of exegetical fancy. Rashi himself explains that Resh Lakish’s interpretation was simply a lyrical way to describe the enhanced ability to appreciate leisure and pleasure that the Sabbath brings to its observers, as well as the emotional expansiveness it inspires, and—this is my favorite part—the way the Sabbath seems to make people capable of feasting and imbibing to an extent that in other contexts would only make them sick to their stomachs.11 Other medievals travel down the same path.12 And most moderns follow Rashi in this regard as well. A popular “Judaism 101” website, for example, references the idea of the extra soul but presents it as the “special Sabbath spirit,” by which term it presumably means to denote an intangible mood rather than a physically existent thing.13 The notion of an extra soul—understood in this sense, of a heightened spiritual awareness—is not unknown outside Jewish sources. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882), America’s greatest essayist, wrote extensively about something he called the “over-soul,” which he defined as “that Unity…within which every man’s particular being...contained and made one with all other; that common heart....”14 And he was able to explain his idea in words no less arresting today than when he wrote them nearly two centuries ago: We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. Meantime within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related; the eternal ONE…We see the world piece by piece, as the sun, the moon, the animal, the tree; but the whole, of which these are the shining parts, is the soul.15


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Carl Jung knew of this phenomenon as well, but he chose instead to call it the “collective psyche” or the “collective unconsciousness,” using both terms to reference that part of the psyche that, as the common property of all humankind, is the seat not of individualized personality but of shared culture, of those foundational elements that together constitute human consciousness.16 But I would like to focus here on Emerson rather than Jung, and particularly on his essay “The Over-Soul.” Generally considered to be one of Emerson’s finest works, “The Over-Soul” was written in the spring of 1840.17 By reading the essay and Emerson’s earlier poem “The World-Soul” together,18 we can come up with an American version of the n’shamah y’teirah that not only enhances our sense of what the Jewish idea might mean, but also provides some insight into the detail that the Jewish version, the “extra soul,” is not a permanent feature of the human psyche at all, but rather one that visits the individual on a weekly basis as Shabbat arrives. In turn, this detail can help illuminate the larger concept of the Sabbath itself, including the specific reason it is considered such a great boon for those who observe it punctiliously. The notion that the divine presence in the world is both individualspecific and the great unifying factor that makes all humankind into each other’s kin derives directly from a comparison of the two creation stories with which the Torah opens. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik famously juxtaposed these two stories in his essay “The Lonely Man of Faith,” which was one of the key texts that led me eventually to rabbinical school.19 But I would like to propose a different way to read the Bible’s opening chapters in each other’s light. In the first chapter of Genesis, God creates a world that includes human beings among its living creatures and sends them forth with the serial commands to reproduce, to “fill up the earth,” to “conquer” the planet, and to rule over the fish of the sea, the birds that fly through the air, and all land-based creatures. That this story is about


The Extra Soul and the Common Heart

the creation of humankind itself and not solely of one man—a detail slightly obfuscated in the Hebrew text by the use of the term ha-adam to denote humankind—is clear enough. The narrative uses the same language, more or less, to describe the creation of a world of flora, a world of fauna, and a world of human beings. The unambiguous use of plural command forms, also lost in English translation, only makes the point clearer. As does the equally unambiguous comment that this initial raft of humankind included men and women: in the context of the story as told (if not always as read), the words zakhar u-n’keivah bara otam (Genesis 1:27) mean specifically that humankind was gendered from the beginning, that—pace Plato— gender was neither the result of a primordial androgyne being split in two nor a subsequent development that made people less perfect than when God first made them.20 It would therefore follow that, at least according to this account of creation, the interconnectedness of humankind is a bit of a chimera: for all that we all may have the same Creator, the story implies that all humans do not have a single primordial ancestor— and, it therefore follows that they are not each other’s blood relatives. Rather, the text instead tells us that God created humankind in the divine tzelem, a term explained in the text to be the equivalent of the Hebrew d’mut, an unambiguous term that appears many times in Scripture and always denotes physical attribute.21 This being the case, then, the interconnectedness and essential unity of humankind specifically does not rest in the fact that everybody is everybody else’s twelve-thousandth cousin, but rather in the fact that all people— including both women and men—are made in the tzelem and d’mut of God.22 The story’s point, therefore, is this: we on earth are all descended from the mass of human beings created by God on the sixth day of creation week, and moreover we all bear the stamp of God’s own appearance. The point here is not about the actual physical appearance of any specific human being, then, but rather about the


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fact that that there is a stamp of divinity that imprints itself on all who live and call themselves human; it is the spark of the Divine imagined not as energy source but as spiritual overlay. The second chapter of Genesis presents a different story of creation, one far better known and more widely cited than the first. In this story, the interrelatedness of all humanity derives from the fact that all people actually are related: all who live on earth are the descendants of the same first couple—and thus, at least in biological sense, part of each other’s extended family. It follows, therefore, that the sense of interconnectedness of all peoples is not a fanciful philosophical principle but a simple acknowledgement of how things are in the Creator’s created world. In this story, however, the word tzelem is notably absent and the term for the divine presence within the creation is n’shamah: Scripture states that God fashioned Adam of the dust (or perhaps clay) of the earth, and then blew nishmat ḥayyim, the life-soul, his anima, into the nostrils of the previously lifeless, inanimate body, and made him alive with the spirit of God.23 Eve, fashioned of Adam, was presumably created with her nishmat ḥayyim already in place. We are thus left understanding something deep and interesting through the juxtaposition and complementarity of these two stories that constitute the Torah’s opening tableaus: that humankind is related through its common tzelem as well as through its common nishmat ḥayyim, through the stamp of divinity that distinguishes the human being from all other living things as well as though the n’shamah that made clay-Adam alive and which to this day animates the human being from its earliest moments of life. Eventually, the n’shamah overtook the tzelem in the popular imagination as the divine endowment most often associated with human spiritual potential. Long, complex sections of the Zohar, for example, are devoted entirely to fleshing out the intricacies of the soul, including details relating to its internal composition, its origin


The Extra Soul and the Common Heart

(or rather, the origin of its constituent elements) within the Godhead, its role in the life of the individual it animates, and its eventual fate. Indeed, one of the Zohar’s most famous subsections, the one popularly called the Saba D’mishpatim, is exclusively concerned with theories concerning the nature and destiny of the soul.24 Classic books like the Nishmat Ḥayyim of Manasseh ben Israel (1604–1657) or the Nishmat Adam of his slightly older contemporary Aharon Shmuel ben Moshe Shalom of Kremenitz (d. c. 1620), not to mention later works like the magisterial Die Psychologie bei den jüdischen Religionsphilosophen des Mittelalters of Saul Horovitz or Woolf Hirsch’s still-useful Rabbinic Psychology: Beliefs About the Soul in Rabbinic Literature of the Talmudic Period are veritable encyclopedias of rabbinic, philosophic, and kabbalistic traditions regarding the soul.25 And this interest has persisted over time. At the turn of the millennium, for example, Jewish Lights published Rabbi Elie Spitz’s Does the Soul Survive? A Jewish Journey to Belief in the Afterlife, Past Lives, and Living with Purpose, a treatise about the durable nature of the human soul. And that was just a year after Jason Aronson published Rabbi DovBer Pinson’s book on a similar theme, Reincarnation and Judaism: The Journey of the Soul.26 The tzelem, even though it too appears in Scripture to describe a divinely-endowed aspect of humanness and is thus a kind of counterpart to the nishmat ḥayyim in its sister story, has done less well. Nevertheless, it calls to me…and what specifically recommends it to me is its easy identification with Emerson’s over-soul. I have already cited one passage from Emerson, but here is another worth considering: All goes to show that the soul in man is not an organ, but animates and exercises all the organs; is not a function, like the power of memory, of calculation, of comparison, but uses these as hands and feet; is not a faculty, but a light; is not


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the intellect or the will, but the master of the intellect or the will; is the background of our being, in which they lie— an immensity not possessed and cannot be possessed. From within or from behind, a light shines through us upon things and makes us aware that we are nothing, but the light is all.27 These powerful words resound deeply with me, as does Emerson’s insistence later on in his essay that the over-soul is the light in which all every human being becomes each other’s equal in the eyes of God: This energy does not descend into individual life on any other condition than entire possession. It comes to the lowly and simple; it comes to whomsoever will put off what is foreign and proud; it comes as insight; it comes as serenity and grandeur. When we see those whom it inhabits, we are apprised of new degrees of greatness. From that inspiration the man comes back with a changed tone. He does not talk with men with an eye to their opinion. He tries them. It requires of us to be plain and true. The vain traveler attempts to embellish his life by quoting my lord, and the prince, and the countess, who thus said or did to him. The ambitious vulgar show you their spoons, and brooches, and rings, and preserve their cards and compliments. The more cultivated, in their account of their own experience, cull out the pleasing, poetic circumstance,—the visit to Rome, the man of genius they saw, the brilliant friend they know; still further on, perhaps, the gorgeous landscape, the mountain lights, the mountain thoughts, they enjoyed yesterday,—and so seek to throw a romantic color over their life. But the soul that ascends to worship the great God is plain and true; has no rose-color, no fine friends, no chivalry, no adventures; does not want admiration; dwells in the hour that now is, in the earnest experience of the common day,—by reason of the present moment and the mere trifle having become porous to thought, and bibulous of the sea of light.28


The Extra Soul and the Common Heart

These are momentous thoughts; Emerson in this essay, and in related essays, is basically laying the groundwork for understanding the world as a kind of symphony in which the people who inhabit it are the notes and God is the great Composer…but the human soul is the music itself, the ethereal, real/unreal context in which Creator and created meet in a kind of swirling vortex of mutual recognition that has the potential to transcend its own natural boundaries to become the love commanded by Scripture that humankind bring to worship. For Emerson, then, what binds human beings to each other is neither the soul qua energy source nor the soul as God’s intangible contribution to the palette of features that characterize human life at its most able (and thus as the divine source in the sublunary world of intelligence and artistry, industry and creativity and insight, earned talent and innate skill, sensory perception and interpretive acuity), but the soul as divine light that illumines the earth. Nor is this an alien idea Emerson dared impose on Scripture: it is, in fact, fully in keeping with the perspective found in Genesis, where we read that, before anything that is was, what was was the light of God’s creative presence illuminating the divine spirit as it hovered over the depths. And it is, in fact, precisely this notion that enables all people rationally to think of their fellow human beings not merely as neighbors or even as cousins descended from common ancestors, but as actual siblings: as children of the God, all of them, whose light illumines their lives and grants meaning and profundity to their days on earth. And whose divine tzelem they bear, for this Emersonian over-soul is not the nishmat ḥayyim of the second creation story but rather the tzelem of the first. It is the tzelem that the Torah itself glosses as d’mut, a word derived from a verbal root that denotes similarity and kinship, which resists easy translation into English. Perhaps the King James Version did best of all when it called the d’mut “likeness,” for that encapsulates exactly the right blend of similarity


Martin S. Cohen

and distinctiveness that the Hebrew word implies without pointing, theologically absurdly, at actual physical resemblance. But it is the tzelem that marks men and women as children of God and it is that specific thing that binds all humankind together, both by virtue of their createdness by God and by dint of their common privilege of bearing the stamp of God’s watchful reality in the world humankind was created to inhabit. I would like to propose that we imagine (poetically, if perhaps not quite historically) the n’shamah y’teirah specifically not as “another” soul that Shabbat offers Israel somewhat in the way an overprotective parent might force a child to wear a second overcoat—in effect, an overovercoat—on a particularly cold and blustery winter’s day. Rather, I suggest that we see it as an enhanced, more-alive-than-usual sense of the tzelem that createdness in God imposes on all people. This is an unusual reading of Resh Lakish’s midrash, admittedly. And yet it resonates with me, and particularly because of the detail—foreign to Emerson but embedded in the midrash as taught—that the n’shamah y’teirah is specifically not a permanent feature of human life on earth, but a recurring gift to the Jewish people that comes along as a welcome complement to its observance of the Sabbath. The point, according to my reading of the midrash, is not that the tzelem is only bestowed upon the men and women of the House of Israel. (Indeed, the Torah is crystal clear that the tzelem is a feature of humanness, not Jewishness.) But what is God’s weekly gift to Israel is an enhanced sense of what it means to bear the tzelem, what it means fully to be human, what it means to be called to bear the divine simulacrum layered metaphysically over the visible presence in the world of both men and women as a kind of incorporeal overlay. And it is this enhanced sensitivity to the interconnectedness of all humankind that makes palatable the thought that racism, xenophobia, chauvinism, imperialism, and prejudice are no less than rank repudiations of the common createdness of all in God.


The Extra Soul and the Common Heart

That this elevated level of awareness of the ultimate kinship of all humankind is elevating, ennobling, and deeply satisfying hardly needs to be justified. But neither should it be at all surprising that its withdrawal at Sabbath’s end—for all that withdrawal might be justified by the fact that the n’shamah y’teirah is a gift that would be diminished, not made greater, by constancy in the lives of those to whom it is offered—provokes a sense of real and perceptible glumness. Indeed, both notions—what its arrival grants and what its departure provokes—are suggestive of the great nobility embedded in the Jewish soul. That tradition devised a simple antidote to the sullen dejectedness occasioned by the departure of the over-soul speaks volumes. Surely no one will imagine that a whiff of allspice could possibly be pungent enough actually to undo the gloom the departing over-soul leaves in its wake. But that riddle suggests its own answer: the scent is intended not to actually dissolve the gloom, but merely to remind us that what we know of the world—and specifically what the weekly visit of the n’shamah y’teirah reminds us about the world and its citizens—is not lost (or at least not necessarily lost) as the workaday week recommences. Indeed, it is in the course of the “regular” week that we are presented with the opportunity, again and again, to reach out to those in need, to stoop to lift someone bent over by poverty or illness or misery, to demonstrate through the kindnesses we bestow on our neighbors and the insistence we bring to the search for justice in the world the degree to which we feel ourselves truly created in and of God. Traditional Sabbath observance hampers us from engaging fully with the world on Shabbat. And so the whole point of Shabbat becomes that much clearer as we consider that the reason we are visited on Shabbat by the world-soul is specifically to remind us of the interconnectedness of all humankind so that, when Sabbath yields to workweek, those of us bound in covenant to our Creator can devote ourselves to serving those in need and whose cries to God we are sensitive enough to


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hear‌and to which cries God commands us to respond generously and vigorously. It is in this sense that Shabbat ennobles through its rituals and rites, because it is precisely with the arrival of the Sabbath soul that we, as human beings, acquires the true sense of ourselves as children of God called to the service of God’s creation.


The Extra Soul and the Common Heart

NOTES Cf. the discussion of the matter by Michael Katz and the late Gershon Schwartz in The Observant Life, eds. Martin S. Cohen and Michael Katz (New York: Rabbinical Assembly, 2012), pp. 118–121. And see also the essay of Elliot Dorff elsewhere in this volume with respect to the differences between the different versions of Havdalah. 2 Cf. the passage at B. Berakhot 52b in which, after duly reporting the ancient debate between the School of Hillel and the School of Shammai regarding the correct order of the blessings that constitute the ceremony, the text concludes simply by citing Rabbi Yoḥanan’s observation regarding popular custom in his day with respect to the issue at hand. 3 The five most essential rules in their regard are gathered together at S.A. Oraḥ Ḥayyim 297. The word b’samim is not invariably used in the plural in classical Hebrew; the singular forms, besem and bosem, appear, e.g., at Exodus 30:23. 4 This is not to say that the pronunciation of a blessing over pleasant-smelling spices is unique to Havdalah, only that that practice of reciting such a blessing during Havdalah is unique to the version pronounced on Saturday evenings. See, e.g., Maimonides’ comments at M.T. Hilkhot Berakhot 7:14 (regarding the blessing over spices pronounced as part of the Grace after Meals) or 9:1–9 regarding the obligation in general to recite a blessing upon smelling pleasantlyscented spices, and the exceptions to that rule. 5 M.T. Hilkhot Shabbat 29:29. 6 A.T. Oraḥ Ḥayyim 297. Presumably the point is that, since the spices speak to a human need unrelated to the service of the Divine, they can be skipped if it would be overly arduous or complicated to procure them. 7 Resh Lakish’s midrash appears in the Talmud at B. Beitzah 16a and Taanit 27b, and cf. the reference to the extra soul in the extra-talmudic tractate Sofrim 17:4, ed. M. Higger (New York: D’vei Rabbanan, 5697 [1936/1937]), p. 301. 8 Cf. the title of Eitan Fishbane’s book, The Sabbath Soul: Mystical Reflections on the Transformative Power of Holy Time (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2012). 9 Both terms appear in other passages in Scripture that make their meanings entirely clear. At Exodus 23:12, for example, a verb derived from the same root as shavat appears as the antonym of “doing one’s work,” and v’yinnafeish, a verb from the same root as va-yinnafash, appears as the term applied to people that is parallel to the Sabbath rest of animals. 10 Rashi spells this out clearly in his comment ad locum in tractate Beitzah, s.v. va-yinnafash: “This is being learned midrashically, reading [the words in Exodus] to mean ‘Oy, for the soul that now departs.’” Most readers will think of oy as a Yiddish term, but it derives directly from biblical Hebrew and appears about two dozen times in Scripture to denote anguish. 1


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Rashi to B. Beitzah 16a, s.v. n’shamah y’teirah and to B. Taanit 27b, s.v. n’shamah y’teirah, and cf. also the interesting comments of the Tosafot to B. Beitzah 33b, s.v. ki havinan bei rav y’hudah, explaining that the specific reason the blessing over the spices is omitted when a festival begins on Saturday evening as Shabbat concludes is because the feasting that characterizes traditional holiday observance itself dissipates the gloom the departure of the n’shamah y’teirah naturally induces. 12 Cf. the comment of Isaac ben Moses of Vienna (1200–1270) in his Sefer Or Zarua, part 2, §407, or the Meiri (i.e., Rabbi Menaḥem ben Solomon [1249–1316]), who rationalizes Rashi’s approach in the introduction to his masterwork, the Beit Ha-b’ḥirah commentary on the Talmud, by noting that the word y’teirah in the expression n’shamah y’teirah does not mean “extra” at all, but merely “enhanced,” just as Rashi taught. For what it’s worth, the holy Shlah (that is, Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz [c. 1565–1620], known by the acronym of the title of his most famous book, the Sh’nei Luḥot Ha-b’rit), vigorously opposes Rashi’s idea that the point of the extra soul is to enable excessive eating and drinking (see Sh’nei Luḥot Ha-b’rit [ed. Frankfurt a. O., 1717], p. 247a), but still seems supportive of the idea that the n’shamah y’teirah is a poetic designation of ability or capacity animated within the Sabbath observer on Shabbat. In his commentary to Genesis 2:3, Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra interprets the “extra soul” as having to do with enhanced intellectual ability. 13 See 14 Emerson, “The Over-Soul” (1841; rpt. in The Spiritual Emerson, ed. David M. Robinson [Boston: Beacon Press, 2003]), p. 134. 15 Ibid. 16 Jung described the artist as one who is by definition capable of harnessing that part or his or her psychological make-up to produce works of art; cf. his Modern Man in Search of a Soul, trans. Cary F. Baynes (1933; rpt. Abingdon [U.K.]: Routledge, 2001), p. 176: “We see that he [i.e., the artist] has drawn upon the healing and redeeming forces of the collective psyche that underlies consciousness with its isolation and its painful errors; that he has penetrated to that matrix of life in which all men are embedded, which imparts a common rhythm to all human existence and allows the individual to communicate his feeling and his striving to mankind as a whole.” 17 Cf. Robert D. Richardson, Jr., Emerson: The Mind on Fire (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 1995), p. 334. Emerson was also trying to decide whether to buy a cow that month (ibid., p. 332). 18 Emerson’s poem, “The World-Soul,” first published in 1847, appears in the author’s Poems (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin, and Cambridge, MA: Riverside Press, 1904), pp. 15–19 and in many other editions of Emerson’s poems. 19 Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s “The Lonely Man of Faith” first appeared in Tradition 7:2 (1965), pp. 5–67, but has been reprinted and republished many 11


The Extra Soul and the Common Heart

times since, most recently in stand-alone volumes by that same title published by Doubleday in 1992, Jason Aronson in 1997, Image Books in 2006, and Koren Publishers in Jerusalem in 2011. 20 The second story, discussed below, features male Adam as the first person and Eve as a secondary creation made “of ” him as a way of dealing both with his loneliness and his ultimate need to reproduce if the whole human story is ever to get off the ground. Plato’s theory of the primal androgyne is set forth in Aristophanes’ speech in The Symposium 190a–193a. 21 The word d’mut appears twenty-five times in the Hebrew Bible, every one unambiguously referencing physical appearance. The word tzelem appears seventeen times, and its Aramaic equivalent, another seventeen. Most are unambiguous references to physical attribute, but the word itself (with its obvious assonance with the Hebrew word for “shadow”) suggests at least etymologically something less substantive than simple appearance, perhaps something more akin to demeanor or bearing. All the Aramaic examples, however, reference simple three-dimensional appearance. The comment that humankind was created in the divine tzelem appears in Genesis at 1:26, 1:27, and 9:6. The parallel remark using the term d’mut appears at Genesis 1:26 and 5:1; cf. also the use of both terms at 5:3 to reference the way that human parents create babies physically similar to themselves, and the slightly obscure reference to the concept at Psalm 39:7. 22 The point that the interconnectedness of all humankind is a function their common createdness in the divine image rather than a mere function of consanguinity became a familiar rabbinic trope later on; see, e.g., M. Sanhedrin 4:5. 23 Genesis 2:7. The Hebrew words nishmat and n’shamah are different grammatical forms of the same noun. At its simplest level, the so-called p’shat level of the text, the phrase nishmat ḥayyim simply means “the breath of life.” 24 The Saba D’mishpatim is printed in the Zohar at II 94b–114a. A full, annotated translation appears in The Zohar, ed. and trans. Daniel C. Matt (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009), vol. 5, pp. 1–139. Compare this magisterial, content-rich, fully arresting material with the arcane, almost byzantine analysis of the tzelem, say, in Ḥayyim Vital’s Sha∙ar Ha-hakdamot (Tel Aviv: Eshel, 1961), pp. 332–333, to which passage may be compared the parallel material in Vital’s Eitz Ḥayyim (1910; rpt. Jerusalem: M’kor Ḥayyim, s.a.), sha∙ar ha-k’lalim, chap. 5, p. 7d). 25 Saul Horovitz’s book was published in four volumes from 1898 to 1911 by Th. Schatzky in Breslau. Woolf Hirsch’s was published in London by E. Goldston in 1947. 26 Elie Spitz’s book was published in 2000 by Jewish Lights Publishing in Woodstock, Vermont. DovBer Pinson’s book was published in 1999 by Jason Aronson in Blue Ridge Summit, Pennsylvania. 27 Emerson, “Over-Soul,” p. 135. 28 Emerson, “Over-Soul,” pp. 145–146.


Primordial Adam and the First Havdalah

Primordial Adam and the First Havdalah Rachel Adelman

Fire was born when heaven and earth separated. —from a Mongolian nuptial prayer The discovery of fire and its powers marks the distinction between the primitive and the civilized human, since fire enables humans to defend themselves against the elements (the cold and the darkness of night), to fashion tools, and to cook raw meat and thus preserve it. In his study The Raw and the Cooked, French anthropologist Claude LÊvi-Strauss compares myths about the discovery of fire among the indigenous tribes of South America. He suggests that the pivotal event in the transition from Nature, the state of the primitive human living in harmony with the earth, to Culture, the state of the civilized human bound by social norms, is mythologized in folktales about the theft of fire from the sky by a terrestrial hero. Almost ubiquitous across cultures, the legends recount the acquisition of fire from the gods or some other primordial creature through an act of stealth.1 This theft brings into play an opposition between Nature and Culture, between primitive humans and their civilized counterparts, which LÊvi-Strauss characterizes as essential to mythic thought. In the Jewish tradition, the transition from Nature to Culture finds expression in the story of the banishment from Eden. But, unlike the indigenous tribes of South America, the exile from that ideal state of the human-in-harmony-with-nature is not symbolized by stealing fire,


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but by a far more elusive transgression: stealing the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. By contrast, in the aggadic literature, fire is acquired as a gift from God upon Adam and Eve’s exile from the Garden.

Darkness upon Banishment from Eden: Comparing Midrashim In the classic exegetical midrash Bereishit Rabbah, the story of the gift of fire appears, rather anomalously, in a discussion about the blessings of the Sabbath day.2 According to the rabbis of the classical period, the first Sabbath was blessed with the pristine light of creation, created on the first day, which shone from one end of the earth to the other without bounds; beginning on the fourth day it radiated through the vessels of light—the sun, moon, and stars. The sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden took place on the sixth day but, because God did not want them to suffer darkness for the first time on the Sabbath, this light continued to serve Adam and Eve for thirty-six hours: Rabbi Levi said in the name of the son of Nezirah: That light served for thirty-six hours—twelve on the eve of the Sabbath [i.e., Friday], twelve during the night of the Sabbath, and twelve on the Sabbath day itself. When the sun set upon the departure of the Sabbath, the darkness became palpable as the sun set (ha-ḥoshekh m’mashmeish u-va). The First Man (adam ha-rishon) was terrified [and exclaimed], “‘Surely darkness comes to bruise me’ (y’shufeini; Psalm 139:11); perhaps the one of whom it is said, ‘He shall bruise (y’shuf ’kha) your head’ (Genesis 3:15) will come to attack me?!”3 What did the blessed Holy One do? He presented him with two flints, which he [Adam] struck together and light came forth, whereupon he blessed it, as it is written, “The night was light for my sake” (Psalm 139:11).4


Primordial Adam and the First Havdalah

When Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden, darkness was felt as tangible for the first time. In the midrash, the expression “the darkness became palpable as the sun set” (ha-ḥoshekh m’mashmeish u-va) alludes to the description of the penultimate plague in Egypt, three days of darkness: “That there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt” (v’yameish ḥoshekh)5—a darkness that bodes doom and death. With its descent, Adam is seized by anxiety over the serpent who, like the darkness, may bruise him or strike him by surprise, out of the unknown. In describing the darkness as “bruising,” the midrash draws upon imagery from Psalms, “surely darkness comes to bruise me” (akh ḥoshekh y’shufeini),6 and refers to the curse of the snake in Genesis: “He shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel” (hu y’shuf ’kha rosh v’attah t’shufennu akeiv). In associating the experience of darkness with the serpent, through the resonance between the terms y’shufeini, y’shuf ’kha, and t’shufennu, darkness is linked with the serpent, whose actions ultimately led to the banishment from Eden; the gift of fire, was offered as compensation for the consequences of that banishment. To allay his anxiety upon leaving the Garden, God gives Adam fire—or, more precisely, shows him the means of creating a spark by presenting him with the two flints. Sir James Frazer, in his monumental work The Golden Bough, writes on this ubiquitous technique associated with the genesis of fire and dubs it “the fire drill”: In its simplest form the fire drill…consists of two sticks, the one furnished with a point and the other with a hole. The point of the one stick is inserted into the hole of the other, which is laid flat on the ground while the operator holds the pointed stick upright in position and twirls it rapidly between his hands till the rubbing of the two sticks against each other produces sparks and at last a flame.7


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In our text, however, it is two stones, not two sticks, that are associated with the acquisition of fire. In a later version in Midrash Tehillim, the stones are actually named: “Deep-Darkness” and “Shadow-Death” (ofel v’tzalmavet).8 In the midrash, the stones become eponymous for the very gloom they banish: What did the blessed Holy One then do? He presented Adam with two stones, one of Deep-Darkness and the other of Shadow-Death, for it is said, “Man put an end to darkness, and searches (ḥokeir) out to the farthest bound the ore of Deep-Darkness and Shadow-Death” ( Job 28:3).9 Adam took up the stones and struck them together until fire came forth from them, whereupon he enacted Havdalah, [saying,] “Blessed are You who creates the lights of the fire.” Hence, at the close of the Sabbath, we make Havdalah (mavdilim) over light.10

This midrash then links the divine gift of fire to Adam with the Havdalah ceremony, as an etiological narrative for why we bless the Creator of firelight with the blessing “who creates the lights of the fire (borei me’orei ha-eish)” at the conclusion of the Sabbath. The connection between the weekly ritual and the event in primordial time is not made explicit in the Bereishit Rabbah text (cited above),11 since the blessing Adam utters is simply the continuation of the quote on the bruising darkness and its dissolution in Psalms 139: “The night was light for my sake (v’lailah or ba-adeini)” (Psalm 139:11). By contrast, the version of the midrash that we find in the Yerushalmi, like Midrash Tehillim, refers to the Havdalah blessing explicitly: Rabbi Levi said: At this moment the blessed Holy One presented him with two flint-stones and he struck them together and made fire; that is what is said, “Now the night was light for my sake” (Psalm 139:11), and he blessed it, “(Blessed are You…) Creator of the lights/flames of the fire.”


Primordial Adam and the First Havdalah

Samuel said: Therefore we recite a blessing over fire at the end of the Sabbath, because that was when it was first created.12 This midrashic passage plays on the ambiguity imbedded in the sanctification of God as either “Creator of the flames of fire” or “Creator of the lights of fire”, both of which are plausible translations of borei me’orei ha-eish. We bless fire on at the conclusion of the Sabbath because this is when its use was inaugurated in Primordial Time, during the first week of creation.13 This is paradigmatic of what Mircea Eliade calls the “Myth of Eternal Return,” the re-enactment through ritual of the events in primordial time. In his book Myth and Reality, Eliade elaborates on the relationship between ritual and myth, as a means of allowing the sacred to break through to the real world: …as the rite always consists in the repetition of an archetypal action performed in illo tempore (before “history” began) by ancestors or by gods, man is trying, by means of the hierophany, to give “being” to even his most ordinary and insignificant acts. By its repetition, the act coincides with its archetype, and time is abolished. We are witnessing, so to speak, the same act that was performed in illo tempore, at the dawn of the universe. Thus, by transforming all his physiological acts into ceremonies, primitive man strove to “pass beyond,” to thrust himself out of time (and change) into eternity.14 Through the story of the first Havdalah, a link is made between contemporary halakhic practice—differentiating the “holy from the profane (ha-mavdil bein kodesh l’ḥol)”—and the gift of fire to the First Man. Jews reenact that original banishment from Eden and God’s act of compensation by blessing the flame every week at the end of the Sabbath. The myth is thus given a performative function, signifying that time before history began.


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However, the assumption that linear time is somehow transcended through ritual—that history is “abolished” in mythic, cyclical time (an assumption that runs almost axiomatically throughout Eliade’s writings)—is fundamentally at odds with the significance of the ceremony.15 Rather, the dialectic between the Sabbath and Havdalah, represented by the transition from the Garden of Eden into the postlapsarian world, is a way of imbedding the eternal within time and history. The move into mundane time, which Lévi-Strauss identifies as the transition from Nature to Culture, is marked by the blessing over the flames or the lights of fire, re-enacted again and again on a weekly basis. It recalls the gift given in compensation for the act of banishment (from Nature), marked by the first experience of darkness and the fear of the primordial serpent. Historically measured time stands in constant cyclical and dialectical relationship with eternal time. The Sabbath, as Abraham Joshua Heschel so eloquently writes, “is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn form the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.”16

The Gift of Fire in Response to Fear of the Serpent The narrative in Pirkei D’rabbi Eliezer, a mid-eighth century narrative midrash, elaborates even further on the relationship between the ritual of Havdalah and the gift of fire: Rabbi Judah says: The blessed Holy One was the first to keep the Sabbath among the higher beings and Adam was the first to keep the Sabbath among the lower ones, and the Sabbath day would preserve him from all evil and comfort him from the anxieties [mi-sarafo] of his mind, [as it says:] “When I am filled with anxious thoughts [sarafai], Your comforts delight my soul” (Psalm 94:19).


Primordial Adam and the First Havdalah

Rabbi Joshua ben Korḥah says: From the tree behind which they hid, they took leaves and sewed [them], as it says, “And they sewed together fig leaves” (Genesis 3:7). Rabbi Eliezer says: From the skin that the snake sloughed off, the blessed Holy One made garments of glory (kot’not kavod) for Adam and his helper, as it says, “And the Eternal God made garments of skins for Adam and his wife, and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21). At twilight of the Sabbath [evening], Adam was ruminating in his mind, saying: “Woe to me, lest the snake, which had deceived me, come out in the evening and strike me in the heel, ‘Surely darkness strikes me, and yet night is light (for my sake)’ (Psalm 139:11), for it will strike me in the heel (y’shufeini akeiv).” And so He sent him a pillar of fire to give light all about him and to keep him from all evil, and Adam saw the pillar of fire and rejoiced in his heart, and stretched out his hands to the light of the fire and said, “Blessed are You, Eternal, Creator of the lights of fire.” And when he withdrew his hands from the light of the fire, he said, “Now I know that the holy day is differentiated from the profane. Why? Because one does not transfer (or: kindle)17 fire on the Sabbath.” At the same time, he said: “Blessed are You, Eternal, who differentiates the holy from the profane (barukh ha-mavdil bein kodesh l’ḥol).”18 In this text Adam is characterized, rather anachronistically, as the first Sabbath observer on earth, and God as the first observer on high. The Sabbath guards Adam from his anxious thoughts, as the word sarafim suggests a subtle reference both to the burning of fire, s’reifah, and to the serpent, saraf.19 Measure for measure, God answers his anxieties (sarafav) with the clothing made from the serpent’s skin and with a pillar of fire. The anxious thoughts—perhaps the pangs of conscience—are a direct consequence of the serpent’s trickery in the Garden; the gifts serve as a kind of immunization against the wily


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reptile and the anxiety it generated. Fire and clothing provide the antidote to the snake’s bite. There are several differences between this text and the earlier midrashic account in Bereishit Rabbah. Most significantly, the context of the discussion differs. In Bereishit Rabbah, the debate centers on the loss of the pristine light of the first six days, apparently prompted by the question, “With what did God bless the Sabbath?”20 In Pirkei D’rabbi Eliezer, on the other hand, the focus is on Adam’s existential state upon his banishment and God’s ambivalent response, which seems to be both punitive and compassionate: on the one hand, God condemns him to the dust from which he was taken, while, on the other hand, clothing him and granting him the gift of fire. While Bereishit Rabbah links the experience of darkness with the loss of the pristine light, no such reckoning appears in Pirkei D’rabbi Eliezer. Furthermore, in the earlier midrash, God provides the human with the means of kindling fire through the two flint-stones, while in Pirkei D’rabbi Eliezer the fire appears as a pillar, a miraculous antidote to the darkness. This image, in turn, creates a resonance between this exile of Adam from the Garden and the Israelites’ sojourn in the wilderness. Just as the Divine Presence, the Shekhinah, is represented by the pillar of fire (ammud ha-eish) throughout the people’s wandering in the desert,21 so too this pillar of fire represents God’s abiding with the primordial man despite his state of disgrace. Unlike the talmudic and parallel midrashic passages cited above from Bereishit Rabbah and Midrash Tehillim, Adam enacts almost the full Havdalah ritual: spontaneously stretching out his hands (a gesture of praise) and blessing God as “Creator of the lights/flames of fire,” and then, as he withdraws his hands, he lauds the differentiation between the holy and the profane (barukh ha-mavdil bein kodesh l’ḥol). The midrash conjectures a radical anachronism, characterizing the First Man as a pious Jew who keeps the Sabbath and makes Havdalah. According to Pirkei D’rabbi Eliezer, Adam only realized that the holy


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was now differentiated from the profane because he knew fire could not be kindled or transferred on the Sabbath, an edict introduced to the Israelites only after the revelation at Sinai (Exodus 35:3). In the anachronistic rabbinic imagination, the First Man uses halakhah to learn, retroactively, about the original demarcation between sacred and profane time.

Idiosyncrasies in the Laws of Havdalah Pirkei D’rabbi Eliezer then leads very naturally into a digression on the customs of the Havdalah ritual, presented as a series of statements ascribed to Rabbi Mana, a Palestinian teacher of the fourth century.22 These customs are unprecedented elsewhere in the halakhic literature prior to the ge’onim.23 Rabbi Mana says: How must one make Havdalah?24 On a cup of wine and by the light of fire, saying: “Blessed are You, Eternal, Creator of the lights of fire.” And when one withdraws one’s hands from the light of the fire, one says: “Blessed are You, Eternal, who differentiates between the holy and the profane.” And if there is no wine, one stretches out one’s hands to the light and looks at one’s fingernails, which are whiter than the body, and says: “Blessed are You, Eternal, our God, Ruler of the universe, Creator of the lights of fire.”25 And upon withdrawing26 one’s hands from the fire, one says: “Blessed are You, Eternal, who differentiates between the holy and the profane.” And if one is traveling,27 one stretches out one’s hand to the light of the stars, which are made of fire, and says: “Blessed are You, Eternal, Creator of the lights of fire.” And if the sky has darkened with clouds, one takes up28 a stone and says: “Blessed are You, Eternal God, Ruler of the Universe, who differentiates the holy from the profane.”29


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The context of the halakhic discussion exemplifies the tendency to ascribe all halakhic practice retroactively back to the patriarchs, or (in this case) to the First Man. I will not go into a detailed comparison between the medieval halakhic responsa with the practice recounted in Pirkei D’rabbi Eliezer, since Sol Finesinger covers this terrain, tracing the earliest recorded reference of the custom to Pirkei D’rabbi Eliezer, chapter 20.30 Dov Noy, drawing on Finesinger’s article, argues that the author of this midrash uses the etiological narrative to justify a practice that directly contradicted the accepted norm at the time.31 They both claim that the ge’onim rejected the custom of gazing at the fingernails and replaced it by gazing at the palms of the hands (as recorded in the siddur of Rav Amram, c. 875 CE) because of the supposed association of the former practice of nail-gazing with the oil magic, common in Babylonia at the time. Despite their thorough analysis of the literature, I think these past scholars ultimately overlooked a critical aspect of the ritual.32 I suggest that the ge’onim were not motivated by a rationalist perspective on ritual—a need to dissociate halakhic practice from forms of divination—but rather that the original significance of gazing at the fingernails was lost on them. The image of the reflected light in one’s nails is a mythic symbol of the original clothing in the midrash, described in the midrash as a “skin of fingernails” that covered Adam in the Garden of Eden: “What was the [original] clothing of the First Man? A layer of scales or fingernails (or shel tzipporen) and a cloud of glory covered him.”33 The injunction to gaze at the fingernails evokes that ideal pre-lapsarian state when man and woman shimmered in their chain-mail (fingernail) skins, while God’s glory hovered over them. Furthermore, the author of Pirkei D’rabbi Eliezer proposes looking at the fingernails only if there is no wine—the reflection of the light serving as a substitute of the sanctity granted by wine. Yet, in contemporary halakhic practice, one does so even when there is wine, as codified in the Shulḥan Arukh: “It is customary to look at


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the palms of the hands and the fingernails,” without qualification.34 In the halakhic literature, gazing at the palms or the fingernails was deemed necessary because one may not pronounce a blessing from the light unless one has derived benefit from it.35 The significance of the original context of the image in the Garden of Eden narrative was completely lost, for the legal codifiers were not engaged in the mythic basis for ritual; aggadah and halakhah remained strictly separate genres for most halakhic compendiums.36 In Pirkei D’rabbi Eliezer, the transition from the holy to the profane in mundane time resonates, most significantly, with the banishment of Adam from the Garden in primordial time. The midrash suggests that raising one’s fingernails to gaze at the reflection of the firelight in them during Havdalah signifies the skins-of-light, Adam and Eve’s original clothing that once covered their whole bodies. Idiosyncratically, the author of Pirkei D’rabbi Eliezer also suggests that if there is no fire one can say the blessing on the stars, perhaps an allusion to the original vessels of the pristine light of creation prior to being dimmed;37 and if the sky has darkened, one can say the blessing on a stone—recalling, again, Sir James Frazer’s description of the “fire drill,” which in the midrash assumes the form of two flint-stones with which God first demonstrated the genesis of fire (as recounted in Bereishit Rabbah and Midrash Tehillim).38 All three of these seeming idiosyncrasies—gazing at the fingernails, the stars, or the stone in the ritual of Havdalah—are related to Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer’s mythic perspective on halakhic practice. The ritual re-enacts the loss of the pristine light, either in the vessels of the stars or the loss of the primordial clothing of Adam and Eve; the original divine gift of fire mitigates that loss. Through the ritual, the transition from Eden to Exile is translated into temporal terms within the real world: Eden has its analogue in the Sabbath; and exile, in the departure of the Sabbath.


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Comparing the Greek Myth and the Midrash In my opening discussion, I pointed out that legends on the acquisition of fire most often entail a terrestrial hero stealing a flame or spark from the gods or another supernal creature. The most famous of all these myths is recounted by the ancient Greeks: the tale of Prometheus, the great benefactor of humankind, who stole fire from the Olympian gods against the will of Zeus. At this point, I would like to compare this myth with the midrashim on God’s gift of fire to Adam following his banishment from the Garden of Eden.39 Though there are many versions of the Greek legend, Hesiod’s are the most thorough and perhaps the oldest of all the recorded ones (dating to the fifth century BCE). The version in Theogony serves as our primary source, but I will refer to Works and Days to complement that account, as well as to Apollodorus’ version of the myth.40 The myth opens with an explanation as to why Zeus withheld fire from mankind. The Titan Prometheus (whose name means “forethought”) had created man by molding him out of water and clay. However, his brother, Epimetheus (whose name means “afterthought”), had been so generous with his gifts to all the animals that no gift remained for man, which left him vulnerable to the vicissitudes of the seasons and inclement weather. Prometheus was thus compelled to steal fire as compensation for the vulnerability of mortal man. But knowledge of fire was withheld from man, because Prometheus had once tricked Zeus with a paltry offering of “white bones of the ox, arranged with skill hidden in shining fat”: …From that time He bore the trick in mind, and would not give To wretched men who live on earth, the power Of fire, which never wearies. The brave son Of Iapetos [that is, Prometheus] deceived him, and he stole


Primordial Adam and the First Havdalah

The ray, far-seeing, of unwearied fire, Hid in the hollow fennel stalk,41 and Zeus Who thunders in the heavens ate his heart, And raged within to see the ray of fire Far-seeing, among men. Immediately He found a price for men to pay for fire, An evil: for the famous Limping God [Hephaestus] Molded, from earth, the image of a girl A modest virgin, through the plans of Zeus.42 Zeus then commanded the creation of Pandora (whose name means “gifted with all”), the first woman—“a modest virgin” who was graced with sumptuous robes, golden jewels, as well as goddesslike beauty and powers of seduction. She then became the means of retribution for the stealing of fire, presented as a gift to Epimetheus— who, precipitous of thought (true to his name), accepted her despite his brother’s warnings. (Of course Prometheus, true to his name, had foreseen the consequences.) Elsewhere, I have compared the legend of Pandora’s box with the allegory of the “beggar of vinegar” in the midrashic account of the sin in the Garden of Eden.43 Here I am primarily interested in why fire was withheld from man and then stolen by the Titan, and its analogue in the midrashic literature. In the Greek myth, the consequences for Prometheus are disastrous. He is bound on Mount Caucasus, exposed to the pelting rains and the blistering sun; by day an eagle consumes the lobes of his liver, only to have them grow back by night for renewed torture on the following day. Among the Romantics, Byron and Shelley in particular,44 the myth of Prometheus (representative of the poet or artist) becomes paradigmatic for the hero’s struggle against repressive forces, sacrificing himself for creativity. The poets assume an inherent tension between human creativity and initiative, upheld by the Titan thief of flame, and the external divine authority of Zeus, “who thunders in heaven.”


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As we explore the theological ramifications of this myth in the midrashic sources, we must ask whether the same tension exists between human initiative and creativity and the will of “the gods” (or, in the monotheistic context, God). In Lévi-Strauss’s terms, does the midrash demonstrate a similar opposition between Nature and Culture, as played out in the Greek myth through the antagonism between Zeus and Prometheus, the great benefactor of humankind? Jellinek suggests, in his laconic analysis of the midrash, a fascinating comparison between the two mythic traditions.45 In the course of appropriating the Greek myth, the dramatis personae undergo a transformation in order to conform to monotheistic tenets: the Titan, Prometheus, shrinks down to mortal proportions and the figure of Zeus is projected onto the one God. Counterintuitively, Jellinek does not identify Prometheus with God who grants the gift of fire, but rather with Adam, “the prototype of humankind, der Urtypus des Menschen.”46 Yet Prometheus must steal “the power of fire which never wearies” from on High against the will of Zeus, while Adam is freely given fire by God. No tension seems to exist between the divine realm and the human one in the Jewish tradition—unless, as I suggest, one sees the stealing of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge as analogous to the stealing of fire. The sequence of events for both Prometheus and Adam are then parallel. After stealing fire, the Titan is punished by being bound on Mount Caucasus. After eating the fruit of the Tree, Adam is punished by being banished from the Garden. And in both legends, there is an amelioration to the consequences of the sin: Prometheus is eventually unbound, when Heracles shoots the eagle with an arrow, thus ending the horror of the ever-consumed-andrenewed-liver;47 and Adam does penance by soaking in the Giḥon River for seven weeks, and he is also granted compensation: clothing and the gift of fire upon his exile from Eden.48 In a fascinating twist, the sin that, in the Greek myth, marks the violation of the boundary between heaven and earth becomes, in the


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Jewish myth, the source of reparation. In Hesiod’s version of the story, the gods, possessive over their privileges, “desire to keep the stuff of life hidden from us.”49 By contrast, in the Jewish legend, God is partisan to the acquisition of craftsmanship and knowledge as represented by the gift of fire.50 There is, however, a deep ambivalence in the divine stance, for God does command Adam not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. And, as the serpent claims, by withholding the fruit, a desire for an absolute distinction between the divine and human realms of knowledge is asserted: “For God knows that as soon as you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God (or, rather, divine beings), knowing good and evil (k’elohim yod’ei tov va-ra)” (Genesis 3:5). God seems to shift positions in the midrashic narrative. The balance of powers, realigned by the transgression of the boundary between heaven and earth, changes when knowledge (represented by fire) is freely given. The following chart summarizes the comparison between the Greek and the Jewish myths: Greek Principle Characters



Prometheus, "the prototype of humankind (Urtypus des Menschen)"

Primordial Man (adam ha-rishon)



Primary: Prometheus' paltry offering to Zeus (the glistening fat covering the bones); therefore fire is withheld.

Eating the forbidden fruit

Secondary: stealing fire


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Greek Consequences Prometheus is bound on Mount Caucasus;

Repentance/ Penance


Jewish Banishment from the Garden;52 Nine Curses plus death for Adam, Eve, and Samael/serpent53

The gift of Pandora, the first woman, who inadvertently brings all kinds of evils upon man51 Suffering;


Prometheus does penance


Prometheus is unbound when Hercules kills the eagle, thus gaining immortality;

Repentance (t’shuvah), in the waters of Giḥon54 The Gift of Fire; God clothes Adam and Eve in the snakeskin55

the olive wreath/the ring as the symbol/substitute of “bondage” Nine Curses plus death for Adam, Eve, and Samael/serpent55 The story of Prometheus, like the story of the so-called “Fall,” posits a tension between the forbidden knowledge of the gods (or God) and the realm of human jurisdiction. Gaston Bachelard, in his remarkable book The Psychoanalysis of Fire, characterizes this tension in psychological terms: We propose then to place together under the name of the Prometheus complex all those tendencies which impel us to know as much as our fathers, more than our fathers, as much as our teachers, more than our teachers.…If pure intellectuality


Primordial Adam and the First Havdalah

is exceptional, it is nonetheless very characteristic of a specifically human evolution. The Prometheus complex is the Oedipus complex of the life of the intellect.56 Like the Oedipal myth, in which the son enacts the unconscious will to outdo his father, the myth of Prometheus recounts the will to outdo the gods through the acquisition of forbidden knowledge, symbolized by the theft of fire and its consequences. In the Greek myth, the human is condemned to mortality, yet a sense of dignity is gained through that Promethean first act of defiance. The acquisition of fire marks the beginning of civilization, when the human begins to transcend the limits of Nature. In Lévi-Strauss’s terms, this transition to Culture is necessarily fraught with opposition; it entails a projection of resistance onto the gods, who do not yield knowledge freely. The embodiment of this resistance, in the Greek tradition, is Zeus; in the Jewish tradition, it is the one God. In the midrash, the stealing of the fruit and the acquisition of fire, the sin and the amelioration of its consequences, are really two sides of the same coin. Surprisingly, God, at the moment of Adam and Eve’s banishment, blessed the humans’ first step into civilization with the gift of fire. The midrashic tradition does not restrict God’s role to a wrathful, jealous deity, but allows the divine to co-opt both the role of Zeus, the punitive god “who thunders in heaven,” and the role of Prometheus, who is so magnanimous toward the first human. Despite the banishment, God cannot bear to leave Adam and Eve to their cursed existence without a stitch of clothing or a burning coal by which to warm themselves and cook their food. In monotheism, the symbol of the gift of fire marks a shift in the divine stance; the boundary between heaven and earth is once again breached, but this time with good will. The Havdalah ritual reenacts that primordial offering of God to humankind upon the outgoing of the Sabbath. By recalling the “creator of lights of fire” (borei me’orei ha-eish), while looking at one’s


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fingernails (the remnant of the chain-mail clothing of shimmering light), the Jew resonates with the first experience of darkness and God’s will to dispel its death-shadow.


Primordial Adam and the First Havdalah

NOTES For example, the Ge of South America recount the legend of the stealing of fire from a jaguar. According to Lévi-Strauss, the legends recorded among the Ge, the Tupi, and the Bororo are built around a set of two binary opposites: the raw and cooked, on the one hand, representing the transition to Culture; and, on the other hand, the fresh and the rotten, representing the return to Nature. See Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Raw and the Cooked, trans. John and Doreen Weightman (New York: Harper & Row, 1969), pp. 66–78. See also Stith Thompson, Motif Index of Folk Literature (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1956), motif A1415; and Sir James Frazer, The Golden Bough: The Magic Art and the Evolution of Kings, 3rd ed. (New York: Macmillan & Co., 1911), vol. 2, pp. 207–226. 2 The legend of the lost pristine light of creation is told in Bereishit Rabbah 11:2 and 12:7 (eds. J. Theodor and H. Albeck [1912–1931, rpt. Jerusalem: Wahrmann Books, 1965], pp. 88 and 105), and also in greater detail in Bereishit Rabbah 3:5 (Theodor–Albeck, pp. 21–22). See also Pesikta Rabbati, chaps. 5 and 46, and B. Ḥagigah 12a. Most of these sources draw on the eschatological reference to the return of the pristine light of creation in Isaiah 30:26. For further parallels, see Albeck’s comments in Bereishit Rabbah, p. 21, n. 5. 3 The Hebrew used here for “attack” is l’hizdaveig li, which usually implies to be joined or matched in a couple (Y. Yoma 6:1, 43c; B. Bava Metzia 90b; B. Sotah 2a), and sometimes (but not always) alludes to the sexual act. It is not that Adam fears being coupled to (i.e., raped by) the snake, but rather fears being joined (i.e., attacked) in a hostile sense, as in Shemot Rabbah 1:8 and Vayikra Rabbah 11:7. Cf. M. Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Bavli and Yerushalmi and the Midrashic Literature (1903; rpt. New York: Judaica Press Inc., 1992), p. 383. 4 Bereishit Rabbah 11:2, translation based on Theodor–Albeck, p. 89. The translation of the verse from Psalms given here reflects the interpretation of the midrash. The Hebrew for “The night was light for my sake” is v’lailah or ba-adeini. 5 In biblical Hebrew, the root mem-shin-shin suggests “to feel or to grope” (as in Genesis 27:12, 31:34); in Exodus the verb refers to the penultimate plague, “a darkness to be felt (v’yameish ḥoshekh)” (Exodus 10:21). The verb also suggests feeling by touch without seeing, as in the groping of the blind; cf. Genesis 31:34, Deuteronomy 28:29, Job 5:14, 12:25 (and see A Hebrew Lexicon of the Old Testament, ed. Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs [Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1906], hereafter BDB; entry 5787 [mem-shin-shin], pp. 606–607). In rabbinic Hebrew the term mishmeish connotes the same: to touch, to feel, to handle; also to examine and search ( Jastrow, p. 856). In the parallel versions of this midrash (Pesikta Rabbati §46 and Y. Shabbat 8:5, 12b), the expression 1


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appears as hitḥil mishmeish ha-ḥoshekh u-va, which I translate as “darkness fell and became palpable” (reversing the order of the verbs). 6 NJPS translates the phrase as “Surely darkness will conceal me” (cf. Rashi and Ibn Ezra on Psalms 139:11), but the semantic field of shin-vav-pei (as conveyed in the midrash) is narrower, yet deeper than that, as it connotes chafing, rubbing, or even striking. Thus it is truly a bruising darkness, being the first darkness experienced by the primordial humans. The verbal root is quite rare in the Hebrew Bible, and is derived from the Aramaic, meaning “to rub off or away, to grind,” as in Targum Onkelos to Exodus 32:20, synonymous with tet-ḥetnun, “to grind.” BDB cites only three examples of this usage in the imperfect: Genesis 3:15 and Psalm 139:11 (both cited in the midrash), as well as Job 9:17, “for He bruises me in a storm [or: by a hair], and wounds me (y’shufeini) much for naught.” Cf. also Job 33:21, “and his bones are rubbed away (v’shupu) till they are invisible” (BDB entry 9802, p. 1003). 7 Frazer, The Golden Bough, vol. 2, p. 208. 8 Perhaps the Hebrew name ofel (“darkness”) is an allusion to the opal gem (also known as “the firestone,” whose name derives from Sanskrit upala, meaning “valuable stone,” or the Greek opallios, meaning “color change.” 9 The NJPS translation of Job 28:3 reads: “He sets bounds for darkness; / to every limit man probes / To rocks in deepest darkness.” Yet there is a deliberate misreading, in the midrash, of the quote from Job: instead of the stone, enveloped in deepest darkness, serving as the object of the verb “to search out (ḥokeir),” it is the stones themselves that probe and dispel the dark, their first spark “put an end to darkness (sam keitz la-ḥoshekh)” ( Job 28:3). 10 Midrash Tehillim 92:4, ed. S. Buber (Vilna: Widow and Brothers Romm 1891), pp. 404–405. 11 This is not true for all the manuscripts of Bereishit Rabbah 11:2. Vatican 60, for example, makes the connection between Adam’s banishment, the gift of fire, and the Havdalah ritual explicit, adding: “And out came fire and he blessed it, ‘Blessed be the lights of fire (barukh me’orei ha-eish).’” The continuation of the discussion in Bereishit Rabbah (all versions), in the name of Samuel, suggests that the reason we bless fire at the end of the Sabbath is because that time marks the moment of its creation (cf. 11:2, ed. Theodor–Albeck, pp. 89–90). 12 Y. Berakhot 8:5, 12b. 13 In a passage in B. Pesaḥim 54a, two items are identified as having been “thought up (alu b’maḥshavah)” during the six days of creation, yet their creation was delayed until end of the Sabbath; fire is one of them. 14 Mircea Eliade Myth and Reality (New York: Harper & Row 1963), pp. 31–32. 15 See Jeffrey Rubenstein, “From Mythic Motifs to Sustained Myth: The Revision of Rabbinic Traditions in Medieval Midrashim,” Harvard Theological Review 89:2 (1996), pp. 131–159; and Michael Fishbane’s discussion of the “mythicization of history and the historicization of myth” in Text and Texture


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(New York: Schocken Books, 1979), pp. 136–140; and also Paul Ricoeur on “Myth and History,” in The Encyclopedia of Religion, ed. Mircea Eliade (New York: Macmillan, 1986–1987), vol. 10, pp. 273–282. 16 Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1951), p. 10. 17 Other manuscripts (En866, Higger, and Ci2043) all read “transfer fire (l’ha∙avir eish),” whereas the printed editions read “kindle fire (l’va∙eir eish).” 18 Pirkei D’rabbi Eliezer, chap. 20. This translation is based on the Enelow manuscript (En866). I have also supplemented this edition with reference to four other manuscripts, as well as Radal’s edition (Warsaw 1852), the first ed. (Constantinople, 1514, checked against Dagmar Börner-Klein [Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2004], pp. 211–221), and the second ed. (Venice, 1544). For the dating, provenance, and characterization of the genre of Pirkei D’rabbi Eliezer, see Rachel Adelman, The Return of the Repressed: Pirqe de-Rabbi Eliezer and the Pseudepigrapha (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2009), pp. 3–21 and 35–42; for a semi-critical edition of the text, see ibid., Appendix F, pp. 289–291. 19 The Hebrew term for cares or anxieties, sarafim (root: sin-resh-ayin-pei), is drawn from Psalm 94:19. BDB suggests that the term saraf, “disquieting thoughts” (cf. Psalms 139:23), is a variation of sa·af (sin-ayin-pei), “disquietings,” as in Job 4:13 and 20:2 (BDB entry 5587, p. 972). But it is not incidental that the author of the midrash quotes this verse. The term saraf alludes to poisonous (“fiery”) snakes of the desert (Numbers 21:6, 8, Deuteronomy 8:15, Isaiah 14:29 and 30:6) and may be linked to the verb saraf (sin-resh-pei), meaning to burn (BDB, entries 8313 and 8314, pp. 976–977)—fire recalls the burning effect of the snake’s venom and, metaphorically, the pangs of conscience. 20 This question seems based on Genesis 2:3, “God blessed the seventh day” (vay’varekh elohim et yom ha-sh’vi∙i). 21 Exodus 13:21–22, 14:24; Numbers 14:14. 22 The name also appears as Rabbi Mani or Mana and is short for Menaḥem. See Wilhelm Bacher, Die Agada der Palästinensischen Amoräer (Strassburg: K. J. Trübner 1899), vol. 3, pp. 443 and 457, n. 4, and Sol Finesinger, “The Custom of Looking at the Fingernails at the Outgoing of the Sabbath,” Hebrew Union College Annual 12–13 (1937–38), p. 348, nn. 6 and 7. 23 The period of the ge’onim spans 589–1038 BCE. See Seder Rab Amram Gaon, ed. T. Kronholm (Lund, Sweden: CWK Gleerup 1974), vol. 2, pp. 151 (English) and lamed (Hebrew). See also Sefer Ravia, ed. Viktor Aptowitzer, p. 131, and Or Zarua 2:24d, 93 (as cited in Gerald Friedlander’s commentary to Pirkê de Rabbi Eliezer, 4th ed. [New York: Sepher-Hermon Press 1981], p. 145, n. 4). 24 In the printed editions, the wording is “how must one bless (keitzad ḥayyav l’vareikh).” Cf. Y. Berakhot 8:5, 12b; B. Berakhot 33b, 52b; and B. Shabbat 150b. 25 Emendation of the Enelow manuscript, on the basis of the first, second, and Rav Dovid Luria’s editions, as well as other manuscripts (Ci75 and Ci2043).


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The printed editions read: “when he withdraws or retrieves (k’she-maḥzir) his hands.” 27 The printed editions read: “if he has no fire (im ein lo eish),” whereas Higger, Ci2043, and Ci75 read, as does En866: “if he was traveling (im hayah ba-derekh, literally ‘on the road’).” 28 In his commentary on Pirkei D’rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi David Luria (1798–1855, called Radal) reads: “picks up, uproots (toleish),” while Ci75, the first and second eds., and Higger, like En866 read: “takes up (toleh)”; Ci2043 reads: “raises (magbi∙ah).” 29 A continuation of Pirkei D’rabbi Eliezer, chap. 20. 30 Finesinger, “The Custom of Looking at the Fingernails,” pp. 347–365. 31 Dov Noy suggests that there is a reference to this divination practice mentioned in Radak’s commentary on Ezekiel 21:26, though Radak lived several hundred years after the ge’onim (see Noy’s Hebrew-language essay, “Histaklut b’tzippornayim bishe∙at ha-havdalah,” Maḥanayim 85–86 [1964], pp. 166–173). He also associates the practice (as does Finesinger) with “oil magic” common in Babylonian circles, based on the studies of Samuel Daiches, Babylonian Oil Magic in the Talmud and in the Later Jewish Literature (London: Oxford University Press, 1913). Cf. Rashi on B. Sanhedrin 101a, s.v. sarei shemen: “The practice involved demons, consulted through oil, and they are called ‘spirits of oil,’ that is ‘spirits (or demons) of the thumb (sarei bohen).’” See also Yosef Dan, “Sarei kos v’sarei bohen (The Princes of Thumb and Cup)” Tarbitz 32 (1963), pp. 359–369. Friedlander also refers to Daiches’ research, Pirkê, p. 98, n. 6. 32 Not only is the tradition of gazing at the fingernails not mentioned at all in the Talmud (rather, it is the thumbnail [bohen] that is the focus there), but there is no oil mentioned or act of divination implied in the first source, Pirkei D’rabbi Eliezer (chap. 20), where it is mentioned. Furthermore, it is questionable whether the author of Pirkei D’rabbi Eliezer was even familiar with the sources in the Babylonian Talmud on oil magic, given the probable provenance of the work (eighth century, Land of Israel). Rav Amram, on the other hand, may have inadvertently made the association, though there is no hint of it in his text; and, though he mentions the custom of gazing at the nails, he simply states: “The sages do not hold by this custom” (Seder Rab Amram Gaon, ed. Kronholm, vol. 2, p. 151 [English]). 33 Pirkei D’rabbi Eliezer, chap.14. Friedlander also makes the connection between the original clothing and the peculiar practice of gazing at the fingernails at Havdalah (see his Pirkê, p. 98 n. 6). 34 S.A. Yoreh Dei·ah 193:3. 35 See M. Berakhot 8:6 and B. Berakhot.53b. Another explanation is suggested by Y. Berakhot 8:5, 12b, linking the blessing of light at the outgoing of the Sabbath with the end of Yom Kippur. Since fire may not be kindled on either of these days, one demonstrates the transition from holy to profane time by lighting fire 26


Primordial Adam and the First Havdalah

(which is not done in the transition at the end of other holidays, during which the use of fire is permitted). See the article on “Havdalah” by Israel Moses TaShma in the Encyclopedia Judaica, 2nd ed. (eds. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik; Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007) , vol. 8, pp. 466–468. 36 This is true for the most part, with the exception of the literature that emerged out of the German pietist movement, the Ḥasidei Ashkenaz—compositions like the Or Zarua, the Rokei∙aḥ, and Sefer Ḥasidim. See the discussion in Haym Soloveitchik, “Three Themes in the Sefer Ḥasidim,” AJS Review 1 (1976), pp. 311–357. 37 For sources on the pristine light of creation and the dimming of the vessels of light, see note 2 above. 38 In fact, Friedlander conjectures that the stone (or stones) were lifted from the ground in order to obtain “a spark by striking the two stones together”; see his Pirkê, p. 168, n. 31. 39 On the Prometheus myth and its influence on midrash, see Adolph Jellinek’s German-language comments entitled “Adam-Prometheus” in his introduction to Beit Ha-midrash ( Jerusalem: Wahrmann 1938), vol. 5, pp. xlviii–xlix; and Louis Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, trans. Paul Radin (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society 1928), vol. 5, pp. 112–113, n. 104. Ginzberg suggests that “we recognize in the legends about Adam certain features of the Prometheus myth. Like Prometheus, Adam produces fire from flint and also like him, he is made to be the founder of human culture.” 40 Apollodorus of Athens (c. 180–120 BCE) was a myth-maker and historian; I refer to his version of the myth as found in Apollodorus, trans. Sir James Frazer (Cambridge: Harvard University Press 1921), pp. 50–53. I will refer primarily to Hesiod’s version of the myth in his Works and Days and his Theogony. Other versions of the legend appear in Plato, Protagoras 11, and Aeschylus’ tragedy, Prometheus Bound. 41 According to Virgil (Aeneid, vi 42), Prometheus stole fire by applying a torch to the sun’s wheel. In Hesiod’s version, Prometheus hides the fire in a fennel stock, commonly identified as the giant fennel, ferula communis (Hebrew: shumar tarbuti). Tournefort describes it thus: “...five feet tall, and three inches thick, with knots and branches at intervals of about ten inches, the whole being covered with tolerably hard rind. This stalk is filled with a white pith, which, being very dry, catches fire just like a wick; the fire keeps alight perfectly in the stalk and consumes the pith only gradually, without damaging the rind; hence people use this plant to carry fire from one place to another…” (P. de Tournefort, Relation d’un Voyage du Levant [Amsterdam, 1718], vol. 1, p. 93, quoted in Frazer’s notes to Apollodorus, p. 52, n. 4). 42 Hesiod, Theogony and Works and Days, trans. Dorothea Wender (Middlesex and New York: Penguin Books, 1973), lines 560–573, pp. 41–42. 43 See my analysis of Pirkei D’rabbi Eliezer, chap. 13 (which I call “Adam, Eve, and the Serpent”) in my Return of the Repressed, pp. 84–91.


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Lord Byron, “Prometheus” (1816) and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s epic “Prometheus Unbound” (1820), inspired by Aeschylus’ tragic drama, Prometheus Bound. 45 Jellinek, “Adam-Prometheus,” pp. xlviii–xlix. 46 Ibid., p. xlix. 47 Prometheus was released from being bound on Mount Caucasus when Heracles shot the eagle, and the Titan then resumed his position on High. Chiron, though immortal, consented to die in his stead and Prometheus then bore the olive as a wreath about his head as a remembrance of his having been bound (as recounted in Apollodorus, vol. 2, 1.11; cf. Hesiod, Theogony, lines 531–538, p. 40). 48 Pirkei D’rabbi Eliezer, chap. 20. 49 Hesiod, Works and Days, lines 43–44, p. 60. 50 This is also true of God’s role in the first chapter of Genesis, where God tells the first humans (before the sin in the Garden of Eden) to “be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth” (Genesis 1:28). 51 Through Pandora, who opens the jar and releases all the ills known to man (Hesiod, Works and Days, lines 90–98, and Theogony, line 590). 52 Pirkei D’rabbi Eliezer, chap. 20. 53 Ibid., chap. 14. 54 Ibid., chap. 20. 55 Ibid., chap. 20. 56 Gaston Bachelard, The Psychoanalysis of Fire, trans. A. Moss (Boston: Beacon Press 1964), p. 12. 44


Havdalah, the Lights of the Fire, Accepting the Secular and the Holy

Havdalah, the Lights of the Fire, Accepting the Secular and the Holy Orna Triguboff

The Havdalah ritual performed at the close of the Sabbath, on Saturday night when the stars come out, marks the transition from the sanctity of the Sabbath to the six regular weekdays. In Jewish mysticism, this transition is seen as a “changing of the guard” both in terms of universal spiritual forces and in terms of the human experience. Why do we recite a blessing over the Havdalah candle? Why do we shine light onto our hands during this ritual? What is the deeper significance of smelling fragrant spices? These are some of the questions pondered by kabbalists over the centuries. In this essay, we will explore two very different kabbalistic understandings of the Havdalah ritual. One explanation comes from Rabbi Avraham Abulafia. Born in Saragossa (Spain) in 1240, he was influenced by the teachings of Moses Maimonides, by the linguistic and spiritual ideas contained in the Sefer Y’tzirah (the “Book of Creation”), and also by the pietist Ḥasidei Ashkenaz movement in the Rhineland. His fascination for the deeper meaning of language, and his creativity in the field of meditative techniques leading to higher states of consciousness, make him a unique character in Jewish history. The other kabbalistic explanation of Havdalah we will explore is from the Zohar, written in late thirteenth-century Spain, exploring mystical questions through a very different lens from that of Abulafia.


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Avraham Abulafia on Havdalah: Similarities and Differences Between Shabbat and the Other Days of the Week In his book Ḥayyei Ha-nefesh, Rabbi Avraham Abulafia delves into the differences between the names of the six days of the week and that of the Sabbath, and he also explores the function of the Havdalah ritual as marking the transition from the restful nature of the Sabbath to the secular nature of the six regular weekdays.1 Traditionally, the term kodesh is associated with the Sabbath and the term ḥol with the six other weekdays.2 Abulafia opens his explanation of the deep meaning of the Havdalah ritual by noting that the Hebrew word havdalah itself means “differentiation,” and he points to the fact that in the ritual we differentiate between the Sabbath and the six regular days of the week (y’mei ḥol).3 He explores how the Sabbath is both different and similar to the other days of the week by commenting on Torah verses associated with the days of the week. He states: You should know that our holy Torah awakens our consciousness with the names of the [Sabbath and holi]days, which are different from the names of the regular weekdays. In our tradition, in the Written Torah and Oral Torah, the weekdays do not have special names, they are simply numbered....[In Genesis, chapter 1] they are mentioned in this way: first day, second day, third day, fourth day, fifth day, and the sixth day. And these are the six days, which are the secular days. They are the six days of creation…and it [the Sabbath] is also called the seventh day, yom sh’vi∙i.4 Here Abulafia is explaining that each day of the week is named according to the number assigned to it in the creation account in the first chapter of Genesis. All seven days have this in common, yet the seventh day is also given a special name.


Havdalah, the Lights of the Fire, Accepting the Secular and the Holy

As well as being numbered (yom sh’vi∙i), the seventh day is unique in that it also has a special name: Shabbat, the Sabbath.5 Abulafia explores other words associated with the seventh day in the Torah in order to understand the Sabbath more fully, and to suggest how it is different from the other days of the week. The name “Shabbat” is connected to the biblical statement that “God rested (va-yishbot) on the seventh day” (Genesis 2:2), and the Torah also refers to the Sabbath as being blessed and sanctified (Genesis 2:3). Abulafia states that these descriptions of the Sabbath set it apart from the other days of the week and the “differentiation ritual” of Havdalah marks these differences from the other days of the week; it is these differences that impart significance to the “differentiation ritual” of Havdalah.6 Abulafia mines the first chapter of Genesis further and notices that the term “and there was evening and there was morning…” is employed for each of the first six days of creation, parallel to the six secular days of the week, but that this term is not used for the seventh day, the Sabbath. A talmudic statement refers to the idea that the great messianic epoch, imagined as the seventh millennium of world history, will be an era that is “all Sabbath” (she-kullo Shabbat).7 Based on this, Abulafia expands the meaning of the phrase, stating that “It [the Sabbath] is all one long day”—meaning, in this context, that it has a unity about it that is unique, thereby differentiating it from the other days of the week.8 He writes: And the difference is that those six days are secular and the seventh of them is holy and of it [the Sabbath] it is not said “and there was evening and there was morning” because all of it is one long holy day, and it is…a “day that is wholly at rest for God.”9 After having clearly delineated differences between the secular days and the Sabbath, Abulafia looks at the points of connection between


Orna Triguboff

the six regular weekdays and the Sabbath. He delves further into the creation account and notices that the definite article is used when describing the sixth and seventh days of creation (yom ha-shishi at Genesis 1:31, and yom ha-sh’vi∙i at Genesis 2:2). The use of the definite article for the Sabbath and also for one of the secular weekdays demonstrates that even though the holy Sabbath is uniquely different from the other days, it is also deeply connected to them:10 The “the” in ha-shishi (“the sixth”) and ha-sh’vi∙i (“the seventh”) are there [in the Torah] to illustrate a connection in the process of creation [between all seven days of the week], in that they both have a definite article. Creation is One,11 even though there is a difference between the six days and the seventh, there is a connectivity between all the days of creation.12 Abulafia’s observation might be based on the idea that the day of rest is just as much a part of the process of creation as are the six days of action and creativity. This can be likened to the daily cycle, in which a person needs to sleep in order to have the energy to act during the waking hours. The feeling of being replenished and ready to work after having a Sabbath day of rest seems to be a practical way of illustrating the point Abulafia has just made above. Abulafia continues with his fascination for language, further exploring the meaning of the two definite articles (indicated in Hebrew by a prefix, the letter hei) in the creation account: ha-shishi (“the sixth [day]”) and ha-sh’vi∙i (“the seventh [day]”)—the former corresponding to the secular days of the week (represented by the sixth day) and the latter corresponding to the Sabbath. Together they represent the totality of the creative process. The letter hei, however, is not only a definite article; it also has a numerical value of five.13 When combining the two letters hei, the resulting sum is ten. And so


Havdalah, the Lights of the Fire, Accepting the Secular and the Holy

Abulafia likens the two letters hei to the body possessed of two sets of five fingers, one on the left hand and one on the right hand, for a total of ten: And the two letters hei are included in the names [of the sixth and seventh days of the week]…as in the image of the ten fingers, five on the right and five on the left—these are holy and those are regular.14 The kabbalists envisioned a blueprint of universal wisdom embedded within the human body. Building on this, Abulafia understood that just as the six days of the week and the Sabbath are polar opposites, they are also connected to each other in a complementary way. It seems that Abulafia is also linking the point about the duality of left and right of the body, secular and holy, to the actual liturgy of the Havdalah prayer, which presents a list of opposites: the holy and the secular, light and dark, Israel and the nations, the seventh day and the six working days.

The Havdalah Flame, Ten Fingers, and Ten Levels of Consciousness The continuation of Abulafia’s teaching discusses the symbolic significance of the custom of gazing at the nails on one’s ten fingers in the light of the Havdalah candle when reciting the blessing over the flame. His understanding of the custom may be summarized as follows: 1. The ten fingers symbolize: • ten levels of consciousness, and • ten levels of prophetic vision.


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2. The Havdalah flame symbolizes: •An external light shining onto the potential all people possess to raise their level of consciousness. Abulafia conjectures that when we recite the blessing over the candle, we open ourselves to the potential to raise our awareness through all levels of consciousness in the creation, and to thus realize our full potential. As we will see, Abulafia bases this teaching on sources from the Torah, liturgy, and the Sefer Y’tzirah, the “Book of Creation.” The Sefer Yetzirah, written anonymously sometime between the second and fifth centuries CE, influenced Abulafia greatly. Although not essentially a book of mysticism, it nonetheless inspired many mystics (as well as linguists and mathematicians). It deals with esoteric issues such as the creative power of the Hebrew letters and their relationship to the human body, as well as the ten divine emanations, the s’firot (s’firah, in the singular). The s’firot are forces that originate in God and spread throughout the creation. Sometimes they are described by the kabbalists as ten flames attached to a burning coal—the flames representing the s’firot and the coal representing God. Others described them as levels of reality and rungs of consciousness.15 On the one hand, they are the essential ten aspects of the Divine; on the other hand, they are ten aspects of each human being. This is because the human is created in the image of God and contains, in potential, all of the divine qualities—such as wisdom, understanding, and compassion. Abulafia (together with other kabbalists) considered that the ten first emanations, the s’firot, were aspects of consciousness that the fully realized person might attain.16 The word s’firot itself comes from the same root as the word for “number,” “book,” “to tell a story,” and “luminosity.” The concept of the s’firot as ten divine spheres of reality or consciousness is connected


Havdalah, the Lights of the Fire, Accepting the Secular and the Holy

to the neo-platonic idea of ten levels of reality, the lowest level (or sphere) being the material world and the highest being the most spiritual of realms.17 Each human is potentially able to perceive these ten levels of consciousness through philosophical or spiritual training, and each person has access to these levels through their Higher Self, the seikhel ha-po·eil, sometimes translated as the “Active Intellect.”18 The Sefer Y’tzirah states that the ten fingers symbolize the ten s’firot: “Ten s’firot, of nothingness, like the number of [the] ten fingers, five parallel [to] five.…”19 This statement is linked to the concept that the human body is imprinted with divine wisdom and that the human form contains the image of the Divine. The Torah states that “Adam [i.e., humanity] was created in the image of God, Elohim” (Genesis 1:27) and the concept of a likeness between the Divine and the human is often employed in kabbalistic texts. Indeed, when the kabbalists reflected deeply on the human body, they felt themselves to be delving into divine wisdom; the verse “In my flesh, I [can] see God” ( Job 19:25) was often quoted in this context. Actually, the human being was seen as a kind of microcosm of the whole universe. In the context of Havdalah, then, the kabbalists saw deep symbolism in the use of the hands during the candle blessing and ritual. During Havdalah, a plaited candle is lit and a blessing over the candle is recited, at which time those present lift their hands toward the candle and bend their fingers in toward their palms, so that the light of the candle can shine onto the backs of the fingers and onto the fingernails. Abulafia understood the involvement of the ten fingers in this custom symbolically. He noted that the two letters hei in the creation account in Genesis, which he previously used to indicate connection between the Sabbath and the regular weekdays, are also indicative of the five fingers on each hand, as well as of the ten s’firot:


Orna Triguboff

And the two letters hei are included in the names [of the sixth and seventh days] to illustrate the five s’firot that are secular and the five s’firot that are holy. As in the image of the ten fingers, five on the right and five on the left…20 Here, Abulafia invites us to reflect on opposites in creation (left and right, holy and secular, light and dark, and so on) and how this is reflected in the physical body.21 He continues finding references to the number ten in connection with the Havdalah ceremony, insofar as our ten fingers are understood to be ten shining lights that parallel the ten levels of consciousness. He comes to this by noting that the blessing over the Havdalah candle ends with the words me’orei haeish, a slightly peculiar expression that literally means “lights of the fire.” Then, by rearranging the letters of this phrase, Abulafia derives the expression: yod me’or ha-eish, “ten lights of the fire” (in which the Hebrew letter yod is taken in its numerological guise as the number ten).22 Then, going further, he writes: “And regarding this mystery, during Havdalah, we look at our fingernails. We bless ‘the Creator of the lights of the fire (me’orei ha-eish)’ because the ‘lights of the fire’ are ten lights….”23 So now, since it is customary during Havdalah to let the light of the candle shine onto the fingernails, we have a connection between the lights of the fire and the ten fingers. Once the Havdalah candle shines on the fingernails, they become “ten lights,” reminiscent of the ten spheres of consciousness. Abulafia also relates these ten lights to ten levels of prophecy: “For the ‘lights of the fire’ are ten lights, like the ten visions of prophecy and their ten names.”24 By levels of prophecy Abulafia means levels of higher consciousness and human potential.25 He states that the Havdalah candle is an external light that shines onto the ten fingers, like the highest light of consciousness shining onto the ten levels below it—five holy and five secular.26


Havdalah, the Lights of the Fire, Accepting the Secular and the Holy

One of the main points to glean from Abulafia’s teaching is that Havdalah is a recognition of the secular and the holy both within ourselves and within society. It is an acceptance of the complementary nature of the two. When we raise our hands to the flame, we symbolically shine divine light on all aspects of ourselves. Abulafia concludes his teaching on Havdalah by stating that the fragrant aroma of spices soothes the soul.27 I shall return to this point once I have presented the Havdalah commentary of the Zohar.

The Zohar on Havdalah: Angels and Light We now transition to the most famous medieval kabbalistic text, the Zohar, where a different understanding of the Havdalah ritual is presented. In the Zohar, the departure of the Sabbath and the reciting of the Havdalah blessings is understood as a “changing of the guard,” a transition of the spiritual forces ruling the world. The Zohar employs esoteric knowledge of topics such as angels, spiritual light, and the Garden of Eden to explore Havdalah. Havdalah is the time to bid farewell to the light of the Sabbath, also known as the Shekhinah, the Divine Presence. During the Sabbath, it is the light of the Divine Presence that rules and represents unity and oneness. As the Zohar states: “She [the Shekhinah] unites below in the mystery of Oneness, to become One with those above…She is united in the secret of Oneness…in union with the Holy Radiance.28 The Shekhinah is a concept developed in great detail within the Kabbalah. It is the last or lowest of the ten s’firot, and is considered a female aspect of the Divine.29 The Shekhinah receives her light from the s’firot above and then, in turn, radiates it to the lower worlds, of which we are a part. In that way the Shekhinah is the Divine Presence and God’s palpable presence and immanence on earth.


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The Zohar describes the Shekhinah as a single flame that rules over the lower forces, which are “four chariots and their camps.” The “four chariots” are the angels Michael, Gabriel, Uriel (or Nuriel), and Raphael; “the camps” are the host of spiritual forces that each angel controls.30 The four angels are the ministers of the Shekhinah and are also described as “lights” and “fires” in the Zohar. 31 During the six regular days of the week, the four angels and the lower forces rule the world. However, as soon as the Sabbath begins, these lower forces are incorporated into the Shekhinah. On the Sabbath, the Shekhinah rules directly over the creation. In the words of the Zohar, “There is no power but She in all the worlds. Her face glows with a supernal light.”32 The lower forces are flames of light that are incorporated in the singular flame of the Shekhinah. Once hidden within the Flame of Unity, they are guarded and nurtured during the Sabbath: When the Sabbath begins, all those lower levels which shine and rule [on the weekdays] enter and are included in that flame [the Shekhinah] and are hidden and concealed and are preserved within Her [the Shekhinah].33 Just as humans rest on the Sabbath and are recharged for the week, so too do the “four chariots and their camps” (which are hidden inside the light of the Shekhinah during the Sabbath) rest on the Sabbath; they are created anew once the Sabbath ends, and are then ready to perform their weekday functions: When Shabbat ends, She [the Shekhinah] brings them [the lower forces] out one by one. It is as if at that moment they are created. And they all emerge and are created as at the very beginning. And they are appointed and are set in their places to rule.34


Havdalah, the Lights of the Fire, Accepting the Secular and the Holy

Thus, the Shekhinah rules during the Sabbath and the lower forces rule during the six secular days of the week. The Zohar regards the Havdalah ritual as a representation of this spiritual “changing of the guard.” How so? The flame of the Havdalah candle represents the singular flame of the Shekhinah, which is the light of the Sabbath and representative of the light of the s’firot. As the Shekhinah is the lowest of the s’firot, the light of all those divine emanations above Her flow through Her and into the material world. Thus, it might be understood that during Havdalah, at the time of blessing this One Flame, the Zohar is inviting us to contemplate that the Shekhinah “is the mystery of Unity.”35 Moreover, “everything is included within Her on the Sabbath.”36 Above we saw that the idea of the human body as a representation of divine wisdom was an important consideration for Abulafia, and this is no less so for the Zohar. The Zohar picks up on the custom of bending the four fingers during the recitation of the blessing over the flame, as mentioned above. When one does this, the light of the candle shines on the backs of the fingers and the fingernails, and this is considered symbolically significant. The four fingers represent the four angels Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, and Raphael. The words of the blessing include the phrase “lights of the fire,” which the Zohar links to the four ministering angels of the Shekhinah. When we pronounce the blessing over the “lights of the fire,” we acknowledge the transition of power from the Shekhinah to the lower forces of the secular weekdays—that is, to the four angels. The Shekhinah has nurtured these lower forces over the Sabbath, and now gives them permission to rule during the coming week. The bent fingers represent the subservience of the lower forces to the one light of the Divine Presence, the Shekhinah. In the words of the Zohar: Once the Sabbath has ended one should separate the holy from the secular. Why? Because permission has been given


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[by the Shekhinah] to the forces below to rule the world and all worldly matters. Therefore, we must bend four fingers of the right hand to illumine them with the light of the flame that is blessed.37 And those fingers allude to the “lights of the fire” that shine and rule from the light of the flame that is blessed. Since they [the four angels and their camps] are lower levels [than Shekhinah], when a person displays their fingers in front of the light of the flame, they should bend them, so that that light rules over them as they are illumined by it.38

Fragrance and the “Extra Soul” Both Abulafia and the Zohar refer to the sadness or longing experienced at the close of the Sabbath.39 With the departure of the Sabbath, the light of the Shekhinah retreats and lower forces begin to rule. People receive an “extra soul” during the Sabbath, a n’shamah y’teirah, which brings added inspiration and joy; and at the close of the Sabbath, this “extra soul” departs.40 Regarding the Shekhinah on Shabbat, the Zohar states: “Her face glows with a supernal light, and She is crowned from below by the holy people who themselves are crowned with a new soul.”41 The arrival and departure of the “new” or “extra” soul is described by Abulafia in this way: “Because of it [the extra soul] we were holy [on the Sabbath] and because it leaves [at the end of the Sabbath] we return to our secular state.”42 The custom of smelling spices and herbs is a way of consoling the soul. Abulafia states: “And thus we bless over the good fragrance, we smell it with the soul of our nostrils to indicate the verse: ‘And He breathed into his [Adam’s] nostrils a living soul, and he became a living being.’”43 Here Abulafia links the act of smelling to the Eden-like experience of Adam receiving his “living soul” by God breathing it into him.


Havdalah, the Lights of the Fire, Accepting the Secular and the Holy

The Zohar also discusses the efficacy of smelling the fragrance of spices in order to alleviate the feeling of loss at the close of the Sabbath, a sense of melancholy caused by the departure of the “additional soul,” which will only return at the start of the next Sabbath. The soul feels naked at this point, and it is by way of smelling fragrances that the soul is comforted. In particular, the sense of smell is singled out because it is the sense that, according to the Zohar, deeply influences the soul.44 These citations illustrate just this point: [During Havdalah,] one must also smell the spices as the Sabbath departs, because the [additional] spirit [that was received at the start of the Sabbath] leaves and a person’s soul is left naked, for it is bereft of that spirit…the fragrance sustains the soul, since it [fragrance] is something that penetrates the soul…45 And why do we smell the fragrance of spices? The Zohar explains that after Adam sinned and was evicted from the Garden of Eden, his original heavenly garments were taken from him. God then clothed Adam in mysterious garments made from leaves of trees in the Garden of Eden, and these leaves emitted a fragrance that gave joy to the soul.46 Adam wore these garments of leaves at the close of the first Sabbath and it brought joy to his soul. Similarly, when we smell the aroma of spices at Havdalah, our souls are soothed. This is described in the Zohar as follows: For when Adam sinned, the precious garment in which he was clothed…was removed from him, and He clothed him in another garment…He made for Adam other garments from leaves of trees of the earthly Garden…Those garments emitted fragrance and aromas of the Garden, calming and delighting the soul…When the Sabbath departed, Adam was clothed in the garments of the earthly Garden of Eden,


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emitting fragrance and aromas to sustain his soul, since the holy supernal, precious spirit had departed from him.47 It is interesting that both Abulafia and the Zohar refer back to the creation of Adam when commenting on the smelling of spices at Havdalah: the former, referring to God breathing life into Adam’s nostrils, and the latter, referring to Adam wearing garments with the fragrance of Eden.

Conclusion How can the kabbalistic teachings of Abulafia and the Zohar deepen our experience of the Havdalah ritual? Both teachings seem to imply that the ritual marking the transition from the Sabbath to the rest of the week can help us acknowledge the holy and the secular aspects within us. Performing the ritual thus signals an acceptance of this dual state of being and even a celebration of it. Even though the holiness experienced during the Sabbath only lasts for one of the seven days, it “enlightens” the rest of the week and the rest of our consciousness. When the flame of the Havdalah candle is lit and blessed, Abulafia states that we are symbolically looking at (and contemplating) the flame of higher consciousness. When we let our fingers receive that light, we symbolically connect with the possibility of full selfrealization—even as we transition into the workweek. And when we smell the fragrance of spices and recite the blessing over them, we can be transported back to the time when Adam drew his first breath. The Zohar states that when we look at and bless the Havdalah flame and let our four fingers receive the light, it is symbolic of the four ministering angels receiving light from the Divine Presence (that is, the Shekhinah) so that they can bring that light into the week.


Havdalah, the Lights of the Fire, Accepting the Secular and the Holy

When we bless and smell the spices, we are reminded of Adam’s fragrant garment made of leaves from the Garden of Eden. There are inspiring ideas embedded in these teachings, which can improve our quality of life. The concept that rest and work are linked and should be considered as one unit is a lesson we can all learn from Abulafia’s understanding of Havdalah: “Creation is One! Even though the six days and the seventh are different, there is a connectivity between all the days of creation.”48 The balance between holy and regular is integral to the human condition.


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NOTES Avraham Abulafia, Ḥayyei Ha-nefesh, ed. Amnon Gross ( Jerusalem: Amnon Gross, 2001), pp. 26–28. The book’s title means “The Life of the Soul.” For more on Avraham Abulafia see Moshe Idel, The Mystical Experience in Abraham Abulafia (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1988). 2 Kodesh means “holy” or “sanctified.” The Hebrew word ḥol has many meanings and encompasses all that is non-holy. It can be translated as “regular,” “mundane,” or “secular.” Depending on context, I will use one of these translations. 3 Ḥayyei Ha-nefesh, p. 26. 4 Ḥayyei Ha-nefesh, p. 26, citing Genesis 2:2. The days of the week are numbered at Genesis 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, and 31. 5 Ḥayyei Ha-nefesh, p. 26. Note that in the extended version of this teaching that follows, Abulafia refers not only to the unique name of the Sabbath but also to the names of the festivals. 6 Abulafia also brings additional Torah verses that point to the unique characteristics of the Sabbath: “But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Eternal your God; on it you shall do no manner of work” (Deuteronomy 5:13), and “On the seventh day, [God] rested and was refreshed” (Exodus 31:17). 7 B. Sanhedrin 97a. 8 Ḥayyei Ha-nefesh, p. 26. Indeed, medieval kabbalists often found parallels between the seventh day, the Sabbath, the seventh sh’mittah year, and the seventh millennium; see Elliot K. Ginsburg, The Sabbath in the Classical Kabbalah (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1989), pp. 98, 163. 9 Ḥayyei Ha-nefesh, p. 27, quoting B. Sanhedrin 97a. 10 Even though the definite article is not used for the other five days of creation, it is enough for Abulafia that the sixth day has the definite article associated with it; this shows that all the six secular days have a connection with the Sabbath. 11 On the topic of Oneness with respect to the Sabbath and the creation, see Elliot Ginsburg, The Sabbath in the Classical Kabbalah, pp. 137 and 197. 12 Ḥayyei Ha-nefesh, p. 27. 13 Because the letters of the Hebrew alphabet also serve as numbers, every word has the theoretical mathematical value of the sum of its constituent letters. The letter hei is the fifth letter of the alphabet, and so it has the value of five. 14 It seems that Abulafia is also referring to the right side as being connected to the holy and the left to the secular. Traditionally, in the Kabbalah and many other spiritual traditions, the right has ascendency over the left. However, it is not clear in this context whether this is what Abulafia intends, or whether he is simply commenting that they are opposites. 15 Cf., e.g., Avraham Abulafia, Iggeret V’zot Liyhudah, ed. Amnon Gross ( Jerusalem: Amnon Gross, 2002), p. 18. 16 Isaiah Tishby, ed., Wisdom of the Zohar, trans. David Goldstein (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), vol. 1, pp. 229–268. 1


Havdalah, the Lights of the Fire, Accepting the Secular and the Holy

For more information on the s’firot see Hava Tirosh-Samuelson and Aaron W. Hughes, eds., Moshe Idel: Representing God (Leiden: Brill, 2014), pp. 31–71; and Isaiah Tishby, Wisdom of the Zohar, vol. 1, pp. 269–366. 18 See Lenn E. Goodman, ed., N eoplatonism and Jewish Thought (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1992). Note that different neo-platonic authors give different numbers of spheres in their depiction of creation. Ten, however, is the most common number given. 19 Sefer Y’tzirah 1:2. 20 Ḥayyei Ha-nefesh, p. 27. We see here a prime example of the human body as being considered a reflection of the Divine, containing a blueprint of reality: our ten fingers are earthly reflections of the ten s’firot. 21 Abulafia typically refers to the s’firot in this way, see his Otzar Eden Ganuz (“A Hidden Treasure in Eden”), ed. Amnon Gross ( Jerusalem: Amnon Gross, 2001), p. 7. 22 The letter yod is the tenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet and therefore has the numerological value of ten. 23 Ḥayyei Ha-nefesh, , p. 27. 24 Ibid. 25 Here we need to understand that the experience of prophecy is, for Abulafia, a key objective in life. For him, the word “prophecy” means the ability to experience and fulfill the complete potential of human experience by connecting with all of the ten states of consciousness available. Gershom Scholem called Abulafia’s system of teaching “Prophetic Kabbalism”; cf. Gershom Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (3rd rev. ed. 1961; rpt. New York: Schocken Books, 1995), pp. 119–155. The concept of the “ten levels of prophecy” is developed further in the fourteenth-century kabbalistic text Tikkunei Ha-zohar, pp. 6b–7a. 26 Ḥayyei Ha-nefesh, p. 27. The concept of the “external light” is more developed in his Or Ha-seikhel, ed. Amnon Gross ( Jerusalem: Amnon Gross, 2001), pp. 2–5. 27 Ḥayyei Ha-nefesh, p. 27. 28 This section of the Zohar (Zohar II 145a–b) is included in the Friday evening liturgy, between Kabbalat Shabbat and Maariv, in many Jewish communities. It is called k’gavna, meaning “just like” (which is the first word of the text), and is a beautifully poetic description of the Sabbath. 29 As noted above, the s’firot are the ten primary divine emanations, also called divine qualities and heavenly spheres. The Shekhinah is the tenth s’firah, the emanation closest to the material world. For more information on the Shekhinah see Tishby, Wisdom of the Zohar, vol. 1, pp. 371–421. 30 Zohar II 208a as cited in Tishby, Wisdom of the Zohar, vol. 3, p. 1295, note 151, and cf. Daniel C. Matt, ed. and trans., The Zohar (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011). vol. 1, p. 186, note 230. 31 Zohar II 208a. 32 Zohar II 145a. 17


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Zohar II 208a. Zohar II 208a. Note that the verb “creates,” which is included in Havdalah’s blessing over light, appears in this passage. 35 Zohar II 145a. 36 Zohar II 208a. 37 Minhagim (customs) in the Jewish tradition have changed over the centuries and also differ among communities in different geographic locales. In the Havdalah blessing over the flame, for example, there different traditions regarding the fingers: some bend the four fingers of both hands, while others do so only with the right hand. Also, notice that the Zohar mentions four bent fingers receiving light, whereas Abulafia mentions all ten fingers receiving the light, possibly indicating that he had in mind a different hand gesture. Even so, each of these teachings find symbolism in the positioning of the hands and fingers. 38 Zohar II 208a–b. 39 Ḥayyei Ha-nefesh, p. 27; and Zohar II 208b. 40 The subject of the extra soul of the Sabbath is also presented in Zohar II 204a–b. For an extended discussion of the extra soul, see the essay by Martin S. Cohen elsewhere in this volume. 41 Zohar II 145b. 42 Ḥayyei Ha-nefesh, , p. 27. 43 Ibid., quoting Genesis 2:7. 44 Zohar II 208b. 45 Ibid. 46 For more details about the various Jewish mythological traditions related to different garments worn by Adam and Eve and different levels of the Garden of Eden, see Matt, The Zohar, vol. 6, pp. 188–191; and cf. Simcha Paull Raphael, Jewish Views of the Afterlife (London: Rowman and Littlefield, 2009), pp. 149– 154. And see also the essay by Rachel Adelman elsewhere in this volume. 47 Zohar II 208b. 48 Ḥayyei Ha-nefesh, p. 27. 33 34


Who Are We Separating from Whom?

Who Are We Separating from Whom? Havdalah and the (Multigenerational) Interfaith Family Catharine Clark

It is Saturday night, and three stars are visible in the night sky. Three generations of my family are gathered around the kitchen table: my husband, Eric, and me; our three-year-old daughter, Naomi, and our six-month-old daughter, Miriam; and my parents, Grandma and PopPop. Our purpose in gathering around the kitchen table is to “make Havdalah,� as Jews colloquially refer to the performance of the short ritual that marks the end of Shabbat and the beginning of the new week. Naomi is excited because Havdalah includes fire. As for many children, fire is endlessly fascinating to our daughter. Friday night candlelighting and Saturday night Havdalah are the highlights of her week. As for many grandparents, my parents are excited because their granddaughter is excited. What makes Naomi happy makes them happy. I, however, am not especially excited. As I recite Havdalah, I wonder if my parents are following along on the English side of the bentscher, the booklet of prayers organized around the Shabbat table, that I handed them before I filled the cup with wine and lit the candle. Specifically, I wonder how closely they are reading the last section of Havdalah. In the last blessing, we praise God for the separations God makes in our lives. One of the divisions delineated in the prayer is


Catharine Clark

“between the people Israel and other peoples.” My parents are not Jewish. I wonder what they think of praising God for this separation. I wonder what I think of it, and I wonder what my daughters will think of it when they are old enough to understand it. The other divisions for which we praise God in Havdalah are the separations between the sacred and profane, light and darkness, and Shabbat and weekdays. Like the separations between the people Israel and other peoples, these divisions are highly valued and have a long history in Jewish tradition. My concern is personal. I felt like a different person when I stepped out of the mikveh fifteen years ago and became a Jew, but I did not feel divided from my parents. What does it mean for me to praise God for separating the people Israel from other peoples? Moreover, the distinction between Shabbat and weekdays is the treasured division around which I organize my day-to-day life. Should I similarly treasure a division between me and my parents?

Separation Issues Let’s examine the final section of Havdalah. In it, we praise God for four separations: 1. sacred from profane, 2. light from darkness, 3. the people Israel from other peoples, 4. the seventh day from the six working days of the week. My discomfort with the third of these separations is threefold. First, the blessing divides the world into dichotomous pairs: Jews are linked with the sacred, with light, and with Shabbat, while people who are not Jewish are connected to the profane, with darkness, and with the six working days of the week. It smacks of triumphalism


Who Are We Separating from Whom?

to divide the world into good and bad, and then to group the peoples who are not us with the bad. Whatever I mean when I recite Havdalah, this interpretation is not it.1 Second, for millennia of Jewish history, Jews have in fact been separate from other peoples, often to our disadvantage. For many Jews, experiences of anti-Semitism makes any mention of separating Jews from other peoples a painful reminder of discrimination and persecution. For my older congregants who grew up in North America, the separation of Jews from other peoples took the form of university quotas and country club exclusions. For my older congregants who grew up in Europe, the separation of Jews from other peoples evokes even darker memories. Third, praising God for erecting a barrier, even a theological one, between Jews and others is bound to have troubling implications for many modern Jewish families. My children are far from the only children in our congregation to have grandparents who are not Jewish. In fact, Congregation Or Shalom, the Conservative synagogue in London, Ontario that I serve, includes many interfaith families. A number of children in my congregation, like children in synagogues throughout North America, have one parent who is not Jewish. Praising God for separating Jews from other peoples is painful—even if we understand liturgical language to be purely symbolic. Praising God for this separation uproots deeply-held images of one’s own family as worthy. We view our families as whole and good. We want to believe that God shares this view, but this belief is undermined if we understand the liturgy to be praising the separation of children from parents, and spouses from their partners, when a parent or partner is not Jewish. For at least the last forty years, Jews have been uncomfortable with praising God for separating the people Israel from other peoples. Praise for this separation is not included in the Reform Movement’s 1975 edition of Gates of Prayer2 or in the Reconstructionist


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Movement’s 1995 publication of Kol Haneshamah.3 The first of my concerns—that the world is divided into dichotomous pairs, in which only one element of the pair is understood as good—appears to have motivated this omission. Rabbi David A. Teutsch, chair of the commission that authored Kol Haneshamah, wrote in his introduction to that prayerbook that the commission consciously decided to remain faithful to the principle, widely accepted in Reconstructionist circles, of deleting references to Jewish chosenness.4 Removing from Havdalah this reference to separation eliminates the message that Jews are on the holy side of the divide, apart from other peoples. Most modern Jews imagine that these are contemporary concerns. But, in fact, in the ancient talmudic discussion of the details of the liturgy for Havdalah, the question of whether God should be praised for making a separation between Israel and other peoples was a topic of serious debate.5 In fourth-century Babylonia, the center of Jewish intellectual life at the time, Abba ben Joseph bar Ḥama (almost always known as Rava in the Talmud) and Rav Jacob bar Abba debate the proper wording of the concluding blessing for Havdalah. Rav Jacob bar Abba quotes a pivotal scholarly figure from third-century Iraq (which the Jews continued to call Babylon), Rabbi Abba bar Aybo, almost universally called by the respectful sobriquet “Rav,” who said that when Rabbi Judah the Patriarch made Havdalah, he praised God only for the separation between sacred and profane.6 According to this precedent, then, most of the wording we use today is superfluous and all that is truly necessary is the blessing in which God is praised for creating the distinction between sacred and profane. Rav Jacob bar Abba did not, however, prevail in this argument. Rava favored more extensive wording, praising God not only for separating sacred from profane but also light from darkness, the people Israel from other peoples, and the seventh day from the six working days of the week.7 His wording became the well-established custom. In fact, it is the wording we use today. However, Rabbi Isaac ben Jacob Alfasi


Who Are We Separating from Whom?

of eleventh-century North Africa, widely called by his acronym “the Rif ” and revered as one of the greatest talmudists, wrote that the more succinct blessing of Rabbi Judah the Patriarch remained an acceptable option to at least some in talmudic times.8 Based on that precedent, we could simply praise God for separating the sacred from the profane, and omit any mention of the other separations. However, I am reluctant to change traditional liturgy. As early as the time of Rava in the fourth century, the wording found in most of today’s prayerbooks was already in use. Its long history is a strong argument for its continued use. Moreover, I do believe that a distinct Jewish identity is important. This particularism is the framework through which we serve God and the base from which Jews interact with the world in ways that sustain life for all. The solution is not to omit praising God for separating the people Israel from other peoples. Rather, the challenge is to reinterpret this praise in a way that speaks to our current reality, celebrating particularity without inadvertently (let alone intentionally) asserting Jewish superiority or undermining the reality of families that include both Jewish and non-Jewish members.

Separation in Its Biblical Context In the Babylonian Talmud, Rabbi Joshua ben Levi is cited as remarking that one who recites Havdalah must mention only separations that are similar to those separations that are mentioned in the Torah.9 The biblical source for the separation between the people Israel and other peoples is Leviticus 20:24–26, where God tells Israel: You shall possess their land, for I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey. I the Eternal am your God, who has set you apart from other peoples. So you shall set


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apart the clean beast from the unclean, the unclean bird from the clean. You shall not draw abomination upon yourselves through beast or bird or anything with which the ground is alive, which I have set apart for you to treat as unclean. You shall be holy to Me, for I the Eternal am holy, and I have set you apart from other peoples to be Mine.10 Twice the passage refers to the separation between the people Israel and other peoples. These references, along with the structure and context of the passage, are rich sources for better understanding, and potentially resolving, the discomfort we might feel when making Havdalah today and praising God for separating the people Israel from other peoples. One interpretation of the biblical text makes explicit the fear that might be felt when reciting this blessing. The ancient midrash known as the Sifra interprets Leviticus 20:26 as a warning to the people Israel. When the Torah says, “I have set you apart from other peoples to be Mine,” the midrash teaches that God means: “If you separate yourselves from the nations, then you will be [worthy of ] My name; if not, you will belong to Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, and his ilk.”11 In other words, if we maintain our distinct identity, we will retain the benefit of divine protection. If not, we will suffer as the citizens of Judah did during the siege of Jerusalem and the forced march to Babylon in 586 BCE. It is a dire threat. The midrash sees this threat as rooted in a failure to separate ourselves. This is quite different from the modern experience of antiSemitism, which places the blame on others who see difference in the Jewish people, regardless of reality, and then hate that difference: their hatred leads toward discrimination and persecution. No matter who is responsible for the separation, the midrash anticipates the danger that can arise in the wake of a separation between the people Israel and other peoples. It is a danger that has been realized in


Who Are We Separating from Whom?

various forms during our history, including Roman persecution, the Crusades, countless pogroms, and the Holocaust. No wonder it can be difficult to praise God for this separation. The structure of the biblical passage allows for alternative interpretations of the separation between the people Israel and other peoples. The two references to separation in verses 24 and 26 (italicized in the above passage), for example, bookend a reiteration of the laws concerning another type of separation: the setting apart of pure beasts and birds from impure beasts and birds and insects. This juxtaposition of the laws of kashrut (the dietary laws) with the separation of the people Israel from other peoples has led to one common interpretation that the Jewish people were given the laws of kashrut for the express purpose of separating Jews from other peoples. On this theory, the goal of the laws of kashrut is to make it difficult to share meals with people who are not Jewish. This restriction on easy socializing will thus prevent intermarriage and the Jewish people will remain separate from other peoples. I find this interpretation saddening. While it is not always easy to keep kosher when visiting the homes of non-Jews, it can and should be done. My children enjoy eating with their grandparents both at their own home and at ours. The many families I know in which one parent is not Jewish should make it a habit to eat dinner together. This interpretation is exactly the one I most fear when I make Havdalah with my children and my parents, or when we recite this blessing in a congregation that includes interfaith families. This passage is the biblical source for the practice of praising God for separating the people Israel from other peoples, but I hope that its structure can be understood to point to a different meaning. Perhaps kashrut is not intended to erect a barrier between Jews and non-Jews, but rather to require Jews to take active steps to maintain distinctly Jewish practices—even (or especially) when Jews are in mixed company.


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Fortunately, the above interpretation (about stemming intermarriage by precluding opportunities for mixed dining) is not the only way to understand the biblical passage. Verse 26, immediately following the instruction to separate pure beasts and birds from impure beasts and birds, ends by stating the purpose of the separation of the people Israel from other peoples: God set us apart lihyot li, “to be Mine.” In my estimation, endorsed obliquely by the midrash, the purpose of the dietary restrictions is to remind us of our relationship to God. In the continuation of the Sifra passage quoted above, Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah is cited as saying, “From whence do we know that a person should not say, ‘I do not want to wear a mixture of wool and linen; I do not want to eat pork; I do not want to have a forbidden sexual relationship’? Rather, one should say, ‘I wish [to do these things], but what can I do? My Father in heaven has forbidden these things to me!’”12 In this understanding, the laws that separate us from other peoples and require us to make distinctions among God’s creations “remind us of our dependence on and subordination to the Lord and Creator, whose permission we require before helping ourselves to any of the products that He brought into being.”13 Separations promote mindfulness of God. Such mindfulness, as Rabbi Eleazar states, also must lead to specific behaviors. No matter our desire to wear wool and linen, eat pork, or engage in forbidden sexual relations, we do not act on these desires—because God has forbidden us from doing so. The midrash goes on to state that the verse teaches us that God separated the people Israel from other peoples “to be Mine” so that we “will keep distant from sin and accept upon [ourselves] the yoke of the kingdom of heaven.”14 This behavioral limit is especially important when interpreting the biblical passage in its larger literary context. In the verses immediately preceding God’s announcement of the separation of the people Israel from other peoples, the Israelites are admonished:


Who Are We Separating from Whom?

You shall faithfully observe all My laws and all My regulations, lest the land to which I bring you to settle in spew you out. You shall not follow the practices of the nation that I am driving out before you. For it is because they did all these things that I abhorred them. (Leviticus 20:22–23) The thought concludes that God’s disgust with the practices of the nation previously inhabiting the Land of Israel will lead God to give the land to the Israelites once the other nation has been driven out (Leviticus 20:24). The theology packed into these verses is a rich source for meaning, as we struggle to interpret the blessing in Havdalah that praises God for separating us from other peoples. The biblical passage implies that God had expectations regarding the behavior of the nation previously settled in the land. Perhaps these expectations were self-evident, or were revealed to them in a way not recorded in the Torah. (Or perhaps the expectations were not known to the previous inhabitants—which raises the question of how it can have been fair to punish them for failing to meet expectations of which they were unaware.) Regardless, it is because they failed to live up to these expectations that God abhorred them and expelled them from the land. Had there been no standards for their behavior, the other nation would perhaps still be there. The final verse (20:23), in context, suggests the content of the bad behavior of the other nation. The Israelites are warned not to follow the ḥukkot (“laws”) of the nation dwelling in the land before them. Also, the Israelites are commanded to observe et kol ḥukkotai (“all My laws,” 20:22), in order to avoid the same fate of expulsion. In his commentary on verse 22, Abraham ibn Ezra explains et kol ḥukkotai as the sexual prohibitions listed in the immediately preceding passage, Leviticus 20:10–21.15 In other words, the prior inhabitants of the land were expected to follow laws prohibiting certain sexual


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relationships. They did not follow these laws. Therefore, they were punished with expulsion from the land. The passage warns that the Israelites could also face the same fate, depending on their behavior. If, like the previous inhabitants of the land, they transgress the sexual prohibitions, they too will be evicted from the land. The only way for the people Israel to remain settled in the land is to distinguish themselves, by their good behavior, from the nation who inhabited the land before them. This interpretation is an inspiring one, as we begin a new week following the recitation of Havdalah. When we praise God for separating the people Israel from other nations, we are praising God for the ability to distinguish ourselves from a nation that failed to live up to God’s expectations for them. Whether we understand God’s expectations as limited to avoiding certain sexual relationships, or interpret it more broadly, this separation is one worth praising. We want to meet God’s expectations for us—and to separate ourselves from those who fail to do so. Moreover, we recite this praise from a position of humility, rather than from the triumphalism suggested by the dichotomous pairing that appears in the Havdalah blessing. Leviticus 20:22 commands the Israelites to observe all God’s laws, “lest the land to which I bring you to settle spew you out.” As the rest of the story of the Israelite people in the Bible goes, the Israelites are indeed expelled from the land. The prophets inveigh against the bad behavior of the people Israel and warn of the consequences.16 The Israelites fail to reform their ways, and the people are removed from the land and sent into the Babylonian Exile. In this interpretation, when we praise God for separating the people Israel from other peoples, we are praising God not for making us inherently better than the other nations (both those of ancient Canaan, as well as others). Rather, we are praising God in the hope that we will distinguish ourselves by making the choice to follow


Who Are We Separating from Whom?

God’s laws for us, while humbly knowing that we have not always made the right choice. Our distinct Jewish identity is valuable and derives from our behavior. We must work to maintain this identity, rather than assume that the distinction is innate in being Jewish. This understanding is the one I embrace, as I embrace all members of my family and my congregation at Havdalah.


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NOTES For a different attempt to understand the Israel/other nations distinction, and which does not see the dichotomous pairs of this blessing as “good” and “bad,” see the essay elsewhere in this volume by David Greenstein. 2 Gates of Prayer: The New Union Prayerbook (New York: Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1975), pp. 635, 641. 3 Kol Haneshamah: Shabbat Veḥagim (Elkins Park, PA: The Reconstructionist Press, 1994), p. 525. 4 Ibid, p. xviii. 5 In this regard, see the essay of Elie Kaunfer elsewhere in this volume. 6 B. Pesaḥim 103b. 7 Ibid. 8 Rif on Pesaḥim 103b, as printed on page 21a of the Rif, as found in the standard (Vilna) edition of the Babylonian Talmud. 9 B. Pesaḥim 104a. 10 Based on NJPS translation, substituting “Eternal” for “Lord” in keeping with the stylistic convention of this series; my emphasis. Unless otherwise noted, all translations of biblical texts in this essay are taken from NJPS. 11 Sifra, K’doshim §128. 12 Sifra, K’doshim §128. 13 Nehama Leibowitz, New Studies in Vayikra (Leviticus), vol. 1 ( Jerusalem: World Zionist Organization, 1993), p. 155. 14 Sifra, K’doshim §128. 15 Ibn Ezra on Leviticus 20:22, s.v. u-sh’martem et kol ḥukkotai. 16 E.g., Jeremiah 2:5–8; Ezekiel 24:13; Zephaniah 1:4–6. 1


Havdalah as Experience: Bidding Farewell to Shabbat

Havdalah as Experience: Bidding Farewell to Shabbat Jacob Adler

The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience. —Oliver Wendell Holmes1 In my years as a congregational rabbi, I have found that the most successful and moving way of teaching is not by teaching formally at all but rather by leading my students—my congregants—into situations where they are likely to experience the kinds of things I am hoping they will learn, and seeing how they change as a result of these experiences. This model holds true not only of my teaching of others, but of my own personal learning as well. I recall, for example, my first few Shabbatot in Israel, when practices I had learned about from books and teachers suddenly came alive as an experienced reality. I recall, too, the first time I spent a whole Shabbat, from beginning to end, with a small group of congregants. At the end of the day, after making Havdalah and ending Shabbat, it was as if they had entered a whole new reality of Shabbat. I don’t recall their exact words—it has been a number of years—but the general tone of their reaction was, “Ahh…so that’s what you’ve been telling us about!” The word havdalah in fact refers to two distinct liturgical events. There is the well-known ceremony involving a candle, wine, and spices, distinguished as havdalah al ha-kos (“Havdalah [recited] upon the cup [of wine]”), but Havdalah is also the formal declaration by which a person ends his or her observance of Shabbat. This can be


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done in a number of ways: by reciting the Attah Ḥonantanu (“You have graced us”) paragraph in the Amidah of the evening service at the end of Shabbat or a festival,2 or by saying the words barukh hamavdil bein kodesh l’ḥol (“Blessed be the One who distinguishes the sacred from the ordinary”),3 or by attending the Havdalah ceremony conducted by someone else and responding amen to its blessings. (A person who does the latter is in fact performing two mitzvot at once: ending his or her observance of Shabbat, and fulfilling the mitzvah of havdalah al ha-kos.) Some halakhic authorities would even say that the simple words shavua tov (“[Have a] good week”) are sufficient, though this is disputed by others.4 The Yiddish prayer Got fun Avrohom (“God of Abraham”) has also been recited by women for this purpose.5 In this essay, then, I will be exploring the experience of Havdalah—and not Havdalah in general but specifically the first part of it, the part by which one formally ends Shabbat. How can a simple declaration—as few as four Hebrew words— constitute the kernel of a meaningful experience? Surprising, perhaps; but they can.

The Holiness of Shabbat. It is a commonplace that the fundamental meaning of the Hebrew root kof-dalet-shin, usually translated as “holy,” is “to be cut off, separated.”6 This meaning does not convey the whole essence of holiness, but it does highlight an important element. The holy is that which is set aside for a special purpose. One might describe it as distinguished and set aside for God.7 If a person does not distinguish Shabbat from the ordinary days of the rest of the week, time designated in the Bible and rabbinic sources as ḥol (“profane”), his or her experience of the holiness of Shabbat will be diminished. It is common among Jews of all stripes to begin Shabbat in a distinctive way, with candlelighting,


Havdalah as Experience: Bidding Farewell to Shabbat

Kiddush (the blessing over wine that inaugurates Shabbat), and Hamotzi (blessing before a meal, said over bread), but non-Orthodox Jews often begin Shabbat in a formal way without putting any definite ending to their experience of Shabbat. It is hard in such a case for one to experience the unique holiness of Shabbat, since at some time it is no longer clear whether one is still “in Shabbat” or out of it. The experience of Shabbat ideally includes an altered state of consciousness, a time when one experiences an infusion of an “extra soul.” Some might experience this as akin to an extended period of meditation. Such a state can be maintained only by conscious, focused attention. Simply letting Shabbat fade away is like meditating and then letting the meditative state lapse without consciously ending it: one certainly gets a benefit from such meditation, but as one’s consciousness drifts, one is in fact no longer meditating. Then, too, Shabbat has a flow and structure—a beginning, a middle, and an end—like a story or a movie. To let one’s awareness of Shabbat simply dissipate is like seeing the beginning of a movie and then getting distracted or falling asleep; one may enjoy the first part of the movie, but one surely loses out on something by not seeing it through to the end.8 From another point of view, one may understand the holiness of Shabbat as involving a heightened awareness of the presence of God. On this understanding, the lack of formal closure takes on a yet more unfortunate aspect. Of course, one may hope to be aware of God’s presence always, but during the week, one must focus on one’s work. If I were to need an operation, I would hope for the surgeon to be totally focused on my liver or gall bladder or whatever needs attention, and his or her awareness of God (if my surgeon were to be religiously inclined) would be subliminal. Beginning Shabbat with intentionality but then drifting out of it is as if a person had been meeting with someone whom he or she longed to see: at first paying complete attention to the longed-for companion, but then gradually losing interest to the point of apparent indifference. Shabbat is often


Jacob Adler

conceived of as a queen—the Shabbat Queen, a manifestation of God’s own Self. Is it not a sort of lèse majesté to simply turn aside to other things as long as She is present? Of course, we know that She must leave and we must return to the world of work—also a holy occupation, in a different way—but as long as She is present, how can one think of turning away? The ideal Shabbat, then, involves a continuous and focused state of what we might call Shabbat consciousness, maintained until one consciously ends it by deliberately ending Shabbat.

Tosefet Shabbat Even before Havdalah, but anticipating it, is the tosefet shabbat, the additional time that we append to Shabbat—both after its official end-time and before its official beginning. There is some dispute as to whether the tosefet shabbat is an extension of Shabbat itself or an independent unit of time.9 I will assume the former interpretation for the purposes of this essay. Although one may add time onto Shabbat (both before its start and after its close), it is not clear whether there is a halakhic requirement to do so. From at least one discussion in the Talmud, it would appear that there is such a requirement;10 but elsewhere, the Talmud seems to imply the opposite.11 The Shulḥan Arukh contents itself with saying that “Some say that one must add from the ḥol to the kodesh”12—a noncommittal expression explained by the Vilna Gaon13 and the Bei·ur Halakhah14 as a nod to Maimonides, who makes no mention of a tosefet shabbat.15 How much one must add is likewise a matter of some uncertainty.16 In any case, whether the tosefet is required or optional, Shabbat does not end for a person until one ends it—consciously and deliberately, with words or actions.


Havdalah as Experience: Bidding Farewell to Shabbat

God has thus conferred upon human beings an amazing power. Exodus 31:16 says, “The Israelite people shall keep the Sabbath, observing [literally, making] the Sabbath throughout the ages as a covenant for all time.”17 The comment of the Or Ha-ḥayyim18 on this passage notes that such a person is truly making Shabbat, since the people Israel take hours from Friday and hours from Sunday and turn them into Shabbat. In the siddur (prayer book), in the evening service, we read, “[God] makes day pass away and brings on the night, distinguishing day from night—the Eternal One of Hosts is His name.” But at the end of Shabbat, though God makes the sun set and the stars appear, it is we—human beings—who make day pass away and bring on the night; we are the ones who declare when the day ends and when the night begins. Shabbat does not end for us until we make the declaration of Havdalah. Although darkness may have fallen and the stars may have appeared, if we extend the day by not saying Havdalah, then that day is in fact extended. This power calls to mind the talmudic saying that God decrees but the righteous person, the tzaddik, may nullify it;19 so, in this one respect, we all have the power usually reserved for the tzaddikim. God’s decree is indeed mentioned in the same paragraph of the Maariv service: “Blessed is the One who by His word brings on evenings,”20 but our decision supersedes God’s. It may seem strange, even arrogant, to say that we are all tzaddikim, knowing what we do about our faults and failings. Yet precisely this is promised in Isaiah 60:21: “Your people are all tzaddikim; they shall inherit the land forever.” Reading in context, the prophet is clearly referring to the times of the Messiah, and most translations put the first clause in the future tense: “Your people shall all be tzaddikim.” But this presents no bar to the present interpretation. Shabbat is mei-ein olam ha-ba,21 a microcosm of the world to come22—and the world to come is described in the Mishnah as being a time of continual Shabbat.23 This power is thus the last weekly manifestation of Shabbat as a foretaste of the messianic era.


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Indeed, we are every week empowered to perform the miracle that occurred for Joshua in the Valley of Ayalon: On that occasion, when the Eternal routed the Amorites before the Israelites, Joshua addressed the Eternal; he said in the presence of the Israelites: “Stand still, O sun, at Gibeon, O moon, in the Valley of Ayalon!” And the sun stood still and the moon halted, while a nation wreaked judgment on its foes—as is written in the Book of Jashar. Thus the sun halted in midheaven, and did not press on to set, for a whole day; for the Eternal fought for Israel. Neither before nor since has there ever been such a day, when the Eternal acted on words spoken by a man. ( Joshua 10:12–14) Although for us the physical sun does set, God still heeds our voice, and the light of Shabbat continues until we declare a halt to it. How shall we conceive of this miracle—the ability to extend a day of the week? In one sense, it is a manifestation of the partnership between God and human beings.24 Our heavenly Partner has empowered us with this authority. When we exercise it, we attain an exalted position: we are not just partners, but partners with limited but real executive authority. In another, more intimate sense, we may think of the process as involving a dialogue between human beings and the Almighty. During Shabbat, we experience the Divine Presence in a more palpable way than we do during the week. As the end of Shabbat draws near—if we can say such a thing—God says, “It’s almost time for Me to go”...but as the old joke has it, others may leave without saying goodbye; Jews say goodbye but don’t leave. So it goes without saying that there will be some tosefet. God proposes to leave, but God has conferred on us the power to override God’s proposal and detain God.25 And, after a minimal tosefet, God says, “I really need to go now.” But we say, “No, please, what’s Your rush? Stay a little


Havdalah as Experience: Bidding Farewell to Shabbat

longer!”—and God again accedes to our request. (Of course, this is exactly what God had hoped we would say.) Finally, after several rounds, either the need to return to the world of work begins to feel too pressing, or else God finally says, “I really do need to go now—if I don’t, you’ll miss Maariv.”26 Seen in this guise, the tosefet shabbat can create a poignant sense of intimacy with God. Frequently, the preciousness of a relationship becomes most apparent at the moment of leave-taking, especially when both parties are reluctant to part. Of course, God remains with us all week, though our sense of the Divine Presence may be less vivid when we are immersed in the world of our daily routine.27 A comparison may be drawn between Shabbat and the pilgrimage festivals—Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. Regarding these festivals, it is said that human beings decree the day on which they are to be observed.28 With Shabbat, however, we have no choice: it occurs once every seven days, no matter what.29 But even with Shabbat we have some say in the matter: we can extend it at either end, and cause the Shabbat to be longer than it would otherwise have been.

The Moment of Separation One of the most distinctive things about Shabbat is the extra soul, the n’shamah y’teirah that one gets upon beginning Shabbat and that departs when one ends Shabbat.30 The idea of the n’shamah y’teirah was first mentioned in the Talmud, but came to be highly developed in the hands of the mystics—so much so that we who are not mystical adepts may despair of experiencing the extra soul.31 But one need not get involved in metaphysical subtleties; other sources define the n’shamah y’teirah in psycho-physical terms:32


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Rabbi Avraham ibn Ezra speaks of it as a natural force, an enhanced vitality: “On Shabbat the body is renewed with extra power and the soul has extra intelligence….”33 The Rashba34 explains that “n’shamah y’teirah is a metaphor for the rest and enjoyment that the soul finds on Shabbat as if it were a n’shamah y’teirah, so when we re-enter the weekdays of toil and suffering, it is as if she is lost to us.”35…Rashi simply identifies n’shamah y’teirah with “a relaxation of heart, an openness to rest, joy, and spirit and even to eating and drinking.”36 So we may understand the n’shamah y’teirah as a combination of an altered state of consciousness and an enhanced physical reality, and not as a literal second soul. I must confess that, even with this less metaphysical definition, for a long time I regarded the n’shamah y’teirah as simply a poet’s fancy, not as a metaphysical (let alone physical) or psychic reality. My perception was changed on one long-ago Shabbat—long before I began studying for the rabbinate—when as a lay leader I was scheduled to lead Friday evening prayers at the local Hillel House that served as a center for the whole Jewish community of Fayetteville, Arkansas. After a long week of work, I was very tired. If I hadn’t been scheduled to lead prayers, I would have stayed home and gone to bed early. Instead, I dragged myself to the Hillel House and began wearily leading the prayers. By the time I got to L’kha Dodi, a hymn chanted about two-thirds of the way through the introductory service I was leading, I suddenly noticed that somewhere along the way I had become filled with energy. I almost gasped, and said to myself, “The extra soul!” Since then, I have become more and more convinced that the “extra soul” is something that anyone can learn to experience, and that doing so is an essential aspect of Shabbat. Much could be written on this score—indeed, it would not be hard to fill a whole book—but I will confine myself here to one significant aspect of the n’shamah


Havdalah as Experience: Bidding Farewell to Shabbat

y’teirah. Each person, of course, must learn to experience the extra soul in his or her own way, since each person is unique, just as each of the classical authors cited in the above passage described the extra soul in his own way. And so in this essay, I will attempt to convey some considerations that have been important to me. A person observing Shabbat does not work and does not get others to work. If one can internalize that double prohibition, one begins to experience other people differently. But, we must first ask: Why do we work? Consider the world’s very first worker and his work assignment: “The Eternal, God, took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden, to till it and tend it” (Genesis 2:15), soon in cooperation with his mate.37 This is very strange: surely God could have easily made a garden that required no working or tending. In fact, I would argue that God has done so—as can easily be seen by a visitor to alpine meadows or arctic tundras in their seasons of bloom. Evidently God left the Garden of Eden incomplete so that Adam and Eve would have the privilege of literally being partners in the creation, just as a parent baking cookies might allow a child to “help” even though the parent probably could do the baking more efficiently without such help. All our work then—except evil work, which hopefully we are not engaged in—is part of our task of completing and perfecting creation. To do this we need the cooperation and assistance of others. A person must in fact be on the lookout for those who can help in this holy task: I look at my mechanic and see someone who can repair my car; I look at my colleague and see someone who can help me in my profession. If I look at someone who can’t help me with any such thing—I may hardly see him or her at all. It is much like the state of a person who is seeking out a necessary object—let us say a botanist seeking out a particular plant in the wild. The botanist trains his or her eyes to see the plant that is sought and to ignore the mass of other greenery.38 Of course one still knows intellectually that those people who are not useful for the task


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at hand are still worthy of concern and respect, no less than anyone else; and we hope that this knowledge is motivating. But without this selective focus, the work of the world would not get done. On Shabbat it is different: I am not working and not making others work, nor even talking about work. I see the world with different eyes. If I happen to encounter my mechanic, I see not a mechanic, but Gary; if I run into a colleague, it is simply Richard or Lynne; and the people who can’t help me present themselves as vividly as anyone else. If I succeed in making the transition to Shabbat consciousness, people seem more beautiful—not in the manner of a fashion model, but with an inner beauty. I would say that the image of God appears more vividly in everyone I encounter. As we let go of Shabbat, people re-emerge in their weekday guise. The beauty that was manifest on Shabbat is dimmed, although hopefully not obscured altogether. One returns to the creative task as God’s partner. It is a good thing if this transition can be felt vividly. Although it is a loss, it is not a complete loss. Creative work is, or can be, one of life’s greatest joys—and all the more so if one sees it as a part of one’s responsibility in the divine partnership.

The Time to Let Go of Shabbat Until rather late in life I remained single. On Saturday evening, as Shabbat drew to close, I would stand outside and watch for the stars to appear, indicating the time when it was possible to end Shabbat. At those moments I felt very poignantly the lack of a child to come out with me and scan the skies for stars. I sometimes thought of the promise that God made to Abraham: “He took him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ And He added, ‘So shall your offspring be’” (Genesis 15:5)… and wondered if I would have a share in the fulfillment of that promise.


Havdalah as Experience: Bidding Farewell to Shabbat

In the end I was blessed with a wife and children, and they do indeed come out with me to watch the stars as (in the words of my son) they “pop out.” Some time later, we end Shabbat and make Havdalah. It was therefore with a sense of dismay that I learned that the halakhically approved way of determining the time to end Shabbat is by consulting a calendar or website that lists the proper hour and minute, this time being calculated on the basis of astronomical phenomena that cannot be observed. Specifically, the earliest time to end Shabbat is calculated on the basis of the depression angle—that is, the angle by which the sun has sunk below the horizon.39 This astronomical concept was first introduced into halakhah only in the last half of the nineteenth century.40 Since only Superman can see through the earth, the rest of us must depend on the time indicated on calendars or websites, calculated on the basis of the depression angle (which is invisible to the eye). Why this switch, from looking for stars in the sky to relying on a scientifically calculated angle of depression linked to a time on the clock? As I will discuss below, society has moved over the last few centuries from measuring time by observing sun and sky to reliance on the clock. We have consequently lost the skill of reading the sky, and even if we wanted to do so, would feel unsure of our ability (or sure of our inability) to reliably make the required observation. Moreover, the rest of our lives run by the clock, and it seems only natural to regulate the end of Shabbat by the clock as well. This change, I believe, is a loss. It is halakhically questionable and experientially flattened. Reliance on the clock has alienated us from the natural world and diminished our experience of Shabbat, which is quintessentially a time when one can sense more vividly that the natural world is pervaded by the Divine. First, as noted, there may be halakhic problems with the use of depression angles.41 The problem in a nutshell is this: The length of twilight—and consequently the onset of darkness and


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appearance of starts—is a meteorological phenomenon, which varies with atmospheric conditions. The depression angle of the sun is an astronomical phenomenon. No meteorological phenomenon can coincide precisely with an astronomical one. The halakhic criterion for the end of Shabbat is either the onset of darkness or the appearance of stars (of a certain number and brightness).42 Yet the onset of darkness and the appearance of stars depend not only on the depression angle but also on atmospheric conditions.43 Clouds in the west, depending on their position in the sky, can either prolong or shorten twilight.44 In particular, after major volcanic eruptions, volcanic dust is thrust high into the atmosphere, and light reflected from this dust causes brilliant extended twilights. This last-mentioned phenomenon was noted already in the seventeenth century by Hugo Grotius, who invoked it to explain the miracle of the Valley of Ayalon mentioned above.45 It is worth citing at some length from Ludwig Friedrich Kämtz’s groundbreaking Complete Course of Meteorology (original title: Vorlesungen über Meteorologie, 1840): Astronomers...have been too much preoccupied with the mathematical aspects of the question [of the length of twilight], and have in some degree neglected the physical conditions. All of them have endeavored to determine the moment when the sun is 18° below the horizon, and have not inquired whether this angle every where [sic] corresponds with the end of twilight: so that, in my opinion, the question is no further advanced than at the period when a cardinal induced the Portuguese Nonius46 to enter upon the question.… [Observed lengths of twilight at various locations] differ very manifestly from those obtained by calculations.…When the air is filled with vesicular vapors and particles of snow, the sun may descend as much as 30° below the horizon without darkness being complete….[In] the Summer of 1831…very prolonged twilights were seen from Madrid to Odessa. On the 25th [of September]…the illuminated portion of the


Havdalah as Experience: Bidding Farewell to Shabbat

sky…was still seen as late as eight o’clock, an hour at which the sun was 19°30ʹ below the horizon.47 Similar long twilights occurred after the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883.48 If a person ends Shabbat at the astronomically calculated time, the sky might in fact be too light to allow for the appearance of the required stars (or to meet the required standard of darkness), and one would thus apparently be doing forbidden work while it was still Shabbat. The second reason to rely on observation rather than calculation, in determining the end-time of Shabbat, is simply the experience of seeing Shabbat go out (as well as the corresponding experience on Friday evening of seeing Shabbat come in). Even if one looks at the calendar to determine when this will happen, the experience of watching the stars appear is a moving one. Consider: what would Shabbat be like if one had to spend it in a windowless room, without any chance to observe the outside world? By watching the clock one could do such a thing, and perhaps a person of a certain kind of religious intensity—maybe someone approaching the ideal type of Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s halakhic man49—could take great satisfaction in doing so. Indeed, there is a sort of Kantian dignity about simply following the law without regard to one’s inclinations or feelings.50 But how many people can aspire to such a thing? And even if one could do it, it is surely a beautification of the holy act to experience in the real world what one might only do by clock and calendar. To watch Shabbat go out is like seeing off a beloved friend who has come to visit. To end Shabbat by the clock is to invite a beloved friend to come over and to specify in advance the precise number of minutes he or she is welcome to stay. This is reminiscent of a visit to a psychotherapist, who sends one on one’s way precisely fifty minutes after the session has begun. Therapists may have good reasons for doing things that way, but with friends one hopes for something


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different. It would seem to constitute a kind of rudeness to treat a friend this way, and if one thinks of Shabbat as the Shabbat Queen, the rudeness is all the greater. To determine the ending time of Shabbat on the basis of something that cannot be experienced is to fix this rudeness in stone. More than this, there is the richness of the experience. In the summer, I often go outside to watch and hear the Shabbat depart. In Northwest Arkansas, where I live, as the light begins to fade, the nighthawks and cicadas begin to say Minḥah, the afternoon service—the cicadas beginning with some short tentative buzzes as the light dims, then amazing long buzzes as the sun begins to set. On a fine day, I can see the earth-shadow rise in the east (the shadow cast by the earth on the eastern clouds), surmounted by the “Belt of Venus,” the pink glow that rides above the earth-shadow. As darkness comes, the cicadas finish their recitation of Minḥah and the katydids begin Maariv. The summer nights are usually warm, even hot, and the warmer the air the faster the katydids chant. First come the common true katydids, with their mad raucous song—they say their prayers with wild enthusiasm at this time of year—and then, when they have finished, the lesser angle-wing katydids, with their sound like a briefly shaken maraca (their prayers are much more sedate). The stars emerge during the midst of the katydids’ song, and one could end Shabbat then. But, if nothing presses, I prefer to extend Shabbat so as to hear more of their chant.51 The conception that the natural world is uttering praises of God is found in the old midrash, Perek Shirah.52 Cicadas and katydids are not explicitly among the creatures listed there, but perhaps one may include them under the tzipporet ha-k’ramim and the ḥasil, often translated as “grasshopper” and “locust.” More to the point, perhaps, is that many of the creatures of the natural world call out as day turns into night. Are they praying? If we believe Perek Shirah, that is exactly what they are doing. We,


Havdalah as Experience: Bidding Farewell to Shabbat

too, are creatures of the natural world, and it is our natural heritage to call out at these times. Another aspect of the experience of beginning and ending Shabbat by observation derives from the sense one gets of Shabbat as a real, perceptible event. One can physically see Shabbat begin by watching the shadows creep down the trees and hills. The very boundary between Shabbat and weekday at this moment is visible: Shabbat has entered the lower world, already in shadow, while on the hilltops, still illuminated by the last rays of the sun, it is still weekday. In the sky, one can observe the terminator line—the leading edge of the earth-shadow—sweep across the sky from east to west, as Shabbat makes its way across the globe. And one can watch the shadows creep up the trees, until only the tops are illuminated by the last orange rays of the sun—and then the trees are totally enveloped in darkness. At the end of Shabbat, one can watch the same event, seeing the approaching end of Shabbat make its way across the globe; and then the stars emerge, meaning that it is possible to mark an end to Shabbat. It may indeed have been just for this reason—to foster a rich experience—that the rabbis of old designated the end of Shabbat by a natural process observable to all, rather than in terms of an astronomical observation that only trained and equipped specialists could undertake. The observation of the starry sky has inspired human beings probably since there have been human beings. I have already mentioned God’s promise to Abraham. We may also recall the words of the prophet Isaiah: To whom, then, can you liken Me, to whom can I be compared?—says the Holy One. Lift high your eyes and see: Who created these? He who sends out their host by count, who calls them each by name: Because of His great might and vast power, not one fails to appear. (Isaiah 40:25–26)


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This above all is the experience Isaiah endorses to convince one of the uniqueness of God. And even Immanuel Kant, whose reputation would not make one expect such sensitivity, exclaims at the end of the Critique of Practical Reason: Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and reverence, the more often and the more steadily one reflects on them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.53 What would have been the effect if Isaiah had urged us to lift up our eyes not to the stars but to the clock on the wall?54 Would anyone have been inspired by the uniqueness and greatness of God? Ending Shabbat according to clock time weakens the hand of rabbis (such as myself ) and other leaders serving non-Orthodox congregations, who are striving to maintain the holiness of Shabbat from beginning to end. We find ourselves asked, “Can’t I have my wedding on 4:00 on Shabbat?” Or, in a related case, “Can’t we have our Yom Kippur break-the-fast at 5:00?” If the ending of Shabbat is determined by observed natural time, then the answer is that it gets dark when it gets dark. But if, as is currently the practice, the end of Shabbat is determined by clock time, divorced from any observable natural event, people can say, “If it’s just a matter of picking a clock time, we can pick 4:00 or 5:00 or 6:00.” This change in the concept of time, from observed time to clock time, is in some ways surprising. We go from natural time (what Sacha Stern calls process time)—time as defined by natural or human processes—to abstract clock time. The rabbis of classical antiquity, as Stern argues persuasively, knew nothing of abstract time, but measured time by natural or human events: the rising of the sun, the time when the priests came in to eat t’rumah, and so on.55 Even much later, the instructions in the Shulḥan Arukh regarding


Havdalah as Experience: Bidding Farewell to Shabbat

Havdalah note only that “One must take care not to do work until one sees three small stars; and these must not be widely separated, but close together. If the day is cloudy, one should wait until one no longer has any doubt”—i.e., no doubt that it is dark enough so that the stars could be seen if the clouds were not there.56 Even the Mishnah B’rurah, first published in the 1880s, mentions clocks only as an aid to observation for cloudy days: “If one has an accurate clock and one knows for sure what time three small stars appeared on the previous night, it seems that one may rely on this.”57 Here, clearly, the use of clocks is merely instrumental, and the criterion is still the appearance of stars—the clock being used merely as a convenient means of telling when this has happened. It is worth noting that this transition is not unique to the Jewish world. Alexandre Koyré well describes the change in the Christian world: Medieval society has the notable advantage over antiquity in having abandoned the variable [seasonal] hour and having replaced it with an hour of fixed length. But there was no great need to know this hour. It perpetuated, as L. Febvre put it so well, “the habits of a society of peasants, who accepted the fact that they would never know the exact time, except when the bell-clock sounded (supposing that it was accurate) and otherwise relied on plants, on animals, on the flight of birds and the song of this or that one of them.” Daily life was dominated by natural phenomena, by the rising and setting of the sun...and the day was chanted rather than measured by the sounding of the bells that announced “the [canonical] hours”58...Nevertheless, let us make no mistake....We are still in the world of the “approximately” [l’à-peu-près], the “more or less”; we are on the road, but only on the road, to the universe of precision.59


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Koyré’s hard to translate phrase—the world of the à-peu-près, the more-or-less—is insightful. Consider Stern’s discussion of the unit of time called the mil, defined as the time it takes to walk 2,000 cubits. This is, of course, a process-linked measurement, as Stern says: it is defined by the process of walking. But it is also obviously an abstract measure of time. After all, any measure of time, even the most abstract, is defined in terms of some process. What seems to be the case is that it is a “more-or-less” unit of time, like the “handful” of grandma’s recipe. Indeed, the handful involves not only random variation, but may be more or less depending on grandma’s judgment. The mil, equated to a fixed number of minutes, has been made the determinative factor in many accounts of halakhic times. The figures most commonly given for a mil are 18 or 22.5 minutes, but Rabbi Moses Feinstein proposes a system in which a New York mil is 12.5 minutes.60 The Bei·ur Halakhah likewise cites instances of authors who propose the mil as a variable unit.61 The truth seems to me to be that the mil is an approximate measure, like grandma’s “handful,” and any attempt to come up with a more precise definition is a deviation from the original intention of those who used it as a time-measure.62 We may briefly consider how and why the transition to clock-time took place. The change has implications not only for the beginning and end of Shabbat, but also for such things as the maximum interval between eating a meal and reciting the Grace after Meals. The historic standard was that one could say the Grace as long as one still had a feeling of satiety; the current standard is seventy-two minutes after eating.63 The availability of accurate clocks is cited as a reason for the change,64 and clearly it was a necessary condition, but hardly a sufficient one. For one thing, clocks might be used simply as an aid to observation of natural events. For example, a cake recipe may say that one should bake for approximately thirty minutes, and a clock or timer may be used to mark off that interval; but one tests for doneness by sticking a toothpick into the cake. Secondly, clocks must


Havdalah as Experience: Bidding Farewell to Shabbat

not only exist but also be widely available. As recently as interwar Poland, the ownership of clocks could not be taken for granted, and a shulklaper—a town official designated to let people know about prayer and Shabbat times—was appointed to go around and knock on the shutters as Shabbat approached and say, “Women, women! It’s time to light the candles and go to the synagogue.”65 Clearly, a shulklaper making his rounds could not provide a high degree of accuracy. Moreover, for determining absolute times (as opposed to intervals), clocks need to be synchronized to a standard time. This did not happen until quite recently.66 With the advent of standard time, we have left the realm of observation, since the standardized clock may read 12:00 either before or after true solar noon. But standard time could only be an interesting theoretical construct until people began living their lives according to it. Mumford Lewis describes the process well: “Abstract time became the new medium of existence. Organic functions themselves were regulated by it: one ate, not upon feeling hungry, but when prompted by the clock; one slept, not when one was tired, but when the clock sanctioned it.”67 With the development of an industrial economy, the division of labor, and new forms of transportation, coordinating events by clock time became a greater necessity.68 If one lives most of one’s life by the clock, it is natural to expect one’s ritual life to run by the clock as well. There were probably other factors involved in the switch from natural time to clock time. Observing the sky requires some training, experience, and practice. On a clear night it is not so hard, though even then one must know what a “small” or “medium” star is and how close together the three stars must be. On a cloudy night, if one is relying on observation, one must be an experienced skywatcher to be able to tell when the stars would appear in the absence of clouds. When people ran their lives by natural signs, going to bed at dark and awakening at dusk, they naturally became familiar with the


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signs of the sky. A farmer out in the field, with neither timepiece nor flashlight, has much work to do and must continue as long as possible, yet must know by observing the sky when he or she must stop work and walk home before darkness overtakes. When people began to live by the clock, these skills were lost.69 And even to the extent that such skills were retained, they were lost as Judaism—Orthodox Judaism in particular—changed from a society based on mimetic learning (that is, learning based on observing and imitating what others do) to one based on book learning.70 The sky signs are the kind of thing that is hard to learn except by watching and learning from someone who knows them. When such learning diminished, people were distrustful of relying on their own experience; and pious Orthodox Jews were afraid that they might inadvertently violate Shabbat. Even with this fear, a high degree of mathematical and astronomical sophistication would have been required to determine the time when the sun had descended to the proper depression angle for ending Shabbat. A person with the requisite skill could use the generalized sunrise equation. Now, with the advent of computers, it is a rather simple matter: one can consult a website that does all the work. Barring that, it is doubtful that more than a handful of Jews, in the past or present, could understand the equation or perform the required calculations.71

Why Experience? For those whose faith in God and halakhah as an expression of divine will is unquestioned, the mere commandment of God is sufficient motivation for the observance of Shabbat: God speaks, they act. Such persons, as I have intimated above, might spend Shabbat in a windowless room, not observing the setting of the sun or the emergence of the stars, and feel no sense of loss; for they would be


Havdalah as Experience: Bidding Farewell to Shabbat

secure in the knowledge that they are conforming to the requirements of halakhah, and thereby embodying God’s will in their life. Such an approach seems sometimes to be suggested by Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s Halakhic Man, whose words are worth quoting at length: The approach to God is…made possible by the Halakhah. Primarily, halakhic man cognizes God via His Torah, via the truth of halakhic cognition. There is truth in the Halakhah, there is a halakhic epistemology, there is a halakhic thinking…And all of these are rooted in the will of the Holy One, blessed be He, the revealer of the Law. Halakhic man…serves his Maker with pure halahkic thought, precise cognition and clear logic. He does not waste his time reciting songs and hymns. The cognition of the Torah—this is the holiest and most exalted type of service.72 Abraham Joshua Heschel remarked that halakhic man never existed. “Soloveitchik’s study, though brilliant, is based on the false notion that Judaism is a cold, logical affair with no room for piety.”73 Ironically, this is a criticism with which Soloveitchik would have agreed. As he wrote elsewhere: For Orthodox young men, the Torah reveals itself in the form of modes of Talmudic analysis, rational awareness and cold logic. However, they have yet to be privileged with the living, “sensual” experience, which both gladdens the heart and causes it to tremble. They know the Torah as an idea, but they do not encounter it as an unmediated “Reality,” that is felt through “taste, sight, and touch.”74 If there ever was a halakhic man, Soloveitchik was not one of them!75 It should not be so surprising to see this side of Soloveitchik. Homo halakhicus, like Homo economicus—the economist’s imaginary figure of a completely rational pursuer of narrow self-interest—is an ideal


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type; neither one is intended as a complete description of actual living persons. For a person already immersed in halakhah, developing a profound and warm experience of Shabbat is a matter of hiddur mitzvah, of beautifying the mitzvah. For those who neither reject the system of mitzvot nor accept it unquestioningly—among whom I count myself—such experience can be crucial. The sense of Shabbat as an experienced reality can make it possible to perceive it as a mitzvah. The person already immersed in halakhah “approaches reality…with his Torah, given to him from Sinai, in hand.”76 As for the latter type, it is as if they had received an anonymous letter, a letter with all the signs of being written in love, advising the recipient to observe Shabbat. Of course, anyone can write a love-letter—there are even manuals that will give you examples—so what are the recipients to make of such a document? The proposed practice at worst is harmless, so they may make an experiment of trying it out. If the result is an elevating experience, then they have some evidence that the writer is truly writing in love, and a real relationship can evolve. In another sense, without this kind of experience, one is acting in a sort of ignorance. I am reminded of a story that circulated at Harvard when I was a student there. (It was told to me as true, though I assume it is just an urban legend.) A student, it is said, approached his music professor and asked him to recommend a recording of a certain musical piece. “I never listen to the music,” replied the professor, “I only read the score, and if you know what’s good for you, you’ll do the same.”77 The professor, no doubt, knew everything about the music, but also knew nothing. If one follows the halakhot of Shabbat without knowing the human experience of Shabbat, one is much like the legendary professor. (Of course, I doubt that such a person could long persist in observing Shabbat.) Approaching it from the other end, a person who is just learning about Shabbat may need to begin


Havdalah as Experience: Bidding Farewell to Shabbat

by doing it, hopefully until a moving human experience results; otherwise he or she has no idea of what Shabbat is. Fortunately, the experience of Shabbat is one that can be cultivated. The process is not dissimilar to that of learning to appreciate wine or of seeking to cultivate in oneself any other desirable but elusive taste. It may take much time and repeated tastings before the distinctive qualities of the various wines become apparent. It may take much time and many Shabbatot before the glory of Shabbat is revealed to the observer; and, frankly, some never seem to reach the point of revelation. But the possibility is there, and those who try often achieve it. The words of Franz Rosenzweig still speak for many: “For us, observance of the law precedes its theoretical justification.�78 One might add: theoretical justification cannot take place without the meaningful experience of observance, any more than music can be understood without hearing or wine appreciated without tasting.


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NOTES Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., The Common Law (Boston: Little, Brown, 1909), p. 1. The Attah Ḥonantanu paragraph may be found in any traditional siddur; see, e.g., The Koren Siddur, ed. Jonathan Sacks ( Jerusalem: Koren, 2009), pp. 261–262. 3 Halakhic sources such as the Shulḥan Arukh, Oraḥ Ḥayyim 299:10, and Be’eir Heiteiv ad loc. indicate that only the words ha-mavdil bein kodesh l’ḥol are required, but common practice adds barukh. It may be that the barukh was understood to be prefixed. (The Be’eir Heiteiv is a commentary on the Shulḥan Arukh, composed by Yehudah ben Shimon Ashkenazi [1730–1770], a German rabbi, and Zechariah Mendel ben Aryeh Leib, a Polish rabbi, who lived in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.) 4 Eliezer Waldenberg, Tzitz Eliezer ( Jerusalem: Waldenberg, 1984/1985), vol. 11, sect. 34, p. 84. (Waldenberg, who lived from 1915–2006, was a member of the Supreme Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem.) 5 There is a past and present custom for women to end Shabbat by reciting Got fun Avrohom, although I am not aware of any formal halakhic source that validates this custom. It is mentioned, however, in a variety of other sources; see: Macy Nulman (who refers to it as a substitute for Attah Ḥonantanu) in “Prayer and Education in the Life of Jewish Women,” Journal of Jewish Music and Liturgy 19 (1996–1997), pp. 31–41, at p. 39; The Family Zemiros, ed. Nosson Scherman (Brooklyn: Artscroll, 1989), p. 81; and Chava Weissler, Voices of the Matriarchs (Boston: Beacon Press, 1999), p. 252, n. 36. The phenomenon is also described in Yiddish literature. See S. Y. Abramovitsh (Mendele Mokher Seforim), The Wishing-Ring, trans. Michael Wex (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2003) p. 80: “Mrs. Shmulik...begins to sing morosely: ‘God of Abraham, [of Isaac and of Jacob,] now, as the beloved Sabbath departs...’ That’s it. It’s over. She scrapes a match...[and lights] a cheap tallow candle. Everybody says ‘A good week’....” (All ellipses are mine, except the second.) Compare Sholem Aleichem, Wandering Stars, trans. Aliza Shevrin (New York: Viking, 2009), pp. 44, 72; Bezalel Zilberman, Vos Iz Yidishkayt (n.p., n.d), p. 3 (Yiddish section), p. 1 (English section); and the song, Zol Nokh Zayn Shabbes (“Let It Still Be Shabbat”), lyrics by H. Rosenblatt (musical score, New York: Metro Music, 1943); lyrics available online at‫ ;לאז‬English translation in Jane Peppler, I Can’t Complain but Sometimes I Still Do (Chapel Hill, NC: Skylark Productions, 2010), p. 11 (under the title Bobenyu). In the 1939 film Tevya (U.S.A., dir. Maurice Schwartz), Tevya’s wife, Golde, looks out the window, recites Got fun Avrohom, and then lights two candles, showing that she has ended Shabbat. I have included a large number of references here since this custom seems to be sparsely documented: many sources do write about the custom of reciting Got fun Avrohom after Shabbat, but relatively few specifically designate it as a prayer by which one ends Shabbat, after which work is permitted. Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Rimon of Yeshivat Har Etzion, in a personal communication, 1 2


Havdalah as Experience: Bidding Farewell to Shabbat

calls this custom into question, though admitting that “possibly, if one intends to do so, one fulfills one’s obligation of Havdalah” by this recitation. 6 Marcus Jastrow, Dictionary of the Targumim, Talmud Babli, Yerushalmi, and Midrashic Literature (London: Luzac, 1903, with many reprints), s.v. kadash, pp. 1319–1321. 7 The concept thus works much like the English word “dedicated.” One can use it in a perfectly ordinary sense—for example, a part of a library might be dedicated to new books. But one may also speak of something being dedicated to God. 8 The great mystery writer Raymond Chandler wrote, “The ideal mystery was one that you would read if the end was missing” (Later Novels and Other Writings [New York: Library of America, 1995], p. 1017). But even Chandler would not have advised you to tear out the end of the book on purpose! 9 Yosef Tzvi Rimon, “Tosefet Shabbat—Adding Time onto Shabbat,” available for download at; Yosef Tzvi Rimon, “Tosefet Shabbat,” Alon Sh’vut 128 (1990), pp. 67–82. Note that though both articles cover much the same material, neither one is a translation of the other. For further discussion of the tosefet shabbat, see Joseph ben Moses Babad, Minḥat Ḥinukh, 3 vols. (Vilna: Rozenkrants ve-Shriftzetser, 1923), §313, vol. 2, pp. 250–253. (Babad was a nineteenth-century East European rabbi and talmudist who lived from 1801–1874.) See also Rabbi Rimon’s forthcoming Hebrew article on the same subject in his Halakhah Mi-m’korah—Shabbat. I thank Rabbi Rimon for letting me see an advance copy of this article. 10 B. Yoma 81b. 11 B. Mo∙eid Katan 4a. 12 S.A. Oraḥ Ḥayyim 261:2. 13 Elijah ben Solomon Zalman (1720–1797), a great talmudist and leader of the non-ḥasidic community in Lithuania. His commentary to the Shulḥan Arukh was called Bei∙ur Ha-gra. 14 The Bei·ur Halakhah (“Explanation of Jewish Law”) is part of the Mishnah B’rurah. 15 See Bei·ur Ha-gra and Bei·ur Halakhah to the Shulḥan Arukh ad loc. The Mi shnah B’rurah (ad loc) has no such hesitation, and forthrightly states that it is a Torah (as opposed to merely rabbinic) obligation to add to Shabbat, before and after. 16 Rimon, “Tosefet Shabbat—Adding Time onto Shabbat.” There is a lengthy discussion of these issues in the Bei·ur Halakhah commentary to S.A. Oraḥ Ḥayyim 261:2, contained in Israel Meir Kagan, Mishnah B’rurah (Warsaw and Piotrków: n.p., 1896–1907), vol. 3, pp. 64–67. 17 All biblical citations in this essay are based on the NJPS, although rendering the four-letter name of God as “the Eternal” (rather than “Lord”), in keeping with the conventions of this volume. 18 The Or Ha-ḥayyim is a popular commentary on the Torah, written by Ḥayyim ben Moses ibn Attar, an eighteenth-century rabbi born in Morocco. His commentary is included in most rabbinic Bibles (Mikra∙ot G’dolot).


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B. Mo∙eid Katan 16b. The Koren Siddur, p. 244; translation slightly altered. 21 This Hebrew phrase resists facile English translation. Most commonly one finds it as “a foretaste of the world to come,” a rather free translation. More literally, one might say “something of the essence of the world to come” or “a microcosm of the world to come.” The freer translation, however, seems to convey more of the significance of the phrase. 22 B. Berakhot 57b. 23 B. Berakhot 57b. 24 The idea that God and human beings are partners in the creation is found in B. Shabbat 10a and especially 119b. 25 Compare Jacob Emden’s statement: “When a one enters one’s home on motza∙ei shabbat [i.e., at the end of Shabbat], one should begin singing songs and hymns, so that the King [of kings] will be detained further, to show how hard it is to see Him depart. And just as one welcomes Him with joy and song, so one must take one’s leave of Him.” Jacob Emden, Siddur Beit Ya∙akov (Warsaw: Israel Alapin, 1881), p. 406. Emden (1697–1776), also known as Ya∙avetz, was a leading German rabbi and talmudist. He was a firm opponent of the Sabbatean movement. 26 That is, if one extends Shabbat too long, the proper time for saying Maariv (the evening prayer) will have passed. 27 One may conceive of this dialogue taking place between a human being and the Shabbat Queen—who is, after all, a manifestation of God. 28 That is: in the past, the beginning of each Jewish month was determined by observing the new moon, and a holiday might occur a day earlier or later, depending on when the new moon was observed. (Some Muslims still follow this method with respect to their own calendar.) The Jewish calendar is now fixed mathematically and no such variation is possible, but the method of calculation is in itself a human product. 29 B. Pesaḥim 117b, in accord with the practice of the Elders of Pumbedita, mentioned there. 30 For more on the concept of the n’shamah y’teirah, see the essay by Martin S. Cohen elsewhere in this volume. 31 For its mention in the talmud, see B. Beitzah 16a. For the concept in mystical thought, see See Elliot K. Ginsburg, The Sabbath in the Classical Kabbalah (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1989), pp. 121–136. 32 Noam Zion, “Traditional Zemirot in Historical Context: New Translation and Commentary,” available at For the sake of consistency, I have altered the copy here to present the transliterated Hebrew words as they appear elsewhere in this essay and in this volume. 33 Master of many disciplines but perhaps best known for his Torah commentary, Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra (1089–1167) lived in what is now Spain. The remark is cited here as presented by Naom Zion in the above-mentioned essay, based 19 20


Havdalah as Experience: Bidding Farewell to Shabbat

on the text in the Sefer Abudarham (ed. Warsaw, 1877), p. 102, by Rabbi David ben Joseph Abudarham, a fourteenth-century rabbi. 34 Rashba is an acronym for Rabbi Solomon ben Adret (1235–1310), a medieval halakhist, and talmudist. 35 This citation too comes from the Sefer Abudarham, as cited by Noam Zion in the essay mentioned just above. 36 Rabbi Solomon Yitzḥaki (1040–1105), commenting on B. Beitzah 16a, s.v. n’shamah y’teirah. 37 One might ask: If there are no weeds, pests, or destructive diseases in the Garden, as was apparently the case before Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, what kind of work remained to be done? But clearly, there is much left to do: Adam and Eve would still need to prune the trees and shrubs, train the vines, water tender young plants, remove spent flowers, and so on. One could thus do all the pleasant work of gardening without the drudgery and frustration that come with gardening in our current world. 38 I can speak from some experience: the staff of a botanical garden once asked me to find seeds of the yellowwood tree in northwest Arkansas, its westernmost native stand. I went forth in search of a yellowwood tree, a rather seldom-seen denizen of the Arkansas forest. As I looked, the multitude of oaks and maples faded into the background and the yellowwood, when I came across it, shone forth vividly. 39 William Gewirtz, Bein Hashemashot, pp. 90–91; and ibid., Bein Hashemashot Epilogue, p. 29; both available online at A “depression angle” is defined by Irv Bromberg as “the angle between the sea level horizon, the center of Earth, and the center of the solar disk”; see his “Duration of Twilight,” available online at 40 William Gewirtz, “Zemannim: The Introduction of New Constructs in Halakhah,” Torah U-madda Journal 16 (2012–2013), p. 158. 41 I am planning to write a separate paper dealing with this issue. I present here a simplified account. 42 Gewirtz, Bein Hashemashot, p. 90. 43 I thus disagree with William Gewirtz, who writes that “I know of no instance where depression angles would yield a different result than (careful) observation” (“Zemannim,” p. 160). 44 Bromberg, “The Duration of Twilight,” §1. 45 Hugo Grotius, Annotata ad Vetus Testamentum (1629; Paris: Cramoisy, 1944), vol. 1, comment on Joshua 10:13. 46 I.e., Pedro Nunes, 1492–1577. 47 L. P. Kämtz, A Complete Course of Meteorology, trans. C. V. Walker (London: Hippolyte Baillière, 1845), pp. 410–411. Although some of Kämtz’s theoretical views have been superseded, there is no reason to question his observations. These long twilights were due to the atmospheric dust produced by a number of


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volcanoes; see Aden B. Meinel, Sunsets, Twilights, and Evening Skies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 48–49. 48 Royal Society Krakatoa Committee, The Eruption of Krakatoa and Subsequent Phenomena (London: Trübner & Co., 1888), p. 153 (report of Rev. S. E. Bishop), p. 284 (report from Muscat, Sept. 12), p. 295 (report from Haslemere, Surrey, Nov. 9), p. 297 (reports from Missouri and New Westminster, B.C., Nov. 23), and elsewhere. 49 “Halakhic man” is Soloveitchik’s ideal type of a person who follows the halakhah simply because it is the halakhah, without considering other motives; see Joseph Dov Soloveitchik, Halakhic Man (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1983; originally published in Hebrew as Ish Ha-halakhah [New York: n.p., 1944]). Soloveitchik, also known as Joseph Ber Soloveitchik (1903–1993), was an American Orthodox rabbi, talmudist, and modern Jewish philosopher, regarded as one of the leaders of Modern Orthodoxy. 50 Immanuel Kant, Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, §1, in, e.g., the edition edited and translated by Allen W. Wood (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), pp. 9–21. 51 The sounds of three of these creatures may be heard at the only Encyclopedia of Life, the nighthawk is #XC52376; the common true katydid is #137218 , the lesser angle-wing katydid is #121076. Cicada songs of various species can be heard at “Cicadas of the United States and Canada East of the 100th Meridian,” available at The most common cicada in the area in question is known by the scientific name of Tibicen tibicen tibicen. 52 Perek Shirah lists a large number of created things—living and non-living— and tells precisely which words of praise to God each thing utters. Most are taken from the Book of Psalms. The dog, for example, says “Come, let us bow down and kneel, bend the knee before the Eternal our maker” (Psalm 95:6). The cat says, “I pursued my enemies and overtook them; I did not turn back till I destroyed them” (Psalm 18:38). The date of its composition is not known. The earliest manuscript dates from the tenth century CE. Malachi Beit-Arié, who edited the scholarly edition of Perek Shirah, dates it to “a very early period of Jewish mysticism,” i.e., the first few centuries of the Common Era. See Joseph M. Baumgarten, “Perek Shirah, an Early Response to Psalm 151,” Revue de Qumran 9 (1978), pp. 575–578, at p. 576. The idea that created things praise God was already old at the time that Perek Shirah was composed. See, for example, Psalm 148. 53 Immanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, trans. Mary Gregor (1997; rev. ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), conclusion, p. 129. 54 Anachronistically, of course: there were no clocks in Isaiah’s time. 55 Sacha Stern, Time and Process in Ancient Judaism (Oxford: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2003), chap. 2, “Timing and Time-Reckoning,” pp. 46–58. See also his “The Rabbinic Concept of Time from Late Antiquity to the Middle


Havdalah as Experience: Bidding Farewell to Shabbat

Ages,” in Time and Eternity: The Medieval Discourse, ed. Gerhard Jaritz and Gerson Moreno-Riaño (Turhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2003), pp. 129–145. Stern is Head of the Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at University College London, and a noted expert on the Jewish ways of measuring time. 56 S.A. Oraḥ Ḥayyim 293:2. The definition of twilight—bein ha-sh’mashot—in terms of the time required to walk a mil (the Rabbinic Hebrew word cognate to our word “mile”) is mentioned there in connection with beginning Shabbat but not the end: see Oraḥ Ḥayyim 261:2. Mil is used both to a unit of linear measure (2,000 cubits) and as the amount of time required to walk that distance. 57 Mishnah B’rurah to Oraḥ Ḥayyim 261:2. 58 I.e., the daily prayers of the church, such as Matins, Lauds, and Vespers. 59 Alexandre Koyré, “Du monde de l`à-peu-près’ à l’univers de la precision” in his Études d’histoire de la pensée philosophique (Paris: A. Colin, 1981), pp. 311–239, at p. 323; my translation. Koyré (1892–1964) was a French philosopher specializing in the history and philosophy of science. Lucien Febvre (1878–1956), cited by Koyré, was a noted French historian, initial editor of the Encyclopédie française. We could note similar phenomena in many fields of endeavor, but let medicine suffice. One of the chief concepts of pre-modern medicine was that of the temperament, the balance of the fundamental qualities of hot, cold, moist, and dry. As Lester S. King notes, most of the followers of Galen—one of the great figures of medical theory—thought of a temperament as involving a mixture of elements in “due proportion,” “but what constitutes the due proportion is not made explicit. There is no numerical expression. Indeed, the need for quantitative determination was not felt” (Lester S. King, The Road to Medical Enlightenment [London: Macdonald, 1970], pp. 19–20). It was not until the seventeenth century, with physicians such as Santorio Santorio, that medical doctors began taking numerical measure of weight, pulse, and temperature, and eventually mathematizing the temperament. (See Arturo Castiglioni, “Life and Work of Sanctorius,” Medical Life 38 [1931], pp. 730–785; and Jacob Adler, “Mortality of the Soul from Alexander of Aphrodisias to Spinoza,” in Spinoza and Medieval Jewish Philosophy, ed. Steven Nadler [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014], pp. 26–32.) 60 Gewirtz, Bein Hashemashot, p. 25 (text and n. 38) and pp. 125–126. 61 Bei·ur Halakhah to Oraḥ Ḥayyim 261.2, s.v. she-hu 3 milin u-r’via. Gewirtz (Bein Hashemashot, p. 126) criticizes this approach on the grounds that the time needed to walk a mil is invariant. 62 See Gewirtz, “Zemannim,” p. 171. 63 Rabbi Barry Kornblau, “Halakhic Jews and Modern Time” §III, available at 64 Ibid.; see also Gewirtz, Bein Hashemashot, epilogue, pp. 1 and 18. 65 Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, “Shulklaper,” available at classes/bkg/MK/MK_images/pages/shulklapper.html. The quotation no doubt


Jacob Adler

is elliptical: it should surely be understood to mean, “Women! Women! It’s time to light the candles and for your menfolk to go to the synagogue.” 66 Standard time was adopted by U.S. railroads in 1883. Most cities and towns went along, but local option existed, and a significant number of localities stuck to their local, non-standard times. Standard time did not enter federal law of the U.S. until 1918, and even then local option was still allowed (though uncommon) until 1967. See Ian R. Bartky, “The Adoption of Standard Time,” Technology and Culture 30:1 (1989), pp. 25–56. 67 Mumford Lewis, Technics and Civilization (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1934), p. 17. 68 In addition to Lewis’s just-cited work, see also E. P. Thompson, “Time, Labor Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism,” Past & Present 38 (1967), pp. 56–97. 69 As suggested by Gewirtz, Bein Hashemashot Epilogue, p. 23. 70 Ibid., pp. 22–23; Haym Soloveitchik, “Rupture and Reconstruction: The Transformation of Contemporary Orthodoxy,” Tradition 28 (1994), pp. 64–130; Menachem Friedman, “Life Tradition and Book Tradition in the Development of Ultra-Orthodox Judaism,” in Judaism from Within and from Without: Anthropological Studies, ed. Harvey Goldberg (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987), pp. 235–255. 71 The generalized equation is , where is the hour angle, a the altitude of the sun above or below the horizon, the latitude, and the sun declination (“Sunrise Equation” at—clearly beyond the capability of all but a very few. 72 Soloveitchik, Halakhic Man, pp. 85–87. 73 Quoted from one of Heschel’s lectures by Samuel H. Dresner, Heschel, Hasidism, and Halakha (New York: Fordham University Press, 2002). Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907–1972) was a Polish-born American rabbi and one of the leading Jewish theologians and Jewish philosophers of the twentieth century. He taught for many years at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. 74 Joseph B. Soloveitchik, “Al Ahavat Ha-torah U-ge’ullat Nefesh Ha-dor,” in his B’sod Ha-yaḥid V’ha-yaḥad ( Jerusalem: Orot, 1976), pp. 407–408; and cf. Jeffrey R. Wolff, “Time Awareness as a Source of Spirituality in the Thought of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik,” Modern Judaism 32 (2012), p. 56. See also Soloveitchik’s “A Tribute to the Rebbitzen [sic] of Talne,” Tradition 17 (1978), pp. 76–78. 75 Soloveitchik warmly describes his experience of Shabbat: “Most of all I learned [from my mother] that Judaism expresses itself not only in formal compliance with the law but also in a living experience. She taught me that there is a flavor, a scent and warmth to mitzvot [performance of the commandments].... The Shabbat as a living entity, as a queen, was revealed to me by my mother...” (Soloveitchik, “A Tribute to the Rebbitzen of Talne,” p. 77). These are hardly the words of a “halakhic man.”


Havdalah as Experience: Bidding Farewell to Shabbat

Soloveitchik, Halakhic Man, p. 19. The story sounds like an exaggeration of a truth. The Harvard Music Department then defined itself primarily as a musicology department, and performance studies were looked down on as un-academic. Much study did in fact involve the analysis of musical scores. 78 Franz Rosenzweig, Letter to Joseph Prager of July 24, 1925, in his Briefe und Tagebßcher (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1979), vol. 1, p. 1055, cited here in the translation of Samuel Hugo Bergman as published in the latter’s Faith and Reason (New York: Schocken, 1963), p. 76. 76 77


Havdalah: Does It Separate or Combine? A Memoir and a Legacy

Havdalah: Does It Separate or Combine? A Memoir and a Legacy Jeremy Rosen

Some three hundred of us crowded into the hall of the stately mansion that American railway magnate Jay Gould had built on his estate on the banks of the River Thames, south of Oxford. Since 1953, it had been home to a Jewish Boarding School called Carmel College. Carmel had been founded in 1948 by my father, Rabbi Dr. Kopul Rosen (1913–1962). Most of its pupils, however, were there less for a religious education than for its secular curriculum, which was based on that of the great English public schools. It was Saturday late afternoon, as the long dusk of northern climes very slowly turned day into night. The majority of the students came from non-observant homes. Many were sent away to school reluctantly. The impositions of a traditional Shabbat were hard to bear without telephones or televisions permitted, without being allowed to write. For most it was a hardship. We had been forced to attend traditional Shabbat services, unfamiliar and unintelligible. We had sat through three festive meals, during which each course was interspersed with singing z’mirot. These songs, based in the main on sixteenth-century mystical poems, would have been familiar to those of us brought up in traditional homes. They were designed to be uplifting, joyous, and spiritual. They were educational exercises in which we had to sing, under compulsion, verses in a language we did not understand. Rabbi Kopul, our headmaster, would randomly select pupils to sing a verse


Jeremy Rosen

each, or ask for volunteers. The rest would join in the chorus. We stumbled over our tasks in embarrassed incompetence. School, after all, was school. The Shabbat meals were in many ways the highlight of the week, at least in culinary terms. Shabbat food was always better. We looked forward to Shabbat only because we were allowed to stay in bed later than normal. Otherwise the day dragged. It was not that we had no latitude, particularly during the long northern Sabbath days of summer. We were privileged to be living on a magnificent country estate. In between services and meals, we could play sports informally on the extensive playing fields or sit in the long grass reading or playing games. We could walk the countryside or lounge under the willow trees on the river banks and watch the boats go up and down. It was all part of our privileged education in two cultures. We suffered it at the time, the way most kids are unappreciative of the values of discipline and education. But looking back, there was one feature of the Shabbat at our school that most of us remember with affection and inspiration. That was the Havdalah ceremony that brought Shabbat to an end and returned us to our more familiar secular routines. We would be herded in to the baronial hall that served as our synagogue, resentful of our recreations being interrupted. There, a broad majestic wooden staircase descended against the sandstone wall, past the Mane Katz painting of Moses in hasidic dress receiving the Torah on Sinai and into the hall where the chairs were laid out facing the portable ark. Friday night services were not too long and singing Lekha Dodi was pleasant enough. But Shabbat morning was long: two services, interspersed with reading the Torah reading and chanting of the haftarah. On Saturday afternoons, we had to go through yet another service, MinḼah (the afternoon service). Students conducted all the services. We would judge them on the expertise or incompetence they displayed while leading the prayers


Havdalah: Does It Separate or Combine? A Memoir and a Legacy

or reading from the Torah. During the services some, mainly the younger, less self-conscious of us, participated enthusiastically in the singing. Others remained silent, some reading more familiar texts or comics they had smuggled in. Most just daydreamed their way through it. When Minḥah was over, the sun began to set. Kopul presided over all the proceedings. He was a tall, commanding figure. During the week he walked around the campus in a long black academic gown and often wore a mortarboard on his head. On Shabbat and festivals, however, he wore a dark, Saville Row tailored suit. He was magnetic, his smile winsome, his eyes deeply brown and arresting above his imperial beard. In addition to his handsome and strong presence, he had a warm lyrical voice, soft and melodious—and not at all cantorial—that he used to advantage on religious occasions. His voice rang out in his flights of oratory, rising and falling with emphasis, like a song. It was compelling and often overwhelming. But he was also fearsome, sometimes dominating, moody and unpredictable. Kopul had been born in London, but educated spiritually in Mir in Lithuania. His mentor was Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz (1873–1936), who had been the greatest figure of the Musar movement of his age. Reb Yerucham, as he was known, was himself a very impressive and powerful personality. His emphasis on introspection had come directly from Rabbi Israel Salanter (1810–1883), the founder of the Musar movement. But Reb Yerucham had added a musical, mystical, meditative element to the Musar tradition he had inherited. My father revered him, and it was his style that his pupil brought to the school he founded. After Minḥah in the early evening, the darkness began to fall outside. The tall, mature trees cast their shadows and out across the fields odd lights began to pierce the dark from the other side of the river. In the hall everyone sat in silence. The tall, imposing figure of my father (whom everyone called Kopul) commanded us to close


Jeremy Rosen

our eyes and to think about our lives, about the week that had passed, what we had done well and what we had done badly. If the past week had not been what we had hoped for, we were instructed to strive to improve on it in the week ahead. Kopul asked us to evaluate everything about ourselves, what we were happy with and what disappointed us. He gave us little homilies and then encouraged us to meditate, to envision soft velvet, or too look through closed eyes at black and white fire ahead of us. (He had books of Hindu and Buddhist writers on his shelves, in between the talmudic texts). Then, after a few minutes of silence, he would start humming a Musar tune from Mir. It was a slow, reflective, wordless tune. He started very quietly and gradually got louder. Then we, hesitatingly at first, but with increasing strength and feeling, joined in as the humming, the wordless songs, continued on, a silent meditative break, and then on again. If some of us sniggered at it all to begin with, somehow the spirit caught us up and nearly all of us eventually gave in to the atmosphere and participated. In between each one of the four regular and familiar melodies, he would talk to us as we were seated silently in the gloom. He would speak quietly but forcefully, his voice rising to a crescendo as he became more animated about some aspect of Jewish life, some idea that would, he hoped, inspire us to appreciate the beauty as well as the functionality of Torah. Sometimes he would talk about keeping Judaism alive within ourselves, or our obligations to our home communities. Sometimes he would talk about external challenges. Often he would express his profound commitment to the idea and reality of Israel as the Jewish homeland. When eventually it became dark outside, one of the pupils would get up to lead the Maariv service. If some took it seriously, most just sat there longing for Shabbat to end so that they could find out the latest football scores (if they hadn’t already surreptitiously and illegally done so). And so we came to Havdalah.


Havdalah: Does It Separate or Combine? A Memoir and a Legacy

Up to the bimah Kopul strode, and called out for two boys to join him. One held the candle and the other the spices. A prefect brought the silver cup and wine. Kopul poured the wine, and then lit the large intertwined candle and signalled to a boy to switch the lights off. In the darkness of inside and out, the candle flame sputtered and flickered as its light radiated around the ornate hall with its beamed ceilings, its sandstone walls, its cornices and carved wooden door frames, its leaded windows. It illuminated Kopul’s handsome head, his eyes shut in concentration. When he was ready he commanded us to stand and when he was satisfied with the silence he began. “Hinneih El y’shu·ati evtaḥ v’lo efḥad,” he sang out: “God is my support; I will trust and not fear.” His voice rang around the hall. We were focused on his illuminated face, his eyes closed in concentration. In the dark there was no other sound. Hundreds of boys and young men were standing transfixed, like a silent army of devotees. He went through the rituals: putting down the cup, smelling the spices, looking down at the fingers of his two hands curved in the light of the flame. The moment he sipped from the cup, the lights were switched on. The spell was broken. The undercurrent of talking and shuffling returned and the imaginary walls that had separated holy from profane magically disappeared, in an instant. It was an experience. But it was also a lesson. One of Kopul’s favorite themes was that we usually think of Havdalah, the Hebrew word for “division,” just as we generally talk of division in English. There are divisions between social classes, political opinions, league tables in sport. All these divisions divide negatively. One is higher or better than the other. In our Western culture, we like to create divisions. Good fences make good neighbors. We differentiate, and usually the differentiation is competitive. To differ is to divide. Greek thought posited a divide between the two eternal substances: matter and soul, body and mind. Eternal spirit was obviously superior.


Jeremy Rosen

If the mind was busy contemplating ultimate truth and the body intervened to demand sleep or food, then obviously the body was to blame for the distraction and halting the pursuit of the most important thing in our universe—hence the idea that platonic love was the highest form of love of which human beings were deemed capable. In such a world, a line in the Havadalah liturgy that acclaims God as the One “who divides between holy and mundane, between light and darkness, between Israel and the nations, between the seventh day and the six days of activity� implies both a preference and superiority for one item in each pair over the other. But such superiority only increases divisiveness. Surely the goal, eventually, must be to unite and to combine. In fact, Havdalah can be understood to imply the truth that differences are actually complementary. Heaven and earth are divided, not to oppose each other but to supplement, to add different areas or zones of activity. Night and day, light and dark, are just different phases of the same continuum. We need them both. Humans cannot manage without them both. Israel and the other nations of the world are interconnected. Religions and cultures interact and yet they are different, each with its own saints and significant people to sustain it. The seventh day is not in opposition to the six days of physical activity; they complement each other. In this way Havdalah is not simply about proclaiming separation, but rather a recognition that differences are important and necessary, and can become greater than the sum of the parts. The human and the Divine are not the same, but they are both necessary components of this world. And this idea turned into a homily about school that Kopul liked to repeat. We were an international school. Pupils came from all over the Jewish world: from Israel and the Diaspora, from Arab lands and from Christian lands, Ashkenazic and Sephardic, rich and poor. There were even some non-Jewish pupils as well. Some students were very bright intellectually; others struggled. The tendency, Kopul


Havdalah: Does It Separate or Combine? A Memoir and a Legacy

said, would always be for children to be cruel and make fun of differences. But we had to embrace differences. We were living in a society of divisions: different houses, different classes, different age groups. Each individual was living in a specific space and a particular classroom that was appropriate for each pupil to grow and develop. The younger ones lived in more protected houses with more housemothers and staff, while older pupils were more independent. Some needed remedial help, while others were so advanced they had to be given additional projects and tasks. But if we let those categories and spaces constrict us or limit us, then we would not be able to grow. We had to look beyond the divisions. Rabbi Kopul was an admirer of Dr. Thomas Arnold of Rugby (1745–1842), who had brought reforms to the English public schools of the nineteenth century and who was very sympathetically depicted in Thomas Hughes’s once-famous 1857 novel, Tom Brown’s School Days. In Britain these so-called public schools were, and remain, the elite schools of the country. Their best students would go on to Oxford or Cambridge universities and thence to the top tiers of the British hierarchy. But Rabbi Kopul, for all that he admired the academic, cultural, and sporting prowess of the public schools, felt that they lacked the warmth and human dimension that his Judaism had to offer. Our school was not to be just an academic institution, in his vision. It had to be a model for life, for Jewish life. From there we were led to think about our roles in the Jewish communities we came from, and to which we would return—and from there on to our position in the Jewish people and society. These were the messages that our mentor hammered home to us: the competing ideals of Athens and Jerusalem. Later on in life as I pondered issues of Judaism, as a religion, a culture, and a people, I found this idea of Kopul’s inspirational. So many biblical texts that touched on the idea of division and separation seemed, on the surface, to be restrictive. Separate spaces


Jeremy Rosen

are mentioned first in creation between firmaments, land and sea. And then in the construction of separate floors and partitions in Noah’s ark. The idea of separations on Mount Sinai—with Moses at the top, the priests and elders halfway down the slope, and the people at the bottom—offended my sense of egalitarianism. And the three separate chambers of the Tabernacle—with the High Priest in the Holy of Holies, the other priests in the inner court, and the people in the outer court—paralleled the three division at Sinai. There are periods of separation in biblical law. Husbands and wives have periods of separation. Those who are sick are separated until they are healed or the disease is no longer infectious. And there are priests who may and those who may not eat sacrificial meat. All such separations are linked the words for time such as eit, z’man, or mo·eid. Festivals are called mo∙adim as well, pointing to the fact that they occupy separate time in the liturgical calendar. These divisions are not intended to constitute value judgments, just the recognition of separate spaces and appropriate and inappropriate times and activities. Indeed, the idea that everything is different and yet connected is a core theme of Kohelet: “There is a time for everything” (3:1). Whichever word for time is used, it has multiple implications of difference yet completion. Differentiation between impure and pure (tamei and tahor) animals, people, and places is symbolic of difference in a creative way: to enhance awareness, to prepare for a higher calling, to link the physical and the spiritual. Tamei and tahor are often translated as “impure” and “pure,” or “unclean” and “clean”—which words do indeed conjure up good and bad, but that is not necessarily what is intended. A more nuanced and sensitive translation of the terms is called for (as Mary Douglas pointed out in Leviticus as Literature ).1 The tamei/ tahor distinction is rather meant to highlight the recognition of different states within people and among people, to give them spaces to recover or to grow. In certain times and certain spaces, people or


Havdalah: Does It Separate or Combine? A Memoir and a Legacy

activities might be inappropriate, for reasons of modesty or to carry out specific and restricted functions. The idea of Havdalah therefore falls into this category—just like the Hebrew root kof-dalet-shin, which can generate the word for holy (kadosh), but which can also generate entirely profane terms (as in Deuteronomy 23:18). Havdalah, in recognizing different times and states, teaches that we can separate for bad, setting apart in a negative way. But we can also separate for good, to achieve something more and better. Instead of cutting off Shabbat and consigning it to the past, Havdalah is an invitation to integrate Shabbat and carry its values on into the week ahead.


Jeremy Rosen


Mary Douglas, Leviticus as Literature (Oxford and New York: Oxford

University Press, 1999).


The Artist Makes Havdalah

The Artist Makes Havdalah David Greenstein As for myself, I was asked in 1950 at the time of my first one-man show, What is my aesthetic? What can I offer as guidelines to my work? I said then that my entire aesthetic can be found in the Passover service. At the Passover seder, which was also Jesus’ last meal, the blessing is always made to distinguish between the profane and the sacred: “Blessed be thou, O Lord, who distinguishes between what is holy and what is not holy.” And when the Passover falls on the Sabbath, the Jew is caught in a dilemma between the holiness of the festival and the holiness of the Sabbath, which is holier than any other festival except the Day of Atonement; and his blessing then becomes, “Blessed be thou, O Lord, who distinguishes between what is holy and what is holy.” That’s the problem, the artistic problem, and, I think, the true spiritual dimension. —Barnett Newman1 The distinguished modernist American painter Barnett Newman reached into his Jewish roots for a way to formulate his approach to art-making. He saw the ceremony of Havdalah as a perfect encapsulation of the artist’s point of departure. The artist embarks upon making a work impelled by a spiritual problem, the need to carve out something definite and substantial. The work of art needs its own separate space differentiating it from all else, whether the differentiation be between mundane and holy or even between holy and holy.


David Greenstein

But Newman misremembered the details of the Havdalah ceremony. He recalled that the basic blessing is a celebration of God as the One who “distinguishes between what is holy and what is not holy.” However, he mistakenly recalled that this blessing was recited at the Passover seder. It is not—Havdalah is most commonly recited at the end of Shabbat and is not recited at a Passover seder unless that seder takes place right after Shabbat is over. It is traditionally recited every week to mark the transition from the Sabbath day, at week’s end, to the beginning of the six mundane days of the next week. And the second version of the blessing, “who distinguishes between what is holy and what is holy,” is not recited when Passover falls on Shabbat, but rather when Passover immediately follows on the heels of Shabbat—when the end of Shabbat does not lead to a mundane day, but to another sacred day, albeit a day of a different sanctity.2 Still, what difference does it make? These mistakes do not seem essentially to undermine his main point.3 While Newman may have misrepresented the exact details of the ritual, the point is not lost. He has compared the artistic problem to the problem of distinguishing between holy and mundane, and between different types or levels of holiness. And, to borrow from another famous element of the Passover seder: isn’t that dayenu, enough for us? But perhaps the mistake is more important, after all, for it raises the question that lies at the heart of celebrating the act of making distinctions. Which distinctions are important and which are not? What differences make a difference and what differences do not? When is making a distinction a positive act and when is it meaningless or, worse still, destructive? Because of the seriousness of this last question, the current, postmodern Western zeitgeist contains strong voices that challenge the need to make distinctions and the view of reality underlying any claims of difference—while simultaneously calling for increased acceptance of all types of difference. A recent review of an art exhibition begins:


The Artist Makes Havdalah

One of the great gifts that multiculturalist thinking gave us was final freedom from the tyranny of purity. Simply put, that old ideal was revealed as an illusion. It doesn’t exist, at least not in art. There, in reality, everything is a mix. Wonderfully, the longer and closer we look, the richer the mix becomes. And this has always been true. Globalism, which we take to be so 21st century, with its networks and mash-ups, is as old as the hills.4 The ideal of purity depends on the possibility of differentiating and then isolating an object, concept, or person from anyone or anything else, preventing it from intermingling with anything else and, if need be, extricating it from any such polluting situation. Differentiation is fundamental to the notion and value of purity. Here it is called an illusion. But, even further, the idea is accused of exercising tyranny on us in the past—a tyranny from which we have, fortunately, been freed. The argument that making distinctions is wrong may sometimes rest on ontological theories that deny pure essences. But, more commonly, influential proponents of this argument base themselves not on philosophical concepts, but rather on considerations of social theory. Feminists, especially, have extensively argued that making distinctions too often leads to hierarchical thinking and that hierarchical thinking is historically and presently a tool of oppression. The problem, as experienced by feminists, is that “difference” is all too often considered as grounds for evaluation. One thing or person is distinguished from another by being superior or inferior in comparison. The very word “distinguished” carries the meaning of “respected.” The very word “discrimination” cannot be uttered without thinking of the terrible history of oppression to which it is tied. Applying this critique to Jewish practice and thought, Judith Plaskow has written, “This hierarchical understanding of difference is perhaps the most significant barrier to the feminist reconceptualization


David Greenstein

of Jewish community.”5 Therefore it is not surprising that the ceremony of Havdalah—the blessing celebrating the power to discriminate— has been one of many practices subjected to radical questioning. The contemporary Jewish liturgist Marcia Falk writes: God is praised for having distinguished between the parts (the implicitly oppositional poles) in each of the following pairs: the holy and the not-holy6…light and darkness, Israel and the (other) nations, the seventh day and the six days of work. What makes this blessing feel particularly inappropriate to many Jews today is its analogy between the categorical, value-laden dualism of holy and not-holy and the proposed dualism of Israel and the nations....In this context, Sabbath and Israel are presumed to be holy, while the “others” mentioned are not. To many Jews today, this idea is unacceptable.7 If one accepts the terms of the Jewish feminist critique, and if one is willing to grant that past understandings of the traditional blessing did presume to celebrate a hierarchy of distinctions that elevates holy above mundane and Israel above all other nations, may one yet find another understanding of the traditional text, one that does not celebrate discrimination per se, while yet celebrating our powers of “discrimination”? Falk’s critique leads her to reject the traditional text of the Havdalah blessing, substituting a version of her own. But can it be that all distinctions are invalid? Is there no way to exercise our powers of discrimination without falling into the negative meaning of the term?8 Falk continues: Yet our need for distinctions is real; indeed, the recognition of differences is part of our very appreciation of life. Just as the process of individual human growth involves learning to distinguish the self from other selves, so human cultures


The Artist Makes Havdalah

distinguish themselves from one another to emerge as discrete—though still interrelated—entities within the greater whole of human civilization.9 Rather, she explains, the issue is the pernicious tendency to always equate difference with unequal value. So the question becomes: Which differences participate in a hierarchical scale of evaluation and which do not? And then, can we distinguish between them?10 If we return to examine Barnett Newman’s statement again, we can see that it can be read in a dialectical relationship with these questions. On the one hand, for instance, he cherishes the traditional blessings as meaningful acts that he aspires to emulate. Making distinctions is a value to which he has devoted his artistic life. On the other hand, however, by adopting the ceremony of Havdalah as his paradigm, he blurs the distinction between religious ritual and art-making. Moreover, as a result of this blurring of the lines, he also appears to call into question the specific distinction that even Falk is willing to concede to be a basic example of a value-laden distinction: the difference between the holy and the profane. In blurring the distinction between ritual and aesthetic concerns, Newman’s appeal to the ha-mavdil blessing (that is, the final blessing of the Havdalah liturgy, in which the distinctions are enumerated) as an expression of his (and every artist’s) aesthetic may be seen as another example of the tendency of modernist Western artists and cultural producers (critics, collectors, etc.) to engage in the appropriation of the religious and cultural products of other groups and civilizations for their own purposes. This serves the purposes of cultural and political imperialism and paternalism, which are, themselves, based on discrimination between what is conceived of as the advanced as opposed to the primitive. This appropriative process has often entailed the de-sacralizing of the ritual or object as it is extracted from its original context.11


David Greenstein

But Newman’s case is certainly different than, say, Picasso’s seeking formal or psychic inspiration in an African mask plundered from its original setting. For one thing, Newman is appealing to his own religious tradition and not to one belonging to some other group. Yet Newman was not speaking as a practicing Jew, but as a practicing artist, using a particular ritual statement because of its transferable applicability. The ironies continue to multiply as we consider the context of his statement, which was originally formulated in response to a Christian cleric’s appreciation of Newman’s set of paintings on the Christian theme of the Stations of the Cross.12 We may wonder who is doing the appropriating and who or what is being appropriated. It is not too much to imagine that Newman himself felt it necessary to reassert his own distinct identity as a Jew in the face of these wellmeaning appropriations operating in so many directions at once. Can we, in turn, appropriate Newman’s aesthetic use of the Havdalah blessing for our own purposes? Can we use his claim in order to clarify the troubling relationship that seems to exist between making important distinctions and subscribing to egregious hierarchies? Besides trying to make distinctions that do not convey hierarchical judgments, is it also possible to create hierarchies that are not essentially immoral? Perhaps Newman’s assertion that making Havdalah is “the artist’s problem” can move us to make a useful differentiation between types of hierarchical distinctions. As noted above, what too often happens when we discriminate between two things, peoples, actions, or situations is that we take the distinctions to express a set of hierarchies that are categorical, absolute, and rooted in the essence of those things. That path leads to hatred and oppression, and must be carefully avoided. But the artistic endeavor engages in making meaningful choices, of a hierarchical nature, that are limited in time and space. The decisions regarding, for example, which colors to use, how much of them, in what intensity, and so on, are necessary and


The Artist Makes Havdalah

constitutive of the work of art being produced. But such choices say nothing about these colors, amounts, placements, etc. in an essential way. Thus, when choosing a certain blue to make a mark on the canvas, the artist determines that such a color, in all its particular characteristics of intensity, shape, viscosity, and the rest, is better than any other blue, or any other color for the making of this work.13 But this choice says nothing about blue being essentially better than red or orange or purple. And, within the work, as well, a hierarchy is created between that blue patch and the rest of the elements on the canvas, including other colors, the blank canvas, or other materials. That hierarchy is definitive for this work of art. Yet is says nothing about ranking any of these elements in general. The hierarchies that an artist establishes are absolutely necessary, but they are completely provisional. They serve only for the sake of making this specific work of art come into being. Thus, although they are only temporary, they are, for that work, essential and definitive. When such hierarchies are put into play, then, the work is determined by the artist to be finished and the viewer beholds a work that has sufficient power to command attention. On the other hand, the artist and the viewer of the work created must acknowledge that the hierarchies established in this particular work are not permanently set, for if this work exhibited such a permanent and essential hierarchy, that would mean that no other works of art could be additionally produced. The absolutizing of this provisional set of hierarchies would spell the death of the art process and the end of culture. If we agree to separate between the category of productive, provisional hierarchical distinctions necessary for making a work, and the type of hierarchical distinctions that seek to ascribe fixed essences to people and things—distinctions that are usually arbitrary at best and all too commonly immoral in declaration and in effect— can we determine which kind of distinctions are celebrated in the traditional Havdalah blessing?


David Greenstein

To do this, we should pay attention to the examples of distinctive dyads (pairs of associated terms) that the ha-mavdil blessing lists. As noted, the list attributes to God the act of differentiating between holy and mundane, light and darkness, Israel and the nations [of the world], and the seventh day [Sabbath] and the six work days. (When a festival follows on the heels of Shabbat, the list also mentions the distinction between Shabbat holiness and festival holiness.) Clearly this is a very selective list. There are so many other examples that we could imagine listing but that are absent.14 Why are these items included while other possibilities are not? Why, for instance, is there no mention of the distinction between “good” and “evil”?15 This is arguably the most outstanding distinction we would want to make, and it is missing! Perhaps the blessing does not include the distinction between good and evil because that difference is not a provisional distinction of a temporary hierarchy. Good is ever and always other than and better than evil. That distinction is, by definition, hierarchical in essence, and, apparently, has no place in the Havdalah blessing. This suggests that the list of distinctions that is incorporated in the Havdalah blessing should not be read, despite our habit of doing so, as a list of dyads that participate in essential hierarchies. The blessing does not mean to include a list of examples of pairs of things or groups that exist in a hierarchical relationship one to the other. Neither term in each pair is meant to be higher or lower than the other in essence. Rather, just as artists rely on their ability to make decisive distinctions for the purpose of making specific works presently occupying their attention, so each pair of contrasts in this blessing comprises elements that may be preferred or deferred as the need of the moment and the demands of “the work” dictate.16 These dyads are examples of contrasts, but the contrasts do not require assigning value to one over the other. They may participate in provisional hierarchies, but they do not occupy elevated or lowered


The Artist Makes Havdalah

stations essentially. This is so, for example, for light and dark, despite common views that put one above the other. Rather, if we take seriously the exclusion of good and evil from our list, then we must resist the common attribution of goodness to light and evil to darkness, and acknowledge instead that each has its uses and times, with their hierarchical placement alternating accordingly.17 Holy and mundane is also such a pair. “Holy” may be essentially better than “not-holy,” since the latter is defined solely as a negation of the former. But “mundane” is not so defined; it has its place just as much as “holy.” The mundane is not stigmatized per se by the tradition. What is abhorred is the erasing of the distinction between holy and mundane. We can argue that the distinction is a meaningful one for the sake of the work being created—the making and experiencing of our world—but it does not indicate a hierarchical pairing. And this applies to the Sabbath and the rest of the week, as well. Each is an essential element of the complete week. But if this offers us an explanation for the exclusion of one dyad of contrasts, we may yet wonder about the choice of dyads that were included in our list. Surely this list of dyads is not exhaustive. What is the principle of selection? Is it meant to be representative of a class of distinctions or of some other type of grouping? As we examine the inclusion of these four dyads in the Havdalah blessing, we can immediately recognize the relevance of two of them. It makes perfect sense to include the distinction between Shabbat and the other days of the week, since that is the separation being celebrated at the occasion of this blessing’s recitation. And it is also understandable that the distinction between holy and mundane be mentioned, since the Havdalah ceremony marks the end of a day of holiness and the beginning of a series of mundane days, with all the practical consequences that follow. However, this would imply that the blessing would have been perfectly coherent had it incorporated only those two distinctions, the first and the last of the list.


David Greenstein

Why was the additional dyad of light/dark included? In the context of Jewish tradition, the distinction between light and dark carries an inescapable association. This is the very first distinction ever made. It was the first act of separation made by God at the very beginning of creation: “The earth was formless and chaotic and darkness was upon the deep, with the spirit of the Almighty hovering over the waters. And the Almighty said: ‘Let there be light!’ and there was light. And the Almighty saw the light as being good,18 and the Almighty separated between the light and the dark. And the Almighty called the light ‘day’ and the dark He called ‘night.’ And there was evening and there was morning, one day” (Genesis 1:2–4). The mention in Havdalah of God making a contrast between light and dark recalls to us to the story of creation. In doing so, this dyad’s inclusion subtly changes the significance of the other two dyads we have already considered. The distinctions between Shabbat and the other weekdays, and between the holy and the mundane, do not merely refer to our present moment as we recite this prayer. It is not only this specific Shabbat and this specific week that we acknowledge; we are really recalling the very first Shabbat, established as the seventh day of creation.19 In fact, by choosing to include the dyads of light and dark, holy and mundane, and Shabbat and weekdays, those who originally composed the blessing constructed a set of bookends that encompasses all of creation. The separation of light and dark was God’s first creative act and the separation between the holy Shabbat and the mundane weekdays was the last of God’s creative acts. We recall the work of creation done by the blessed Holy One at the moment when we embark upon another week of doing our own work. The implied message is: now that that first week of creation is over and God has done what God has done, we are invited and challenged to make something of the week put in our hands. In another artist’s statement, Newman said: “I once wrote that the first man was an artist. I feel that


The Artist Makes Havdalah

in that sense perhaps every man is an artist, but if the muse comes to me, it’s that I caught her.”20 We celebrate God’s acts of separation because we will need those same faculties, in the diminished versions we have inherited as artists, to make our own works. The recitation of Havdalah reminds us that we are all artists. When Barnett Newman transposed the Havdalah rite from being a mere ritual marking of our lives and turned it into an aesthetic manifesto, perhaps he was not so mistaken after all. But I suggest that we return the ceremony to its home and transpose the aesthetic statement of principles into a religious performance. Thus, Havdalah becomes a statement of praise for the first creative act as performed by the first Artist, recited to prepare the human artist to begin making a work out of the next week. This brings us to what is experienced by many as the most problematic distinction made by Havdalah: the differentiation between Israel and the nations.21 One reason it is problematic is that, when viewed through the interpretation herein suggested, it seems completely out of place. The distinction between Israel and the nations does not have a place within the biblical account of creation; Israel and the nations did not come into being at that initial stage of history. But a far more common source of discomfort for modern Jews is the disturbing, yet undeniable, knowledge that, over the centuries, many Jews have recited this blessing with a hierarchical understanding in mind. Precisely the set of value distinctions that I have argued were those excluded from the Havdalah blessing— distinctions relating to good and evil, and to righteousness and wickedness—were introduced through the back door, as it were, by differentiating between holy, innocent, righteous Israel and the defiled, guilty, and hateful other nations. But when we posit such a hierarchy based on notions of essence, we have fallen into the sin of racism, pure and simple. Sadly, to this day it must be admitted that some Jews are not deterred from being racist if they believe such racism is mandated by tradition. Based on their reading of tradition,


David Greenstein

they affirm the separation between Israel and the rest of the world to be one based on essential difference rooted in hierarchy. The conclusion some have reached, therefore, is to consider this distinction as irredeemably tainted and to jettison it from our list. But is that necessary? Is there no alternative way to understand these words? Might we consider shifting the distinction between Israel and the nations away from being an essentialist distinction? Can we consider this dyad to be of the same class as the other dyads in the blessing, as contrasting elements in the toolbox of the artist? Such an attempt might go something like this. The primary level of meaning of the Israel/nations distinction is one of identity recognition. Red is not blue, and the other nations are not Israel. This statement is not as obvious as it might seem. To place the distinction between Israel and the nations within the list of dyads in this blessing is to say that this distinction, while not essentially hierarchical, is nevertheless basic. It is as solid a distinction as the difference between light and dark. When we see that, throughout history, the erasure of the separation between Israel and the nations has been a much desired goal—sometimes by significant members of the family of nations, and sometimes by significant members of the House of Israel—we come to understand that it is a pretty strong counterstatement to insist that this will never happen and cannot ever happen. Neither side should subsume the other. And the two sides should not be erased for the sake of some new synthesis. By seeing this dyad as consistent with the other dyads in the blessing’s list, we affirm that each term in the dyad is required for the fullness of the picture we are working on. The value of the distinct identity of each is recognized and affirmed. Still, why insert this dyad specifically within the Havdalah blessing? This dyad is not established within the biblical story of creation. It emerges much later. So why incorporate it into a set of dyads associated with primordial creation? Perhaps this is because


The Artist Makes Havdalah

the association of the other dyads with creation is not meant to be a temporal categorization, but a statement of the primacy of such dyads. They are foundational to the making of the world, God’s great Work, God’s magnum opus. To also put the Israel/nations dyad into this mix is to make a new claim; it is to assert that this identity distinction, too, is of related primary significance. This is because we do not only celebrate this story of cosmic origins as a neutral bundle of “information.” We recognize that this account is a telling, and that the telling has a specific storyteller. The story of creation is not just anyone’s story, though it speaks of everyone. It is Israel’s story. And it is not only Israel’s story because it flows forward to focus upon Israel; it is Israel’s story insofar as it is the story that is Israel’s to tell. It is Israel’s work, Israel’s way of telling this story. Consider a work by Rembrandt. While it may have universal significance, it is not, thereby, identical to a work by, say, Cézanne—though that artist’s work may also have universal meaning. Just so, Israel’s story of creation—with its narration that begins with the separating of light from dark, holy from mundane, and Shabbat from the other days of the week—though it speaks of the entire universe, is not the story told by any other people. The identity of the storyteller deserves recognition. And such recognition adds to the meaning of the work created by that artist. The recitation of Havdalah may be a meaningful paradigm for every human being as artist, but it remains the creative work of Israel.22 Havdalah thus returns us to the very beginning of the world and it also recalls us to ourselves. God establishes Shabbat at creation by refraining from creating anything more in the physical world, while also adding new acts of creation in the spiritual plane, the acts of sanctification and blessing, as we read at Genesis 2:3: “And the Almighty blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, for it was then that God rested from all the work that the Almighty created so as to make (ki vo shavat mi-kol m’lakhto asher bara Elohim la·asot).” The


David Greenstein

somewhat awkward ending of this otherwise eloquent verse marks, by literary means, the transition from the majestic creativity of God to the stumbling efforts of human beings.23 God created everything in order to then give us the tools and resources necessary for our own engagement as makers, as artists. God ceases creating so as to make space for us to begin “to make”—but, to make what? The verse leaves us hanging. We fill in the blank every week. Barnett Newman remembered the lesson of Havdalah as one rooted in the Passover moment, the celebration of freedom. But actually the artistic problem begins anew every week, as soon as the Sabbath is over. Once again we are all commissioned to make something in this world and of it. As Newman remarked, each of us is an artist. The difference between the self-identified artist and the rest of us is simply that the artist has not forgotten this. The rest of us have. So we need reminding. And this is what the Havdalah ritual can do: It can tell us who we are as we engage in this ritual act of beginning. It can remind us that we are all artists commissioned to make a work or set of works out of the stuff available to us this coming week. The first small step is to execute our specific commission to “make” Havdalah. This commission comes to us because we are not simply artists in some generic sense. We have a specific identity. We are Israel. We are making Havdalah as Israel. But, in doing so, we tell ourselves and the world: the artist makes Havdalah.


The Artist Makes Havdalah

NOTES Barnett Newman, “Response to Reverend Thomas F. Mathews,” in his Selected Writings and Interviews, ed. John Philip O’Neill (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1992), p. 290. I first came across this statement in the essay by Andrew Renton, “Between Holy and Holy…” in G’vulot shel K’dushah, eds. Emily Bilski and Avigdor Shinan ( Jerusalem: Keren Adi/Keter, 2003), pp. 146– 149. The essay is presented in a Hebrew translation (from an English original) by David Lazar. I have been unable to find the original English text of the Renton essay. 2 Cf. ibid., p. 146, where Lazar notes these errors in a translator’s note to the Hebrew version of the essay. 3 Indeed, he made another small error, which I have not yet mentioned because it seems, for now, of little consequence. The Havdalah blessing recited at the end of Shabbat does not oppose “holy” to “not holy,” as he writes, but, rather, “holy” is opposed to “mundane.” This error is eliminated in Lazar’s Hebrew translation, which cites the blessing in its traditional formula. 4 Holland Cotter, “Globalism From Way, Way Back,” The New York Times, Weekend Arts II section (August 28, 2015), p. C17. 5 Judith Plaskow, Standing Again at Sinai: Judaism from a Feminist Perspective (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1990), p. 97. See her entire discussion in the chapter entitled “Chosenness, Hierarchy, and Difference,” ibid., pp. 95–107. 6 As I indicated above, in discussing the opening quotation, I believe that it is an error to translate the Hebrew word ḥol as “not holy” (see note 3). The correct translation is “mundane.” The words “not holy” convey a negative connotation, as does the word “profane.” But that is not necessarily part of the meaning of the Hebrew word, which more accurately signifies a neutral state, neither holy nor profane. It is in that sense that I use the term “mundane.” For further discussion, see below. 7 Marcia Falk, The Book of Blessings: New Jewish Prayers for Daily Life, the Sabbath, and the New Moon Festival (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), p. 46. Her reworking of Havdalah is on pp. 305–323. 8 For a critique of the notion of “hybridity,” an expression of the tendency to try to abolish differences as illusory and to claim, instead, that all exists within a continuum of interpenetrating diversity, see, e.g., Haim Hazzan, Against Hybridity: Social Impasses in a Globalizing World (Cambridge, U.K. and Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2015). 9 Falk, Book of Blessings, p. 46. 10 For another approach to a meaningful, non-hierarchical understanding of Havdalah, see the essay by Gidon Rothstein elsewhere in this volume. 11 For a fuller set of arguments about this issue, see Primitivism and Twentieth Century Art: A Documentary History, ed. Jack Flam with Miriam Deutch (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 2003). 12 See Newman, Selected Writings, p. 286. 13 There is a classic story that illustrates this range of decision making and is told about reactions to Barnett Newman’s (first) exhibition of his distinctive 1


David Greenstein

“zip paintings.” Here is one shortened version of the story, available online at Guy walks into a bar. Sees the painter Franz Kline sitting down with a beer and says, “Hey Franz, just came from the new Barnett Newman show.” Kline says, “Oh yeah? What did you think? I haven’t seen it yet.” Guy says, “You know, it seemed pretty simple, just a bunch of paintings with lines.” Kline says, “Huh. These paintings…all the same color?” Guy says “No.” “These paintings, they all the same size?” Guy says “No.” “How about those lines? They all the same color? same size? same placement?” Guy says, “No.” Kline says, “Sounds pretty damned complicated to me.” 14 For a couple of lists of possible contrasts see, for example, Genesis 8:22 and Kohelet 3:2–8. 15 One should not try to include that dyad within the distinction between holy and mundane. The story of creation teaches us that the good is not at all synchronous with the holy. In the creation story, we find the distinction between holy and mundane is first established when the Shabbat is reached. Yet, the six mundane days have already been called “very good” (Genesis 1:31). 16 We will need to consider later what “the work” actually is. 17 This approach is beautifully expressed in the first blessing of the evening service (Maariv), which reads in part: “You create day and night, rolling light before darkness and darkness before light.” 18 One should not infer from this that darkness is evil. According to the Bible’s scenario darkness was already a given. It was the addition of light, which needed to be appraised as a new element within the work being made. And it is adjudged to be good. As mentioned in note 15 above, all of creation is called “very good.” Thus even darkness is to be considered as good, since it is part of creation. 19 We can also appreciate the three blessings we recite before the ha-mavdil blessing as acknowledging key moments of creation. The first blessing is over a cup of wine, blessing God as “Creator of the fruit of the vine.” This recalls the Tree in the Garden of Eden, following numerous traditions that identify it with the grapevine (as, e.g., at Pesikta D’rav Kahana 20:6).The second blessing is for sweet smelling spices, recalling the infusion of divine breath into our nostrils to bring humans to life (Genesis 2:7). The third blessing is for fire, recalling the fiery sword that guards the gate to the Garden (Genesis 3:24). 20 Newman, Selected Writings, p. 286. 21 For another perspective of the problematics of the distinguishing between “Israel and the other nations,” see the essay elsewhere in this volume by Catharine Clark. 22 Thus it is no accident that Newman re-appropriated his Jewish identity when he responded to the appreciation of his Christian critic. He felt the need to claim his work with his own identity as a crucial component of its meaning. 23 The note in the Etz Hayim Torah commentary (New York: Rabbinical Assembly, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, and Jewish Publication Society, 2001), reads (ad locum, p. 12): “The Hebrew words read literally, ‘all His work that God created to do.’ Two of our most famous medieval Jewish


The Artist Makes Havdalah

commentators, Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra (1089–1167) and Rabbi David Kimḥi (1160–1235) took the final verb (la·asot) as connoting “[for man] to [continue to] do [thenceforth].”


Havdalah-Emulating God in Mind and Deed

Havdalah—Emulating God in Mind and Deed: Israel’s Divine Mission and the Quest for Salvation Michelle J. Levine

Introduction The Havdalah ceremony, which marks the transition from Shabbat to the weekday, begins with a prayer for Israel’s salvation and concludes with the blessing of separateness, distinguishing the holy from the profane, light from dark, Israel from the nations, and the seventh day of rest from the six days of the workweek. These latter pairings suggest that Israel’s existence is aligned with the concepts of holiness, light, and the sanctity of Shabbat, and their significance in relation to our nation’s mission can best be understood in the context of the purpose of creation. By juxtaposing the fundamental motifs of salvation and separateness, the Havdalah prayer imparts that Israel’s redemption is integrally related to the central premise of a world divinely created with intent and meaning, which is to be brought to fruition through the distinctive character of the people Israel. Through the use of medieval exegetical sources, this essay will explore how the Havdalah ceremony defines the role of the Jew in the weekly cycle of time to fulfill a divinely ordained universal mission, sustaining the hope for Israel’s eventual salvation.


Michelle J. Levine

Separation in Creation and the Uniqueness of the Human The act of the creation of the world is delineated in Scripture by the principles of division and separation, which distinguish the persona of the Creator from God’s creations. In order to underscore the divine singularity, God creates a world characterized by duality: heaven and earth, light and dark, dry land and oceans. Living creatures, even the human being, are created in two’s—male and female—thus differentiating them from their unique Creator.1 Yet, the concepts of separation and duality assume new significance when God creates the human being. Underscoring his similarity with the animal species, man is created from “the dust of the earth” (Genesis 2:7), but his constitution has a divine endowment, an “image” and “form” (tzelem and d’mut) that originate from God and are unique to humanity (Genesis 1:26–27 and 5:1).2 Rabbi Moses ben Naḥman (1194–1270, called Naḥmanides), a foremost medieval Spanish commentator, explicates: “The human is similar to the lower domains and to the upper domains in appearance and honor, as it is written, ‘With glory and majesty You have crowned him.’”3 The dual nature serves a double purpose in delineating the human’s characteristic attributes. Emphasizing the limitations inherent in the human being’s existence as a physical being, the human being is distinguished from the Creator. On the other hand, the human as an entity endowed with godly qualifications is thus separated from other earthly creatures. Yet, this unique reality suggests an interesting synergy between the human and God, implying the desire for an integral connection between the heavenly and earthly realms.4 How might we reconcile the human’s unique configuration with the exclusivity of the Creator? The crux of the inimitability of the human’s creation hinges on understanding this divine bestowal and its role in the fulfillment of the human’s universal mission.


Havdalah-Emulating God in Mind and Deed

The exceptional nature of the human being, as elucidated by Naḥmanides, is meant to fulfill the divine goal that within the lower realms, there is an entity that acknowledges God as Creator and praises the divine name.5 Notably, Naḥmanides maintains that when separating the waters from the dry land, God has in mind to demarcate a place of habitation for the human, the pinnacle of divine creation, for “there is no [being] in the lower domain that recognizes its Creator except for him.”6 In order to implement this lofty goal, Naḥmanides elaborates, based on Maimonidean precedent, that the humans are divinely bestowed with the intellect, which gives them the powers of reason, speech, and the ability to willfully perform their actions.7 With this godly quality, the human is selected from among all other living beings to acknowledge the Divine and ascertain “that there is in relation to his Creator a preferable and desirable action and another action that is disdained and loathsome.”8 Broadening this conception of humanity’s distinctiveness and the goal of its creation, Rabbi Ovadiah Seforno, a commentator of the Italian Renaissance period (c. 1470–1550), explains: “The Blessed One created the human in His image and like His form (b’tzalmo kid’muto) so that he would choose to emulate his Maker to the most achievable degree (l’ma·an yivḥar l’hiddamot l’yotz’ro k’fi ha-efshar), for through this [the human] would become perfect and his creation would be perfect and honored more than any other creation, as befits the Blessed One who is elevated above all others.”9 In Seforno’s view, the duty to emulate God requires every person to embark on a life program that aims to realize a balanced combination of “cognition and action” (iyyun u-ma·aseh).10 Differentiating between the human’s creation in God’s “image” and “form,” Seforno specifies that each individual is provided with an intellectual faculty (tzelem) and the power of action, which is directed by one’s capacity for choice (d’mut).11 Accordingly, Seforno maintains that the human’s intellect may be described as elohim, the word usually used in classical Hebrew


Michelle J. Levine

to denote God—for its essential nature is completely spiritual, that is, “separate from matter.” Thus, the fully actualized intellect has the inherent characteristic of being eternal and everlasting.12 Furthermore, each person is differentiated from the angelic beings, for even though the latter act with knowledge, they do not possess the capacity of choice.13 Nevertheless, Seforno qualifies that God incorporates within this unique feature a means of distinguishing between the Creator and the special creation of the human. The faculty initially bequeathed to the human is only “an image (tzelem) of elohim,” a potentiality that requires human effort and activity to become actualized.14 Furthermore, while the power of choice is a godly attribute, it is not wholly equated with God’s stature, for the human requires an active effort to select the proper path, as is evident from the times that human beings strays from God’s will.15 In Seforno’s view, the task of human beings is to develop this divinely bestowed faculty and perfect themselves by transforming it from tzelem elohim into elohim, thus achieving eternity. For even after physical death of the body, this actualized intellect, which is non-corporeal in nature, will continue to exist eternally.16 As Seforno declares: There is no doubt that the life of every living thing [and its purpose] is [to make use of ] the potential powers that are suitable for its particular function. Since this particular function—for the intellectual, potential essence that is bestowed to the human, which is called tzelem elohim—is the endeavor to attain in actualization the very perfection that is within it in potential, and this is the emulation of his Creator to the degree possible by him in cognition and action, therefore, when this is attained by him, then everlasting life will be achieved for him, as the Blessed One states, “For this is your life” (Deuteronomy 32:47).17


Havdalah-Emulating God in Mind and Deed

As we strive to emulate God, we humans are enjoined to exercise the power of our intellect and capacity for volitional action.18 Through the medium of the intellect, each individual must endeavor to comprehend God’s greatness, non-corporeal and independent existence, as well as the divine capacity to create and sustain providential knowledge of all the creatures; this understanding leads to fear of God. Additionally, each person is expected to use his or her intellectual powers to apprehend God’s ways of goodness and kindness, primarily in how God relates to humanity; this knowledge leads to love of God.19 Seforno maintains, however, that theoretical speculation is not sufficient. Possessed of the innate power for action through willful choice (d’mut elohim), we are expected to translate our cognition into proper conduct that demonstrates the intent to follow in God’s ways and achieve an intimate connection with the Divine (d’veikut).20 Each individual must select those actions that maximize the use of one’s physical faculties as a reflection of the actualization of inherent divine potential.21 Thus, without cognition, action is incomplete, for the deed must be enacted with the full understanding of its goal being to achieve as close a relationship with God as possible.22 As Seforno indicates, applying a dictum from Pirkei Avot, each person is directed to employ his or her godly potential in order “to make God’s will one’s own will.”23 Nevertheless, in order to achieve perfection, knowledge cannot remain in the realm of the abstract, but it must be expressed through proper behavior. Noteworthy in this regard is Seforno’s emphasis on emulating God through acts of kindness and generosity toward others (l’heitiv el ha-zulat).24 Inferring that God, who is necessarily independent, did not need to create a world in order to achieve perfection, Seforno concludes, based on Psalm 89:3, “I said, the world will be built on kindness,” that God created the world in order “to bestow the will of His generosity on others.”25 Seforno elaborates that God expresses this generosity by giving human beings those capacities that enable


Michelle J. Levine

them to be as much like God as possible.26 In particular, by performing altruistic acts of kindness toward others, every individual achieves the goal of creation, which is to emulate the Divine.27

Israel’s Selection as the Chosen Nation With this awareness of the ideal program for implementing the overarching goal of creation for all of humanity, the particularistic role and responsibility of the nation of Israel is defined. When humanity fails time and again to actualize its potential through proper cognition and appropriate action, God performs a new act of separation to reclaim the fulfillment of the divine plan, and this is reflective of the continuing desire to direct acts of kindness toward God’s creations.28 As Seforno explains, …When the hope for the repentance of humanity at large was frustrated, as is evident from having foiled every divine attempt at rectification, twice and three different times,29 God selected a righteous man from the entire humanity, and He chose Abraham and his progeny to achieve through them the intended purpose (ha-takhlit ha-m’khuvvan) by Him when He placed the human on earth.30 With Israel’s acceptance of the Torah at Mount Sinai, God distinguishes Israel as the am s’gullah, the most treasured nation from among all nations (Exodus 19:5)—an exclusivity, however, that while a privilege, also entails a significant responsibility. As Seforno interprets, while Israel is distinct, “the whole humanity is precious to Me from among all the lower creations, for he [i.e., man] alone is the intended one among them.”31 Therefore, Israel is charged to assume the persona of a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6), teaching the world to proclaim God’s name in unison.32 As


Havdalah-Emulating God in Mind and Deed

Seforno metaphorically expounds (applying an imagery that has appropriate figurative application to the Havdalah ritual), God “intended to sanctify Israel and to sanctify His name in His world through them, that they should be luminaries for humanity (l’me’orot ba-min ha-enoshi) to comprehend and teach.”33 In a parallel manner, Naḥmanides reflects on the rabbinic statement34 that declares that if Israel had not accepted the Torah, God would have returned the world to its primordial state of tohu va-vohu: “…If [Israel] did not want to know and learn knowledge of their Creator and that there is a difference before Him between good and evil, the result is that the purpose for the creation of the world is invalidated.”35 Israel’s distinctiveness is also marked by its status as a “holy people” (Exodus 19:6). Elucidating the commandment “Be holy for I, the Eternal your God, am holy” (Leviticus 19:2), Seforno maintains that Israel has the capacity to achieve godly heights by virtue of its being chosen from among all nations. Defining kadosh as “separate,” as do his predecessors,36 Seforno, however, relates this quality to the idea of eternity, which applies to an entity that is separate from matter. God facilitates Israel’s acquisition of everlasting life by giving the Torah’s commandments, which provide Israel with the directives to emulate God through cognition and deed.37 As Seforno indicates, “...the directed purpose from Him is that the members of His people should attain perfection of the intellectual soul (ha-nefesh ha-sikh∙lit) until it is as much like its Creator as possible in cognition and action, so that they will merit everlasting life and happiness….”38 Stipulating the recipe for the achievement of this goal, Seforno analyzes the prescription of Leviticus 19:2 to mean, “Sanctify yourselves with glorified, willful actions (b’fe’ulot m’fo·arot b’ḥiriyyot) just as I am ‘holy’ in glorified, willful actions of kindness and truth…and this is in order that you will be like Me in some measure.”39 Elaborating on Israel’s select position within humanity, Seforno states, based on his


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analysis of Isaiah 49:3 (“He said to me, You are My servant, Israel, in whom I glory”): It is for this reason that God glories in Israel. For, in truth, the human is the species that is most similar to its Maker, more so than other living entities, as it states, “Let us make the human (adam) in our image and our form” (Genesis 1:26); but within humanity, Israel has a portion that is more similar to God and closer to Him, as it recognizes its Master and upholds His covenant and strives to serve Him as one more than the rest of humanity....It is thus fitting that [God] should glory in Israel, which is the most select of His creations...40 Fittingly, within the context of Isaiah 49, the servant, whom Seforno identifies here as the nation of Israel, is described as “a light unto the nations (or goyim)” (verse 6).

The Call for Israel’s Salvation Israel’s privilege as a “holy” and “treasured” people and its responsibility as a “kingdom of priests” to serve as the brilliant luminary in the effort to fulfill the divine mission of creation underlies the urgency of the call for its salvation from exile. The backdrop of this plea may be understood in the context of the song/poem (shirah) in the Torah in Deuteronomy 32 known as Ha·azinu,41 which is linked to Shabbat, based on the talmudic opinion that this text was recited by the Levites during its afternoon, additional (musaf) offering in the Temple.42 Within the context of this song, God rebukes Israel for confounding the divine fulfillment of the plan for creation. Commenting on God’s question, “Is this how you repay the Eternal” (Deuteronomy 32:6), Seforno explains: “Since He had intended to elevate you above all nations, is it appropriate that you compensate


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Him thus—that you corrupt His intent, desecrating His holy name and thwarting the achievement of the purpose that He had intended when He declared, ‘Let us make man in our image and like our form’?”43 The song’s reflection on Israel’s failure to fulfill the divine mission is also analyzed by Naḥmanides in his commentary on Ha∙azinu. Naḥmanides observes that through this poetic forum, God bids Israel to reminisce about the divine acts of goodness done for Israel, for which it was anticipated that the nation would respond with thankful acknowledgment.44 God elicits for Israel the memory of the divine deliberate selection of Israel (Deuteronomy 32:9), the nurturing care of Israel throughout the dangerous wilderness, protecting them with direct divine providence (verses 10–12), and God’s bestowal of a land of great fertility and wealth to the Israelites (verses 13–14). Because these acts of divine generosity are spurned and Israel abandons its covenantal duty by turning to idolatry (verses 15–18), God turns against the “ingrate nation (am naval)” (verse 6)45 that fails to recognize God as the “Rock of its salvation” (verse 15), punishing them with destruction and exile (verses 21–25).46 Nevertheless, as Naḥmanides explains, the song of Ha·azinu declares that all is not lost, as God acknowledges that without Israel, “the intent of the creation, through the human, will be completely nullified, for there will not remain among them [humanity] one who knows his Creator, only those who provoke [God’s] anger.”47 Because God has separated Israel from among all nations to fulfill the lofty purpose of creation, God determines that Israel will be saved; for in spite of their sins, “they are the ones closest to Him and who know Him, from among all the nations.”48 As Naḥmanides declares, “It is therefore fitting as a consequence of the intent that was [instituted] with the creation of the world that it should be His will to sustain them as His nation for all time.”49 On the other hand, Naḥmanides acknowledges that Israel also demonstrates its worthiness to be redeemed, for the harsh experience


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of exile and persecution will motivate them to return to God as their only savior through acts of prayer and repentance. Evoking the imagery of the grapevine in Deuteronomy 32:32 (an appropriate symbol in relation to the Havdalah ritual), Naḥmanides explains that the nations of the world are described as a “vine of Sodom,” “grapes of poison,” and “clusters of bitterness” because these nations have evil roots, and they inherit an idolatrous legacy from their ancestors, which can only bring forth bitter fruit that is fatal to those who eat it. Extending this metaphor, Naḥmanides infers that Israel, by contrast, has superior ancestral roots that enables it to renew itself, and it proves this legacy by “acknowledging [God] and confessing and doing repentance during their time of suffering [in exile].”50 As God declares, “He will relent for His servants” (verse 36), for they will prove their loyalty in exile to the one God by demonstrating their willingness to suffer the pain of persecution and enslavement.51 In exile, the people of Israel will reawaken to contemplate God’s potent gifts of generosity and the ability to pray and repent, and they will use them to prove that they have not forsaken their mission to realize the divine purpose for creation. From the beginning of creation, God builds the world’s foundation on the pillars of divine justice partnered with divine mercy. Rashi takes note that in Genesis 1, God is named Elohim, whereas in Genesis 2 God is named by the four-letter Tetragrammaton (yod-hei-vav-hei). Applying midrashic precedent, Rashi interprets that the names refer to the two divine attributes upon which the world is established. The name Elohim is understood to denote God in the divine guise of heavenly Judge, while the four-letter name is suggestive of God the Merciful.52 In a similar vein, Naḥmanides explains how the composition of Ha·azinu confirms that all of God’s perfect ways of “justice” (Deuteronomy 32:4; the Hebrew word is mishpat) include God’s merciful ways (ki khol d’rakhav mishpat ha-raḥamim heim).53 Thus, Naḥmanides stipulates that prayer to God “derives from the attributes of kindness that the


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Creator, may He be blessed, [bestows] upon us, that He listens and answers whenever we call out to Him.”54 The importance of prayer (particularly in exile) is already taught, according to Naḥmanides, at the scene of the burning bush, where God reveals the divine name to Moses as ehyeh asher ehyeh (Exodus 3:14), rendered “I will be as I will be.” Based on the rabbinic explanation, “I will be with Israel in this enslavement (of Egypt), and I will be with them in the enslavement by other kingdoms,” Naḥmanides elucidates: “...I will be with them throughout all of their sufferings; they will call out to Me and I will answer them.”55 Furthermore, as Rabbi Yonah Gerondi (d. 1264) observes, the ability to recant one’s rebellious ways and correct oneself to embark on the proper path through repentance, thereby achieving forgiveness for one’s sins, is “among the acts of benevolence that God granted to His creations.”56 Thus, the midrash maintains, when God went to chisel out the world, it would not stand up until God created repentance, t’shuvah.57 Paralleling this analysis, Seforno indicates that, in fact, exile itself is an act of kindness from God. The persistent existence of Israel even in exile is testimony to God’s continuing acts of generosity for the Israelite people. Furthermore, Israel’s suffering is intended not only as punishment, but it is meant to stir the people of Israel to repentance so that they may bring about their own redemption.58

Shabbat: A Time to Recall Israel’s Divine Mission The significance of observing Shabbat is underscored by elucidating that it serves to awaken a sense of Israel’s eternal role to fulfill a divine mission. The seventh day of rest provides an opportune forum for modern Jews to contemplate their part in our national and universal mission. According to Naḥmanides, following the first commandments of the Decalogue—which command us to show


Michelle J. Levine

honor exclusively to God and to believe that the unique, exalted God exists, and that God is the Creator, all-knowing and all-powerful— God decrees the weekly commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it” (Exodus 20:8), “to enact through it a sign and constant reminder to inform that He created everything.”59 Based on Isaiah 58:13, “…You shall proclaim the Sabbath a delight and the holy [day] of God honored, and honor it by not going in your ways…,” Naḥmanides interprets that the command “to sanctify” the Shabbat (l’kad’sho) is fulfilled by setting aside this time in the weekly cycle to nurture a sense of delight for our souls by studying God’s words through the teachings of wise men and serving God by walking in the ways of God.60 The cessation from work is not the sole purpose for the command to “rest” on Shabbat, but it is a means to a greater end, so that one may use this day to serve God through emulating the ways of God.61 Reflecting on the conceptual underpinnings of the creation process and the divine motivation for creation of the human, the Jew is enjoined to discern Israel’s unique position within the cosmic fabric and the necessity for its survival. The significance of Israel’s role is emphasized by Seforno’s insistence that even in exile, it is incumbent upon the Jew to observe Shabbat as a consistent reminder that God has not rejected Israel and Israel is still God’s own nation—which will eventually be redeemed, to fully realize the divine purpose of creation.62

Setting the Tone for the Onset of the Workweek: The Havdalah Prayer The observance of Shabbat provides Jews with the means to ennoble their ordinary lives by contributing to the realization of the goal of creation. Based on midrashic precedent, Naḥmanides expounds that the command to “remember” Shabbat extends to the weekly cycle, in


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the sense that the lesson of creation must be a fundamental principle that directs the Jew throughout the weekly activities.63 With the constant acknowledgment of God as Creator, one is consistently cognizant that the world was created for a particularly motivated intention, and each day must further the actualization of that divine purpose. As Seforno elaborates, God creates the six days of the week so that each Jew can use this time to strive to emulate the Creator in cognition and willful action. On the seventh day, God provides the Jew with an additional divine endowment, an “added soul” (nefesh y’teirah), bestowing upon each individual an additional capacity to reach the complete goal of creation. With this feeling of completeness on Shabbat, the Jew is invigorated to embark on the workweek to strive for higher levels of perfection and actualization of the potential tzelem and d’mut elohim.64 With this background, one may better appreciate the purpose of the Havdalah prayer. This ceremony is not meant to segregate the days of the week from Shabbat in an absolute sense. While it does aim to differentiate the holy seventh day, it also intends to connect the purpose of Shabbat to the start of ordinary life throughout the week. As Maimonides stipulates, the concept of sanctification applies both to the announcements of the arrival of Shabbat and the marking of its departure, which introduces the workweek.65 The significance of this double act of sanctification suggests that the message and meaning of Shabbat must carry one through the entire week, such that every day is focused on actualizing one’s potential to reach the highest state of perfection and on progressing in the quest for eternity. As the modern scholar Zvi A. Yehuda aptly explains, “A Jew strives, as he must, to live a religiously dignified and ‘hallowed’ life each and every day of the year....for him no day is insignificant, un-Godly, or unholy....Havdalah points to uniqueness, but implies no antagonistic, conflicting extremes. Weekdays, too, are Divinely significant (‘holy’), though differently from Shabbat.”66


Michelle J. Levine

Notably, as observed by the medieval commentators, this continuum between Shabbat and the six workdays is implied by the biblical description of Shabbat at the conclusion of creation: “He sanctified it for on it He refrained from all His work which God created to do (la·asot)” (Genesis 2:3). Had there been a complete cessation of all creative activity, the final words of this description should have read “created and did” in the past tense.67 The implication is, as the modern scholar Harold Fisch insightfully observes, that “we are speaking of a day invested with purposes still to be fulfilled.”68 In this regard, Fisch notes the plethora of sequential imperfect verbs, marked by the vav consecutive, describing the Shabbat in the first three verses of the second chapter of Genesis (“were finished [vay’khullu]...God finished [va-y’khal]...rested [va-yishbot]...blessed [va-y’varekh]...sanctified [va-y’kadeish]”). “Paradoxically,” he writes, “the day of rest is announced by a group of signifiers that suggest ceaseless activity, a willed intention to shape a future.”69 Accordingly, the Havdalah prayer is constructed of a composite of biblical verses that signify how Israel aims to apply Shabbat’s lessons to the workweek to shape their future destiny as a vibrant nation that still has the potential to realize the goal of creation and fulfill its mission as God’s treasured possession. Significantly, these citations single out how Israel acknowledges God as their sole savior, trusting in God to answer their prayers; the implication is that we have absorbed the message of Ha·azinu and want to sing our own song of redemption. In both Ashkenazic and Sephardic versions of Havdalah, the prayer incorporates Psalm 116:13, “I will raise the cup of salvation and invoke the name of the Eternal.” Fittingly, the declaration of invoking God’s name (b’sheim Adonai ekra) is also cited at the beginning of Ha·azinu (at Deuteronomy 32:3), which is explained by Rashbam (c. 1085–c. 1158), Rashi’s grandson, to mean that Israel will recognize the truth of God’s goodness and the justness of its state of exile.70 Expanding on this theme, the Ashkenazic version


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of Havdalah resonates with the proclamation, “Behold the God of my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid, for He is my strength and my song, and He brought about my salvation” (Isaiah12:2; cf. Exodus 15:2, Psalm 118:14).71 Reminiscent of the declaration at the splitting of the sea in Exodus 15, this statement acknowledges that Israel is confident in its redemption because it recognizes God as the true savior. While other nations trust in the might of their horses and chariots (Psalm 20:8), Israel declares in the Havdalah prayer that it understands the goodness that God gives to Israel by allowing them to pray and encouraging repentance so that He will bring about their triumphant deliverance—“God save! May the King answer us on the day we call out” (Psalm 20: 10).72 Israel’s understanding of its universal role in realizing the essential goal of creation is evident in the citation of Isaiah 12:3 in the Havdalah prayer (according to the Ashkenazic version), “You shall draw water with joy from the springs of salvation.” Noting the symbolic significance of the image of water, noted Provençal scholar Rabbi David Kimḥi (c. 1160–1235, called Radak) figuratively interprets that the time of redemption will bring about an overflowing wellspring of the acquisition of knowledge—the wisdom being compared to water, the teachers to the springs, and the students to those who draw from the sources of water. Relating this symbolic understanding to Isaiah 11:9, which declares that the future will witness a “land filled with knowledge of God like waters cover the sea,” Radak explains that the salvation will herald a time during which there will be complete understanding of God.73 Adapting Seforno’s analysis, one may discern how the incorporation of this verse in the Havdalah prayer implies the hope that God will redeem Israel in order to actualize the eternal character of its being through the exercise of its intellect, which translates into proper divine imitative actions by fulfilling the Torah’s commandments.74


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The separation of darkness from light, evoked at the conclusion of the Havdalah ceremony, while reminiscent of the creation process, is also strongly suggestive of the hope for a figurative separation between the darkness of exile and the light of redemption, in which Israel’s distinctiveness from among all nations will radiate resplendently. The symbol of redemption is captured in the image of light by citing Esther 8:16, which describes the Jews’ salvation from Haman’s decrees using language that equates joy with illumination: “The Jews had light and gladness and happiness and honor.” Correspondingly, the version of Oriental Jewry (eidot ha-mizraḥ) invokes Isaiah 60:1–2, which declares, “Arise, shine, for your light has arrived, and the glory of God has shone on you. For the darkness will cover the earth and thick clouds [may cover] the peoples, but on you, God will shine and His glory will be evident over you.” Unpacking this metaphor, Rabbi Meir Leibush Malbim (1809–1879), a noted Eastern European scholar of his day, explains that the light of the physical and spiritual redemption, which is ushered by the manifestation of the light of God’s glory, will dispel the dark falsehoods of the nations that have erroneous religious beliefs.75 As this chapter in Isaiah elaborates, the nations will follow God’s light during messianic times (verse 3), and they will come to Jerusalem to help rebuild the Temple (verses 6–17). God thus promises figuratively to replace the light of the sun and be the everlasting light of the world (verses 19–20).76

The Symbolism of the Havdalah Ritual In conjunction with the verbal recitation of the Havdalah prayer, this ceremony incorporates multiple sensory experiences involving wine, spices, and illumination by fire. I would like to suggest that a nuanced allusion to the text of Song of Songs, which is customarily read according to some traditions on the eve of Shabbat,77 is represented


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symbolically in this ritual. These objects provide a vivid means to describe the intensity of the love between the male and female earthly lovers, whose relationship is so richly described in Song of Songs. Their passionate love is depicted by summoning the images of the savory, rich texture of fine wine, the fragrant garden of spices, and the powerful heat of an insatiable flame.78 Based on Seforno’s allegorical interpretation of this love story as a reflection of Israel’s exceptional and eternal relationship with God even in exile,79 the evocative use of these symbols in the Havdalah ceremony signifies Israel’s desire in its current state to serve as the universal emissary to fulfill the purpose of creation and bring honor to the special divine potential that was given to humanity. Seforno interprets that the Song of Songs teaches allegorically that Israel must strive to perfect itself in cognition and good deeds in exile so that it may bring about its salvation. Interpreting Song of Songs 4:11, “Sweetness drips from your lips, O Bride, for under your tongue are honey and milk, and the scent of your clothes is as the fragrance of Lebanon,” Seforno elaborates: “It is fitting that you occupy yourself even in exile in Torah and mitzvot...for under your tongue are honey and milk of cognition and action, to learn and to teach, and the scent of your clothes, your good qualities (middot), are as the fragrance of Lebanon, pleasing in the eyes of God and man.”80

Conclusion In our highly advanced society, the power of the intellect has been accorded great significance and credibility to achieve wondrous things. The Havdalah prayer, which welcomes the onset of the workweek, challenges us as Jews to use our distinctive separateness as humans and as God’s chosen nation to realize the goal of creation and thereby hasten our nation’s redemption from exile. Recalling the message of


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Shabbat, the Havdalah experience resonates with the Jewish mission to contribute through our weekday activities toward the actualization of our divine intellectual endowment and power of choice by focusing on contemplation of God and the divine ways, which brings us to fear and love God, and translating this understanding into fulfilling God’s will through the meaningful performance of Torah and mitzvot. As the sage Rabbi Isaac is quoted in the midrashic work Pirkei D’rabbi Eliezer: “Whoever does not recite the Havdalah or hear it from others does not enjoy blessing in life. Whoever does recite Havdalah or hear it from others, God calls him ‘holy’ and saves him from the persecution of the nations, as it is stated, ‘You shall be holy, for I, God, am holy.’”81 By acknowledging the role of Israel’s separateness throughout the weekly cycle, Jews sanctify creation and elevate their modern, ordinary life to help achieve the lofty goal for which God brought the world into existence, thus helping to bring the Jewish people closer to the final redemption.


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NOTES Cf. Rashi’s comment to Genesis 2:18, s.v. lo tov heyot ha-adam l’vaddo, on the necessity that the human be created as male and female so that there would be no misconception about God’s uniqueness. Citations from the biblical commentaries of Rashi, Rashbam, Radak, Ibn Ezra, and Naḥmanides, derive from Mikra∙ot G’dolot “Haketer” on the Pentateuch, ed. Menachem Cohen (Ramat Gan: Bar-Ilan University Press, 1997, 1999, 2007, 2011–2013). The commentary of Ḥizkuni derives from Ḥizkuni: Peirushei Ha-torah L’rabbeinu Ḥizkuni b. Mano∙aḥ, ed. Ḥayyim Dov Chavel ( Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 1981). Citations from Rabbi Ovadiah Seforno’s commentary on the Pentateuch, as well as his essay “Kavvanot Ha-torah,” derive from his Bei·ur al Ha-torah L’Rabbi Ovadiah Seforno, eds. Zeev Gottlieb and Avraham Darom (5th ed.; Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 1992), henceforth referred to as Bei·ur Seforno. Citations from Seforno’s commentaries on the rest of the Bible and on Pirkei Avot, as well as his philosophical treatise “Or Ammim,” derive from Kitvei Rabbi Ovadiah Seforno, ed. Zeev Gottlieb ( Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 1987), henceforth referred to as Kitvei Seforno. All translations are my own. 2 While woman is created from man (Genesis 2:21–22), and not from the dust of the earth, her constitution also comprises physical, earthly elements, in addition to being bestowed with the divine endowments of tzelem and d’mut elohim. On this latter point, see especially Seforno, Genesis 2:18, s.v. ezer k’negdo. Compare Naḥmanides, Genesis 1:26, s.v. va-yomeir elohim na·aseh adam; v’yirdu bi-d’gat ha-yam, in relation to his comment on Genesis 2:18, s.v. lo tov heyot ha-adam l’vaddo, where he adopts the talmudic premise (cf. B. Berakhot 61a) that the human was initially created as a fused being, male and female, which suggests equality of both genders’ divine endowments; in the context of his analysis of tzelem and d’mut elohim, Naḥmanides, Genesis 1:26, s.v. va-yomeir elohim na·aseh adam, applies the meaning of one’s wisdom and knowledge and ability to act fittingly . See as well Ḥizkuni, Genesis 1:26, who comments that the command “Let us make man” includes both male and female human beings; as he notes, the word adam is used to refer to the human species, in Genesis 5:1– 2. Accordingly, this essay will infer that while medieval commentators speak of “man,” one may presume that their analysis applies to females as well in terms of having been bestowed with a divine “image and form,” with the term “man” implying the “human.” 3 Naḥmanides to Genesis 1:26, s.v. va-yomeir elohim na·aseh adam, quoting Psalm 8:6. In relation to the human’s dual composition, Naḥmanides resolves the conundrum of the plural command, “Let us make a human,” by interpreting that there are two contributors to man’s creation—the earth provides the material for his physical makeup, while God bestows the immortal soul, which Naḥmanides identifies as the nishmat ḥayyim mentioned at Genesis 2:7. In this comment, Naḥmanides cites the opinion of Rabbi Joseph Kimḥi (1160–1235), whose interpretation is also noted in Radak’s commentary to Genesis 1:26, s.v. va-yomeir elohim na·aseh adam. Similarly, Naḥmanides reads, “in our form, like 1


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our image” (Genesis 1:26) as indicative that the human has the “appearance” and “similarity” to earth and God through this being’s unique construction. 4 Cf. Rashi to Genesis 1:26, s. v. na·aseh adam, and Genesis 2:7, s.v. va-yippaḥ b’appav,, and the commentary of Rabbi Judah Loew ben Betzalel (c. 1520– 1609, the Maharal of Prague), Gur Aryeh, on Rashi’s analysis of these verses, in Yehudah David Hartmann, Ḥumash Gur Aryeh Ha-shaleim ( Jerusalem: Makhon Yerushalayim, 1989), vol. 1, p. 43, §62, and vol. 1, p. 63, §§22, 23, regarding God’s intent to create a symmetry and connection between the lower and upper realms through man’s dual composition. 5 See Naḥmanides’ comment to Deuteronomy 32:26, s.v. ashbitah mei-enosh zikhram. For this premise, cf. Naḥmanides to Exodus 13:16, s.v. u-l’totafot, and his essay Torat Ha-shem T’mimah, in Peirush Ha-Ramban al Ha-torah im Bei·ur Beit Ha-yayin, ed. Yehudah Meir Devir ( Jerusalem, 2005), vol. 5, p. 449. In this latter source, Naḥmanides emphasizes that all the lower creatures and plants that do not acknowledge their Creator were brought into being for the benefit and pleasure of the human, who is the only creature that proclaims God as the Creator. 6 See Naḥmanides’ comment to Genesis 1:10, s.v. va-yikra elohim la-yabbashah eretz, in the context of explaining that while yabbashah is a fitting name for this dry land, God calls it eretz, a term used to describe the four fundamental elements of which the entire world is comprised (cf. Naḥmanides to Genesis 1:1, s.v. v’ha-aretz ); this indicates that the four elements were particularly created in order to enable the formation of a place of habitation where the human could fulfill the ultimate purpose of creation. Regarding Naḥmanides’ understanding of creation based on the sources in these notes, cf. Naḥum Shlomo Borovski, Sefer Shalmei Naḥum al Ha-torah V’ha-mo∙adim ( Jerusalem: Yefei Nof–Y. Pozan, 2005), pp. 3–5. 7 Cf. Naḥmanides’ comment to Genesis 1:21, s.v. va-yivra elohim et ha-tanninim ha-g’dolim; 1:26, s. v. va-yomer elohim na·aseh adam; and 2:7, s. v. va-yippaḥ b’appav nishmat ḥayyim. In his commentary to 1:21, Naḥmanides indicates that the human’s creation is described with the exceptional verb bara, defined as creation ex nihilo, to signify the uniqueness of his divine image, as compared to other creative activities to which are relegated the verbs yatzar or asah, which signifies that they are brought forth from pre-existing materials. For the distinction between these verbs of creation, cf. Naḥmanides to Genesis 1:1, s.v. b’reishit. Cf. Naḥmanides, Torat Ha-shem T’mimah, vol. 5, p. 466, who identifies n’shamah as being based in the brain (ha-mo· aḥ mirkevet ha-n’shamah). Compare Naḥmanides, D’rashah al Divrei Kohelet, in Kitvei Rabbeinu Moshe ben Naḥman, ed. Ḥayyim Dov Chavel ( Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 1963), vol. 1, p. 191. For discussion of these sources, cf. Borovski, Shalmei Naḥum, pp. 14–15, 22–26. Naḥmanides was apparently influenced by the comment of Maimonides recorded in The Guide for the Perplexed, Part I, chapters 1–2, who defines the divine “image” and “form” endowed to the human as the intellect, with which the human has the capacity of choice to distinguish between truth and falsehood. Cf. Maimonides, M.T. Hilkhot Yesodei Hatorah 4:8–9. On Maimonides’ definition of this uniquely human capacity, see Sarah Klein-Braslavy, Peirush Ha-Rambam L’sippur B’ri∙at Ha-olam ( Jerusalem: Ha-ḥevrah L’ḥeiker Ha-mikra B’yisrael, 1978), pp. 203–216.


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Naḥmanides, Torat Ha-shem T’mimah, in Peirush Ha-Ramban, vol. 5, p. 449. Seforno, introduction to his biblical commentary, in Bei·ur Seforno, p. 4. 10 For this formulaic agenda prescribed for the human (and, as will be seen, for Israel in particular), see Seforno, Kavvanot Ha-torah, §§2, 24, and 28, in Bei·ur Seforno, pp. 371–372 and 387–388 . Cf. also Seforno’s introduction to his biblical commentary, in Bei∙ur Seforno, p. 4; and his commentary to Exodus 24:12 and 25:37, and to Leviticus 11:45, 13:47, 19:2, and 26:3. See as well Seforno’s introduction to Kohelet and his comments to Psalm 104:31, Job 5:7 and 38:19–21, as well as his interpretation of Pirkei Avot 3:19, all as cited in Kitvei Seforno, pp. 37–38, 197, 269, 322, 370, respectively. On this aspect of Seforno’s philosophy, see Gottlieb, “Mavo: Introduction to Seforno’s Biblical Commentary,” in Bei·ur Seforno, pp. 38–50; Chaim Shine, Adam, Ḥevrah, U-mishpat B’haguto shel Rabbi Ovadiah Seforno (Tel Aviv: Sha·arei Mishpat, 2001), pp. 62, 91–102, 135–139, and 155–167. 11 Seforno to Genesis 1:26, s. v. b’tzalmeinu ki-d’muteinu, and Genesis 5:1, s. v. bi-d’mut elohim asah oto. Cf. Seforno, “Or Ammim,” chap. 21, §§20–21, in Kitvei Seforno, pp. 506–507. In contrast, Maimonides does not differentiate between tzelem and d’mut in this manner. For a discussion of Seforno’s conception of the human’s unique capacities in relation to his philosophical predecessors, see Reuben Bonfil’s Hebrew-language essay, “The Doctrine of the Soul and of Holiness in the Philosophy of Rabbi Ovadiah Seforno,” Eshel Beer Sheva 1(1976), pp. 203–229. 12 For Seforno’s definition of elohim as a non-corporeal, eternal, and everlasting entity, see his commentary to Genesis 1:1, s. v. elohim; Genesis 1:27, s. v. b’tzelem elohim; and Deuteronomy 4:39, s. v. ki ha-shem hu ha-elohim ein od. Compare “Or Ammim,” chap.16, §§29–30, in Kitvei Seforno, p. 482. Seforno, commenting on Genesis 1:26–27, observes that the human intellect is essentially non-corporeal, as demonstrated by the fact that it can cognize abstract entities (such as God and the angels), think about the future, and does not weaken with greater use (as does the body when it gets older). On this feature of the intellect, cf. Maimonides, M.T. Hilkhot Yesodei Hatorah 4: 9. Compare Naḥmanides to Genesis 1:26, s.v. va-yomer elohim na·aseh adam; 2:17, s. v. b’yom akholkha mimmennu mot tamut; and 6:3, s. v. b’shaggam hu basar; as well as D’rashah al Divrei Kohelet, in Kitvei Ramban, vol. 1, p. 191, on the immortality of the soul. Note that Seforno to Genesis 2:7 (s.v., va-yippaḥ b’appav nishmat ḥayyim), however, does not identify nishmat ḥayyim as the divine spirit (as Naḥmanides does), but as the “animate soul (nefesh ḥiyyunit),” that is prepared to receive the divine endowment of the tzelem and d’mut elohim. Cf. Seforno to Genesis 2:8, s. v. asher yatzar, who maintains that when man was endowed with this animate soul (designating him as a nefesh ḥayah) he was still animal-like, unable to speak, until he was placed in the Garden of Eden, which was an appropriate environment for the subsequent bestowal of those godly capacities of speech and intellect. 13 Seforno to Genesis 1:26. Cf. Seforno, “Or Ammim,” chap.16, §51, in Kitvei Seforno, p. 488. 8 9


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Seforno to Genesis 1:27. Cf. Yehudah Cooperman, Peirush Seforno al Hatorah Ha-shaleim V’ha-m’vo∙ar ( Jerusalem: Irving Cymberknopf Publication Foundation, Jerusalem College for Women, Michlalah,1992), vol. 1 (on Genesis), p. 21, n. 158, who speculates that Seforno reads tzelem from the word tzeil, a shadow. 15 Seforno to Genesis 1:26. Cf. Seforno, “Or Ammim,” chap.16, §§49–50, in Kitvei Seforno, pp. 487–488. 16 Accordingly, Seforno, commenting on Genesis 1:27 (and see “Kavvanot Hatorah,” §2, in Bei·ur Seforno, p. 372), disagrees with Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, Part I, chapter 2, who presumes that the first human was created with a fully actualized intellect (corresponding to the highest level attained by Moses, as noted in Ibn Kaspi’s interpretation of Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, Part I, chapter 1, cited in Klein-Braslavy, Peirush Ha-Rambam, pp. 211–212). Seforno maintains that Adam was created only with a potential faculty, which needed to be actualized through active endeavors. On the differences between Seforno and Maimonides, see Shine, Adam, Ḥevrah, U-mishpat, pp. 113–114 and 152–155. For additional discussion of the human ability to actualize the intellect, which ensures humanity’s eternity even after physical, bodily death, see as well Seforno, Leviticus, 13:47, s.v. v’ha-beged, and Seforno to Kohelet 3:18 (s.v. amarti ani b’libbi) and 11:7 (s.v. u-matok ha-or), in Kitvei Seforno, pp. 45 and 65, respectively. 17 Seforno, “Kavvanot Ha-torah,” §28, in Bei·ur Seforno, p. 388. 18 On the relationship between achieving eternity and the pursuit to be like God in thought and action, cf. Seforno to Leviticus 19:2, s. v. k’doshim tihyu, ki kadosh ani ha-shem eloheikhem; and “Kavvanot Ha-torah,” §2, in Bei·ur Seforno, pp. 371–372. 19 Seforno, introduction to his biblical commentary, and “Kavvanot Ha-torah,” §2, in Bei·ur Seforno, pp. 4, 372, respectively. Cf. Seforno to Genesis 1:27, s.v. b’tzelem elohim. Note that Seforno differentiates the acquisition of fear of God from knowledge as an elevated form of revering God, as distinguished from fear of punishment. 20 Seforno, “Kavvanot Ha-torah,” §§2, 3, in Bei·ur Seforno, pp. 372–373. Cf. Seforno, “Or Ammim,” chap. 17, §§1–8, in Kitvei Seforno, pp. 490–492, who discusses the apparent paradox that one’s intellectual soul, which is deemed separate from matter, becomes perfected through concrete actions (ma·alat hamiddot) that involve one’s physicality. Seforno maintains that when one performs good actions that reflect an intent to become more godlike and fulfill the divine will, demonstrating a love of God’s goodness and a high level of fear of God’s greatness, these actions then serve to actualize and perfect the intellectual soul. Cf. Bonfil, “Doctrine of the Soul,” pp. 221–222. 21 On this point, see Seforno, “Or Ammim,” chap. 16, §§26, 43–50, in Kitvei Seforno, pp. 481, 485–488, where he discusses the challenge of choosing to actualize one’s intellect to emulate God’s manner and not succumb to the base desires and impulses of one’s physical composition. Cf. Naḥmanides to Genesis 6:3, s. v. b’shaggam hu basar, who explains that God’s intention is for human beings to raise themselves above their animalistic state, by allowing their spiritual 14


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n’shamah to predominate through a proper choice of a way of life that reflects their godly nature. Sin brings about the human’s downfall, because through sin, the human caters to “physical desires,” similar in this to animals, in which the individual in question “is physical and not godly.” 22 Seforno, “Kavvanot Ha-torah,” §2, in Bei·ur Seforno, p. 372, cites the talmudic conclusion recorded at B. Kiddushin 40b that knowledge takes precedence over action. Cf. on that context, the commentaries of Tosafot and Meiri (and see Tosafot, B. Bava Kamma 17a, s.v. v’ha-amar), who indicate that learning enhances and completes the action; if a person, however, is already learned, then action is the desired goal. On the importance of knowledge as a precedent for meaningful and willful performance of the mitzvot, cf. Seforno to Leviticus 26:3 , s. v. v’et mitzvotai tishmoru, va-asitem otam, and to Deuteronomy 11:18, s. v. v’samtem et d’varai eilleh al l’vavkhem v’al nafsh’khem. 23 Seforno, Introduction to his biblical commentary in Bei·ur Seforno, p. 4, based on Pirkei Avot 2:4. 24 Seforno, “Kavvanot Ha-torah,” §3, in Bei·ur Seforno, p. 373; compare §§18 and 27, ibid., pp. 382 and 388. Cf. Seforno to Deuteronomy 11:22, s. v. la-lekhet b’khol d’rakhav, and “Or Ammim,” chap. 21, §19, in Kitvei Seforno, p. 506, on using one’s power of choice to do good unto others. 25 Seforno, “Or Ammim,” chap. 17, §3, in Kitvei Seforno, pp. 490–491. Cf. Midrash Tehillim §89, which emphasizes that the world is built on the foundation of kindness (ḥesed), and Yalkut Shimoni, Hosea, chap. 6, remez 522, based on Hosea 6:6, “For I desire goodness, not sacrifice,” in which Rabbi Yoḥanan ben Zakkai declares that God considers the kindness one bestows on another to be more precious than all the sacrifices that Solomon offered in the Temple, and this divine-like behavior is the means for atonement for sins in exile. 26 See Seforno to Psalm 78:5, in Kitvei Seforno, p. 163. 27 See Seforno to Pirkei Avot 3:19, in Kitvei Seforno, p. 370, where he emphasizes that proper willful action, especially acts of goodness to others, is a means to actualize one’s intellect, which results in everlasting happiness. Cf. Cooperman, Peirush Seforno, “Kavvanot Ha-torah,” vol. 1, pp. 9–10, nn. 55 and 56, who observes the singular importance of acts of kindness in Seforno’s religious ideology; compare Bonfil, “Doctrine of the Soul,” pp. 223–226; and Shine, Adam, Ḥevrah, U-mishpat, pp. 93–96. In this manner, as observed by Cooperman, Peirush Seforno, Introduction to the Biblical Commentary, vol. 1, p. 3, nn. 54–56, and Seforno to Deuteronomy 11:22, in Cooperman, ibid., vol. 2, p. 66, n. 31, and Shine, ibid., pp. 136–137, 160–161, Seforno differs from Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, part III, chaps. 27, 51 whose religious philosophy centers in large measure on the cognitive facet of one’s religious quest. While Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed Part III, chapter 54, does stress the obligation to follow in God’s ways of generosity and justice, nevertheless, as noted by Julius Guttmann, Philosophies of Judaism: The History of Jewish Philosophy from Biblical Times to Franz Rosenzweig (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1964), p. 177, in Maimonides’ view, “Knowledge is man’s true happiness, and his highest perfection consists in having his thoughts rest in God, even when his outward actions are concerned with worldly duties.” Seforno, a product of the Italian


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Renaissance, promotes the philosophy that perfection is achieved through the balanced synergy between intellectual apprehension and refined qualities in conducting oneself with one’s fellow human beings. 28 On the selection of Israel as an act of kindness for the world, see Seforno to Psalm 78:5, in Kitvei Seforno, p. 163, and Seforno, “Kavvanot Ha-torah,” §2, in Bei·ur Seforno, p. 372. 29

These failures refer to the sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge, and the sins of the generation of the flood and the generation of the Tower of Babel. 30 Seforno, Introduction to his biblical commentary, in Bei·ur Seforno, p. 5. Cf. Seforno to Deuteronomy 32:7, 8, 9, on God’s selection of Israel. 31 Seforno to Exodus 19:5, s. v. vihyitem li s’gullah mi-kol ha-ammim. The last phrase means that the human is the one to fulfill God’s intentions. 32 Seforno to Exodus 19:6, s. v. v’attem tihyu li mamlekhet kohanim, obliquely referencing Zephaniah 3:9. 33 Seforno to Deuteronomy 32:5, s.v. shiḥeit lo lo’ banav mumam. On Israel’s selection to fulfill the mission of humanity, cf. Seforno, “Kavvanot Ha-torah,” §§2, 3, 24, in Bei·ur Seforno, pp. 371, 373, and 387, respectively, and Seforno to Pirkei Avot 3:18, in Kitvei Seforno, p. 370. See the discussion in Shine, Adam, Ḥevrah, U-mishpat, pp. 168–171, 291–293. 34 B. Shabbat 88a. 35 Naḥmanides, Torat Ha-shem T’mimah, in Devir, Peirush Ha-Ramban, vol. 5, p. 449; in that context, Naḥmanides states that if there is no human to acknowledge God and differentiate the preferred actions, the result is that “the human is like an animal and the intent of the creation of humanity is invalidated.” Cf. Seforno to Genesis 1:27, s. v. b’tzelem elohim, who indicates that if a person does not actualize his or her potential intellect, one is also compared to an animal, and this results in one’s destruction and oblivion. 36 Such as Rashi and Naḥmanides; see their commentaries to Leviticus 19:2, s. v. k’doshim tihyu. 37 See Seforno to Leviticus 19:2, s. v. dabbeir el kol adat...k’doshim tihyu ki kadosh ani ha-shem eloheikhem; cf. Seforno to Exodus 19:6; Leviticus 11:44–45; and Deuteronomy 4:8 and 14:2, 3, and 21. Compare Seforno, “Kavvanot Ha-torah,” §§1, 7, in Bei·ur Seforno, pp. 371, 375, as well as Seforno to Psalm 78:5, and “Or Ammim,” chap. 17, §§8, 9, in Kitvei Seforno, pp. 163, 492, respectively. On Seforno’s conception of k’dushah, cf. Bonfil, “Doctrine of the Soul,” pp. 232–235; Shine, Adam, Ḥevrah, U-mishpat, pp. 101–102, 133–134, and 183–187. Note especially Shine’s discussion, ibid., pp. 134–135, n. 159, on the importance of proper ethical behavior as a facet of achieving k’dushah in Seforno’s philosophy. 38 Seforno, “Kavvanot Ha-torah,” §7, in Bei·ur Seforno, p. 375; in this context, Seforno specifies how the laws of the Tabernacle and sacrifices assist Israel to achieve this lofty goal. See as well Seforno to Leviticus 20:2, s. v. asher yittein mi-zaro la-molekh. 39 Seforno, “Or Ammim,” chap.18, §9, in Kitvei Seforno, p. 495. 40 Seforno, “Or Ammim,” chap. 19, §15, in Kitvei Seforno, p. 499. 41 Compare Naḥmanides to Deuteronomy 31:19, s.v. ha-shirah ha-zot, who maintains that the text of Ha·azinu is called a shirah because it is meant to be


Havdalah-Emulating God in Mind and Deed

sung to a melody, and it is written with regular pauses to facilitate the oral mode of recitation. 42 B. Rosh Hashanah 31a, and see Rashi’s commentary, s.v. b’musfei d’shabbata, ha-ziv lakh, on the opinions of Rabbi Anan bar Rabba and Rav. Cf. Maimonides, M.T. Hilkhot Temidim U-musafim 6:9, who explains, based on this talmudic source, that this song was divided into six sections, as noted by the acronym, ‫ה"זיול ך‬, which refers to the first letter beginning each of the six sections of this composition, and every Shabbat Musaf one section was read, so that by the end of six weeks the entire song was recited. Interestingly, Deuteronomy 32 has echoes of the ideas and imagery in the Havdalah ceremony: “calling out in the name of God” (verse 3); Israel separated out as God’s portion (verse 9); imagery of wine and vineyards (verses 14, 32, 38); fire (as a symbol, however, of punishment; verse 22); the concept of God as savior (verses15, 35–36, 39); and the verbal activity of “lifting up” in the context of God swearing an oath (verse 40). 43 Seforno to Deuteronomy 32:6, s. v. ha-la-ha-shem tigm’lu zot; cf. his commentary to Deuteronomy 32:5, s. v. shiḥeit lo lo’ banav mumam. 44 Naḥmanides to Deuteronomy 32:40–41, s. v. v’hinneh ha-shirah ha-zot. Cf. Seforno to Deuteronomy 32:7, s. v. z’khor y’mot olam, for a parallel overview of the content of this song. 45 For this explanation of the description of Israel, see Naḥmanides to Deuteronomy 32:6, s.v. am naval v’lo ḥakham; compare Seforno to Deuteronomy 32:6. See as well Naḥmanides and Seforno to Deuteronomy 32:5, s. v. shiḥeit lo lo’ banav mumam, who analyze the song’s description of Israel as assuming the persona of “non-sons,” acting as a “corrupt and twisted generation.” Seforno to Deuteronomy 32:5 maintains that Israel already demonstrates its forsaking of its divine mission in the sin of the golden calf. 46 For a detailed analysis of Ha∙azinu’s description of Israel’s betrayal of God, see Naḥmanides to Deuteronomy 32:15, 16–17, 19, and 21. Regarding the description of Israel’s punishment in this text, see Naḥmanides to Deuteronomy 32:21, 26–27. Cf. Seforno to Deuteronomy 32:15–25. 47 Naḥmanides to Deuteronomy 32:26–27, s.v. ashbitah mei-enosh zikhram. 48 Ibid. 49 Naḥmanides to Deuteronomy 32:26–27. On Israel’s eternal chosen status, cf. Naḥmanides to Deuteronomy 7:6–8, s. v. b’kha baḥar ha-shem elohekha lihyot lo l’am s’gullah, and compare Seforno to Exodus 19:6, s. v. v’attem tihyu li mamlekhet kohanim; see also Seforno, Deuteronomy 32:7, 9, 11, 12. For an analysis of Seforno’s implied anti-Christian polemic in his emphasis on Israel’s eternity (despite their sin of the golden calf ) in his commentary on Ha·azinu,, see Moshe Rachimi’s Hebrew-language “‘O Nations, Acclaim His People’ (Deut. 32): Traces of Jewish-Christian Polemic During The Renaissance” in Zer Rimonim: Studies in Biblical Literature and Jewish Exegesis Presented to Professor Rimon Kasher, eds. Michael Avioz, Elie Assis, and Yael Shemesh (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2013), pp. 627–631. 50 Naḥmanides to Deuteronomy 32:32, s.v. ki mi-gefen s’dom gafnam. Cf. Seforno to Deuteronomy 31:17–18, 29, who explains that initially, the people of Israel will not turn to God in prayer and repentance while in exile for they will think that


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God has abandoned them. The song of Ha∙azinu is meant to reassure Israel that God is still with them and will listen to their prayers and repentance when they seek God out in exile. Compare Seforno to Deuteronomy 32:3–4. Cf. Rachimi, “O Nations,” pp. 624–625, 627–628, on these passages in Seforno’s commentary, and their implied anti-Christian polemic. 51 Naḥmanides to Deuteronomy 32:26–27, on 32:36. See as well Naḥmanides to Deuteronomy 32:40–41, and Deuteronomy 7:6–8. Cf. Seforno to Deuteronomy 32:43, s. v. v’khippeir admato ammo; compare Rachimi, “O Nations,” p. 634. 52 Rashi to Genesis 1:1, s.v. bara elohim, based on Genesis Rabbah 12:15. 53 Naḥmanides to Deuteronomy 32:4, s. v. ha-tzur tamim po∙olo. On Naḥmanides’ insight regarding the intertwining of judgment and mercy within the divine standard of justice, cf. Moshe M. Eisemann, Zechor Yemos Olam: Shiras Ha’azinu— Sweet Harmonies of Jewish Destiny (Baltimore: Moshe Eisemann, 2009), pp. 120– 123, and 187–188, n. 2, and 189, n. 5. 54 Naḥmanides, in his analysis of Maimonides’ classification of the fifth positive commandment, in Ḥayyim Dov Chavel, Sefer Ha-mitzvot L’ha-Rambam im Hassagot Ha-Ramban ( Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 1981), p. 156. This comment occurs in the context of Naḥmanides’ stipulation that prayer in times of trouble, as compared to everyday prayer, is a biblical commandment. Cf. Naḥmanides to Exodus 13:16, s. v. u-l’totafot, who notes that the main reason for prayer is to acknowledge God as Creator and declare, “We are Your creations.” See as well Naḥmanides to Genesis 46:15, s. v. sh’loshim v’shalosh, who calls prayer a miracle, particularly a hidden miracle, but miraculous nonetheless, as all our requests for which we pray only result from God’s providential intervention on our behalf but do not necessarily involve overt changes in the natural order of the world. 55 See Naḥmanides to Exodus 3:14–15, s. v. ehyeh asher ehyeh, elaborating on the talmudic explanation in B. Berakhot 9b; in this context, Naḥmanides maintains that God’s answer to Israel’s prayers in suffering is the greatest testimony that He remains close to them. Cf. Naḥmanides to Exodus 2:23–25; 12:42; 22:20–22, on the power of prayer during times of suffering, which arouses God’s mercy because of its acknowledgment that only He can be Israel’s savior. For discussion of these sources, see Borovski, Shalmei Naḥum, pp. 180–186 and 532. Cf. Seforno’s commentary to Song of Songs, 3:1, 5, and 8:5, stressing the importance of prayer in exile, in Kitvei Seforno, pp. 25 and 35. 56 Yonah Gerondi, Sha·arei T’shuvah, sha·ar 1, §§1, 25, 45, and 47; and sha∙ar 3, §2. Cf. Naḥmanides and Seforno to Deuteronomy 30:11, s.v. ki ha-mitzvah ha-zot, who maintain that repentance is a positive biblical commandment and emphasize its importance to bring about redemption. On the importance of repentance, as expounded by Seforno in various contexts of his biblical commentary, see Devorah Rosenwasser’s Hebrew-language essay “Repentance in the Thought of Rabbi Ovadiah Seforno,” Shema’atin 121–122 (1995), pp. 130–135. 57 Pirkei D’rabbi Eliezer, chap. 3 58 See Seforno, introduction to his commentary to Song of Songs and commentary to Psalm 66:8–9, in Kitvei Seforno, pp. 19, 143, respectively, as well as his commentary to Deuteronomy 32:26–27, 28–29, 31, who expounds that


Havdalah-Emulating God in Mind and Deed

Israel’s sustained existence in exile is unnatural and a consequence of God’s attribute of goodness. On the punishment of exile to arouse Israel to repent, see Seforno to Deuteronomy 32:19, 21. See as well Seforno to Psalm 68:6, in Kitvei Seforno, p. 145, who emphasizes that God is with Israel even in exile. On these points in Seforno’s commentary on Song of Songs, see Shaul Regev’s Hebrewlanguage “Redemption and Exile in the Commentary of Rabbi Ovadiah Seforno to Scripture,” in Mei-Romi Li-Yerushalayim: Sefer Zikkaron L’Yosef Barukh Sarmonetah, ed. Aviezer Ravitzky ( Jerusalem: Hebrew University Press, 1998), pp. 276, 285–286. Cf. Shine, Adam, Ḥevrah, U-mishpat, pp. 285–307, on Seforno’s analysis of exile and redemption in his writings, and Rachimi, “O Nations,” pp. 629, 632–633, on Seforno’s commentary on Ha·azinu in this regard. 59 Naḥmanides to Exodus 20:8, s.v. zakhor et yom ha-shabbat l’kad’sho. The command about the observance of Shabbat is reiterated, with different wording, in Deuteronomy 5:12–15, stating initially, “Keep (shamor) Shabbat to sanctify it.” 60 Naḥmanides to Exodus 20:8; cf. his commentary to Exodus 20:11. Compare Seforno to Exodus 20:10. See Hayim Donin, “Havdalah: The Ritual and the Concept,” Tradition 3:1 (Fall 1960), pp. 68–69, who observes that if Shabbat is used merely as a leisure day, it defeats the whole purpose for setting aside this day of the week from all others. 61 See Naḥmanides to Leviticus 23:24, s.v. yihyeh lakhem shabbaton, based on Mekhilta D’rabbi Yishmael, Bo, chap. 9, who emphasizes that the command to “rest” on Shabbat implies that not only should one avoid the prohibited thirtynine modes of work defined as m’lakhot, but one should not do any work of exertion or hard labor. Cf. the discussion in Borovski, Shalmei Naḥum, pp. 314– 317. Notably, as observed by Harold Fisch, Poetry with a Purpose: Biblical Poetics and Interpretation (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1990), p. 21, the concluding term, ki tov, which marks the culmination of the six days of creation, is not evoked in the description of the seventh Shabbat day, but Shabbat is demarcated by the description of kadosh, “holy.” 62 Seforno to Leviticus 26: 1–2, s. v. lo’ ta-asu lakhem…ki ani ha-shem eloheikhem… et shabotai tishmoru… 63 Naḥmanides to Exodus 20:8, based on Mekhilta D’rabbi Yishmael, Yitro, Baḥodesh 7, and Mekhilta D’rabbi Shimon bar Yoḥai, Yitro 20:8. 64 See Seforno to Exodus 20:11, s. v. ki sheishet yamim asah kein beirakh ha-shem et yom ha-shabbat va-y’kad’sheihu, and 31:17, s. v. u-va-yom hash’vi∙i shavat va-yinnafash; cf. Seforno to Genesis 2:3, s. v. va-y’varekh elohim et yom ha- sh’vi∙i. The idea of having an additional soul bestowed upon every Jew on Shabbat derives from B. Beitzah 16a; cf. B. Taanit 27b. In this regard, the ritual of smelling spices in the Havdalah ceremony is viewed as a symbolic means to refresh the soul after the departure of this additional soul at Shabbat’s conclusion; cf. Tosafot to B. Pesaḥim 102b, s.v. rav amar y.k.n.h., citing Rashbam’s interpretation, and compare Maimonides, M.T. Hilkhot Shabbat 29:29. For an extended discussion of the spices and the additional soul, see the essay by Martin S. Cohen elsewhere in this volume. For discussion of the sources for the spices ritual in Havdalah, see Donin, “Havdalah: The Ritual and the Concept,” p. 64, and Zvi A. Yehuda, “The Ritual and the Concept of Havdalah,” Judaism 43/1


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(Winter 1994), p. 81. Compare Radak to Genesis 2:3, s. v. va-y’varekh, who also cites this talmudic precedent, indicating that on Shabbat one is freed from the activities of this world so that one may focus on “wisdom and the words of God.” See as well Ibn Ezra (c. 1089–1167, Spain) to Genesis 2:3, s. v. va-y’varekh elohim. 65 As Maimonides, states: Kad’sheihu bi-kh’nisato v’kad’sheihu bitziato, “Sanctify it when it arrives and when it departs” (Sefer Ha-mitzvot, mitzvah 155). 66 Yehuda, “The Ritual and the Concept of Havdalah,” pp. 84, 85. 67 See Radak, Ibn Ezra, and Naḥmanides, to Genesis 2:3. 68 Fisch, Poetry with a Purpose, p. 22. 69 Fisch, ibid. Fisch correlates this observation to the transitive form of the verb, va-y’kaddeish, which appears in the context of a beginning, as in the start of a campaign or marshalling of an army; cf. Jeremiah 6:4, 51:28; Joel 4:9. See his full discussion on these points in ibid., pp. 21–22. 70 Rashbam to Deuteronomy 32:3, s. v. ki sheim ha-shem ekra; havu godel leiloheinu. Cf. Ibn Ezra to Psalm 116:13, 17, who indicates that calling out in the name of God in exile will serve as the basis for the ultimate goal of salvation to proclaim God’s name to all humanity. Seforno, in his comment to Psalm 116:13 (Kitvei Seforno, p. 214), interprets that Israel will declare God’s goodness and truth to the nations when it is redeemed. 71 Translation of this verse is based on Ibn Ezra’s rendition in his commentary to Exodus 15:2. Cf. Naḥmanides to Exodus 15:2, s.v. ozzi v’zimrat yah, who also cites Ibn Ezra’s reading. 72 See Seforno to Psalm 20:10, in Kitvei Seforno, p. 91, citing Deuteronomy 4:7, which declares that God demonstrates closeness to Israel by listening to their prayers, and see his commentary to Deuteronomy 4:7, s. v. ki mi goy gadol. Cf. Seforno, “Or Ammim,” chap. 19, §15, in Kitvei Seforno, p. 499, who cites Psalm 20:8, interpreting that when Israel calls out in God’s name, it demonstrates the merit of its selection as the nation that recognizes its Master and upholds the divine covenant, testifying that God will ultimately bring redemption. 73 Radak to Isaiah 12:3, based on the Aramaic Targum Yonatan’s figurative reading of this verse. 74 This conception is also evident in the invocation in the Ashkenazic version of Havdalah of Psalm 3:9 (“Salvation is God’s, Your blessing is on Your nation, selah”) and Psalm 46:8 (“The Eternal One of Hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our stronghold, selah”), which is followed by the proclamation of Psalm 84:13 (“The Eternal One of Hosts, fortunate is the one who places trust in You”). Cf. Seforno’s commentary to Psalm 84:9, 12, 13, in Kitvei Seforno, p. 172. 75 Meir Leibush Malbim to Isaiah 60:1–2. Cf. Psalm 84, a chapter invoked in the Havdalah prayer, in which God is metaphorically described as a brilliant sun, illuminating those who repent in the darkness of exile (verse 12); see Radak on this verse. 76 Cf. Radak to Isaiah 42:6, concerning Israel as the light onto the nations, who also references Isaiah 60:3, which applies the image of light to God’s manifest presence in messianic times. 77 For the tradition to recite Song of Songs on the eve of Shabbat, see Macy Nulman, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer: The Ashkenazic and Sephardic Rites (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1993), pp. 305–306.


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In Song of Songs, on the imagery of wine, see 1:2; 2:4; 4:10; 5:1; 7:9; and 8:2; on the image of grapes and vineyards, see 2:13 and 7:9; regarding the image of spices, see 3:6; 4:6, 10, 12–14, 16; 5:1, 13; 6:2; and 8:14; on the image of the flame, see 8:6. Even the image of flowing springs is invoked; see 4:12 and 15. 79 See Seforno’s introduction to Songs of Songs, in Kitvei Seforno, p. 19, and compare his commentary to Song of Songs, 1:4, ibid., p. 21; for discussion of Seforno’s allegorical readings of Song of Songs, see Regev, “Redemption and Exile,” pp. 271–287. Seforno’s general allegorical premise is apparently influenced by Rashi’s commentary on Song of Songs, in which he presumes that God and Israel reminisce and pine for each other in exile, with the guarantee that eventually they will be reunited. See Rashi, introduction to Song of Songs, as well as his commentary to Song of Songs, 7:9–10; 8:3–4, and 9–10, in Judah Rosenthal’s Hebrew-language essay, “Rashi’s Commentary on Song of Songs (from MSS edited and annotated)” in Samuel K. Mirsky Jubilee Volume, eds. Simon Bernstein and Gershon A. Churgin (New York: Jubilee Committee, 1958), pp. 136, 181, 183, and 185–186, respectively. On Rashi’s commentary to Song of Songs, cf. Sarah Kamin, Rashi: P’shuto shel Mikra U-midrasho shel Mikra ( Jerusalem: Magnes Press, Hebrew University, 1986), pp. 247–262. 80 See Seforno to Song of Songs, 4:11, in Kitvei Seforno, pp. 27–28 . Cf. his commentary to Song of Songs, 4:3; 5:1; 7:12–14; 8:2, 13, ibid., pp. 27, 28, 34– 36, respectively. Compare Seforno to Kohelet 4:4, in Kitvei Seforno, p. 46; cf. Seforno’s comment to Psalm 14:1, ibid., p. 83, where he interprets the naval in that context as the wicked in each generation of Israel’s exile who do not perfect themselves through cognition and action. On the necessity to perform the commandments in exile, learning Torah and doing proper deeds, in Seforno’s philosophy, see Shine, Adam, Ḥevrah, U-mishpat, pp. 306–307. Interestingly, the Sephardic and Oriental versions of Havdalah include Proverbs 3:4, the prayer to find favor and approval in the eyes of God and humankind. 81 Pirkei D’rabbi Eliezer, chap. 20, quoting Leviticus 19:2. 78


Differentiating Our Differentiations: Shades of Havdalah

Differentiating Our Differentiations: Shades of Havdalah Gidon Rothstein

In the Havdalah service bidding farewell to Shabbat, Jews bless God for differentiating between the sanctified and the mundane, light and dark, Israel and the nations, and, lastly, between the seventh day as it draws to a close and the six days of active involvement in shaping the world around us. That blessing comes at the end of a ceremony that includes a cup of wine (or grape juice), spices, and a candle. Youth groups, some synagogues, and even some private homes add musical accompaniment and song, to heighten Havdalah’s emotional impact, which is helped by the effects of candlelight, whose flickering glow is often the only illumination in the room.1 Although the ceremony of Havdalah is moving and satisfying, at its core rests a challenging idea: that the differentiation between things in the world is God’s work, not an accident of nature or the result of human action. It is God who differentiated the sanctified from the mundane, created light and separated it from dark, set the Jewish people up as a nation distinct from others, and gave the seventh day a different focus than the others. Traditional Jewish commentators have understood the biblical phrase v’halakhta bi-d’rakhav, “you shall walk in His ways” (Deuteronomy 28:9), to assert imitatio Dei as a commandment, that Jews are obligated to strive to mimic the ways of the Creator as much as is humanly possible.2 If so, Havdalah implicitly calls on us to engage in differentiation and categorization, as God did, and to


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understand each item or aspect of the world sufficiently so that we can treat it as appropriate to a given category, ever mindful of how things differ from each other.

When the Two Sides Aren’t Equal Havdalah suggests that differentiation is a good and holy thing; other sources expand our understanding of how we should use differentiation in our lives. One source on the topic will be familiar to many because it is a prominent part of the Passover Haggadah. There, in the Maggid section, we quote the passage from Joshua 24 in which Moses’ successor addresses the people Israel at length, just before his own death. Joshua points out to the people that Teraḥ was father to both Abraham and Naḥor (another son, Haran, isn’t mentioned), but that God took Abraham from the other side of the river (i.e., the Jordan), led him throughout Canaan, and gave him many descendants (24:2–3). Of those, God chose Isaac to continue Abraham’s legacy. Isaac fathered Esau and Jacob. Esau was given Mount Seir, and Jacob and his children went down to Egypt (24:4). In each generation, one was taken, and the other(s) discarded. Naḥor was equally a son of Teraḥ, yet was left on the other side of the river, lost to Jewish history. Abraham’s many descendants became irrelevant to the Jewish people once Isaac was chosen, and Esau was sent off to Mount Seir, no longer part of God’s people. Joshua’s speech suggests that the point of differentiation is the possibility of embracing one resultant category and rejecting the other. Havdalah suggests an alternate approach: that it is also possible to embrace the one without denigrating the value of the other.3 Our embrace of the sacred does not require us to loathe the mundane. The esteem in which we hold light does not require us to hate darkness. Nor does our sense of our particular contribution to history prevent


Differentiating Our Differentiations: Shades of Havdalah

us from appreciating and valuing the unique contributions of other nations. Finally, the special qualities of the seventh day do not mean we bide our time on the other six, simply waiting for Shabbat to arrive; instead, those are the days when we are expected, perhaps commanded, to preserve and to build God’s world. Havdalah differentiates between two different categories, without rejecting either one outright. This is quite different from Joshua, who reminded the Jews that rejection of those who didn’t belong (going back to the generation of Abraham) had shaped them as a nation, and it would be important for them to continue to reject those who were different from them, as they left Egyptian mores in their past and inoculated themselves against Canaanite ones. In other words, there are two ways to react to difference. There’s the Joshua way, repudiating one of the two sides, and there’s the Havdalah way, where we give each of the parts of a dichotomy its proper place. From this emerges an interesting notion: that one of the challenges of Jewish life is learning to distinguish between the kind of differentiation that leads to rejection of some category, and the kind of differentiation that leads to acceptance of the world and its diverse parts.

Isaac Wants to Bless Esau It can be challenging to know when one kind of differentiation is appropriate rather than the other. Examining one of the central episodes in the selection process that produced the Israelite nation can be instructive in this regard. The biblical story of Isaac blessing his sons may, in fact, suggest that Isaac himself was not clear as to whether there could be a place for Esau and his progeny alongside Isaac’s other son, Jacob.


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Isaac’s hope to include Esau in the eventual Jewish people seems to me the simplest way to read Genesis 27, where Isaac asks Esau to hunt for victuals for him to eat before offering his blessing to his son. This request seems to suggest that Isaac did not know that Jacob had purchased the firstborn’s rights, which story is told in detail two chapters earlier in Scripture. But being in the dark about family interactions might have been the family pattern: Rebecca seems not to have told Isaac about the prophecy concerning the twins, which she heard while they were still in utero. More troubling, though, is Isaac’s obliviousness to Esau’s true nature; are we to accept that one of the patriarchs of the Jewish people was so blind as not to recognize Esau’s evil, son or no son? There are two general approaches to answer this question, depending on how we view Esau. Many classical sources see him as evil from the womb, and then go about explaining how, indeed, Isaac got it so wrong.4 I suggest another option, namely: that Esau’s path was not yet so firmly set, and that there was a possibility of his personal story having a happier ending than the one it actually did end up having. Hundreds of years after the time of the patriarchs, the prophet Obadiah—of whose work only one chapter has survived—harshly denounced Esau’s descendants for their tacit participation in the pillaging of Israel, their having stood on the side, watching and enjoying, and then entering afterwards to partake of the spoils (1:10– 14). In those verses addressed to the nation of Edom/Esau, Israel is referred to as aḥikha, “your brother”; the implication is that Edom’s action and inaction is more blameworthy precisely because the injured party was a brother. Centuries after the original family drama, we see in Obadiah the assumption that the Edomites had the choice and ability to act with more brotherly love than they did, in fact, exhibit; their failure to act appropriately incurred the prophet’s disapprobation. What if we assume that Esau, too, had the choice and ability to act—that is, he was not evil from the get-go, but could have made


Differentiating Our Differentiations: Shades of Havdalah

better choices? It seems to me that one plausible reading of the biblical narrative is that Isaac recognized Esau for who he was, yet thought he was the right recipient for some of the blessings that eventually went to Jacob. In this reading, the blessing that Isaac was offering Esau—and gave instead to Jacob, thinking that he was Esau—didn’t depend on who was firstborn. Rather, it was based on Isaac’s knowledge of Esau, who he was, and the role he might play in the future Jewish people. Jacob was, at the time of the blessing, a pure soul who gravitated toward the contemplative life—a “tent-sitter,” as he is characterized in Genesis 25:27. The future nation of Israel would need such people, but it would also need people who could take care of its physical needs: hunting for food, fighting in the army, building homes. Eventually, Jacob took on the physical life as well. It is not implausible, however, that Isaac thought or hoped that if his two sons each worked on that which drew them naturally, they could complement each other: Jacob as the more internal, contemplative, thoughtful partner, and Esau as the one to take care of external matters, such as hunting, gathering, and making war. Isaac called Esau, intending to bless him in a way that would maximize his contribution to the eventual Jewish people. Rebecca, however, did not see it that way—perhaps because of the prophecy she received before her sons were born (Genesis 25:23). In that oracle, she heard that her two sons were destined to father separate nations. That explains her certainty that whatever blessing Isaac intended to give Esau had to go instead to Jacob, since it was meant to be part of the future Jewish nation’s legacy. In my opinion, these biblical passages illustrate the two kinds of separation and differentiation discussed above. The first, the inclusive kind, allows us to embrace two things even if they are fully distinct from each other; it is that kind of differentiation that surfaces liturgically in Havdalah and can be seen in Isaac’s approach to the blessings he wished to bestow on his two sons. The other,


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the exclusive kind, reacts to the presence of two distinct things by embracing one and rejecting the other, as we remind ourselves at the Passover seder, and as we see in Rebecca’s approach to the blessing of her two sons.

Exclusions in Jewish History and Jewish Life The biblical narrative can be read in many ways, but what interests me in the reading I have suggested, where Isaac hoped to keep Esau as part of the people to descend from him, is that it brings to the fore the relative values of inclusionary and exclusionary behavior, and how even our patriarchs and matriarchs struggled with the question of knowing when to apply which to a given situation. Clearly, fidelity to the covenant will require rejecting some people, objects, and ideas; but others are clearly meant to be part of our world, as long as we find them their proper place. And then there are the hard cases, where it’s not clear which way to go. How are we to know which is which? Too often, Jews of the past have rejected people or ideas that could have contributed greatly to their welfare, resulting in a history with more sorrow and less success than might have otherwise have been the case. On the other hand, that same history reverberates with instances of rejecting that which needs rejecting. In the midrash we read that Abraham’s first claim to fame was that he rejected idolatry and smashed his father’s idols.5 We also find many references to his kindness to others, in particular welcoming guests6—although in that role, he is portrayed as using his own hospitality as a means of bringing people closer to knowing of their Creator. In other words, it wasn’t kindness for its own sake that brought him renown, but rather his spiritual role-modeling that did so: after hosting travelers, he gave the credit—and, more to the point,


Differentiating Our Differentiations: Shades of Havdalah

asked them too to give the credit and thanks—to God.7 Central to the tradition’s portrayal of Abraham is his relationship with God, which started with his complete rejection of idolatry. The rest of Jewish history has many examples of complete rejection as well. When, after Solomon’s death, Jeroboam founded a kingdom in Northern Israel, he set up new temples and a new holiday, to discourage any desire on his subjects’ part to return to Jerusalem and participate in Temple worship there (1 Kings 12:26–33). In the Talmud, we find the assertion that King Jeroboam set up watchmen on the roads to prevent his subjects from traveling to Jerusalem.8 For his new kingdom to succeed, Jeroboam seems to have assumed that a complete rejection of the religious rites of the Southern Kingdom, including its Temple worship, would be necessary. The end of the Second Temple era saw three competing versions of Jewish observance vying for popularity among the public: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes. The Pharisees, the direct ancestors of traditional Judaism, rejected the approach of the Sadducees and Essenes; their descendants also rejected what became Christianity, Islam, and Karaism, each of which claimed some connection to biblical Judaism.9 In each case, rejection came at the cost of centuries or millennia of tension, but was deemed necessary because of how divergent those groups were from how the mainstream group understood the nature of their worship. Within their general tolerance for disagreement, the outlying movements were so far from how the mainstream defined their religion that the latter saw no way to include them in their own community of faith. In the modern era, the Jewish people continues to self-divide into ever smaller subgroups, with too few recognizing the value in learning from each other as best we can. The challenge is not to decide between rejectionism and blanket acceptance, but rather to assume that, just as the wise among us learn from all, so can members of the Jewish people always learn from other Jews—even while


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rejecting elements of others’ approaches to Judaism with which they disagree. There must remain broad common ground on which all can stand in agreement, as the Havdalah model for inclusion suggests an acceptance of a diversity of approaches. To move away from questions of denominationalism or overall religious definition, we should remember and respect the price— both financial and social—that generations of Jews have paid for rejecting non-Jewish wine and non-kosher meat.10 That rejection made it more difficult to build fruitful relations with non-Jewish neighbors—indeed, exacerbated tensions with those neighbors, for centuries—and yet was mandated by Jewish law, which Jews of those eras saw as sufficient reason to adhere to those rules. But if we have to remember that Jews sometimes reject categorically, we also have to remember that Jews just as often notice difference in a way that accepts each of the different components, finding for each a productive place in the world. Jacob—and, even more so, Moses—could have told the Israelites to abandon their tribal identities, to morph forward into being members of a single united nation, unencumbered by earlier tribal traditions and identification. But that’s not at all what either did: both of them blessed the tribes of Israel (in Genesis 49 and Deuteronomy 33, respectively) distinctly and differently, embracing the differences of each constituent member of the whole, without using those differences to denigrate others. Although tribal divisions are no longer a part of Jewish identity, Jews still do divide themselves into three basic groups: kohanim, Levites, and ordinary Jews. While today that expresses itself mostly in a few rituals a year, in the times of the Temple it would have meant significantly different life paths: the priests and Levites focused on Temple worship and education, and ordinary Jews on farming and commerce. The ideal Jewish nation, as tradition portrayed it, was one where people of different tribes and regions pursued divergent life paths—some were farmers, some seafaring merchants, some soldiers,


Differentiating Our Differentiations: Shades of Havdalah

some scholars, some teachers, some priests—without any hope or hint that ideally those of one type would switch to become the other, or that any one type was inherently superior to the others. If that’s too far in the past, let us recall that Judaism today necessarily recognizes the differences created by individual choices— whether, for example, to devote one’s life solely to the study of Torah, to mix that study with acts of kindness, or to spend the bulk of one’s time on earning a living, relegating Torah and other mitzvot to leftover time. Even within the sphere of Torah-related activity, no one can visit the sick and comfort the bereaved and help the poor, all in equal measure. Some balance will always be needed, and Judaism accepts those choices, even as they produce different life-patterns. Judaism can only become stronger by recognizing and celebrating the special gifts that each individual within the House of Israel brings to the feast; just as, at Havdalah, we can distinguish among the various approaches to life and the service of God...even as we know that each can, should, and does enrich the Jewish people as a whole.

The Challenge of Havdalah Havdalah, the ceremony that closes Shabbat, reminds us of more than simply the end of a separate and special day. It reminds us that our lives are filled with times to see difference, to choose how to react to each of those differences—to the sacred and the mundane, to the light and the dark—and to contemplate how we can best assign each its rightful place in the world. As we repeatedly do that, taking what’s best for now and delaying or putting aside what’s best for other times (but without rejecting either), we also need to remember situations in which we cannot accept both sides, where only one is acceptable or good and the other must be absolutely and uncompromisingly rejected. The challenge is


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not automatically to reject what is foreign or automatically to accept it, but rather to distinguish wisely between pernicious influences that are inimical to a virtuous Jewish life and those blessings from without that can only make Jewish life richer and more satisfying, and not even slightly less authentic. Shabbat is a “bubble” set apart from many of those considerations, a day whose rest includes closing ourselves off from much of what is involved in the course of our ordinary lives. We form that bubble, we should note, by a painstaking and detailed differentiation of permitted Shabbat activities from not permitted (and, for that day, rejected) ones. As we come to the end of Shabbat—smelling the spices, enjoying the warmth and light of a new fire, hearing ourselves called to face our lives again—we remind ourselves that life involves classifying, analyzing, characterizing, and choosing. These judgments are often delicate and unclear. Much that bedevils Jewish unity starts with a disagreement on exactly such questions, with some Jews feeling obligated to reject more of what others accept. This can lead to a struggle on all sides for the more rejectionist to feel comfortable with the more accepting—with some falling all along the continuum between the absolutes on either end—and vice versa. It would be foolish to pretend the answers are easy or obvious, when Jews in each of the denominations cannot agree among themselves on central questions—such as how to deal with the intermarried, for one easy example. I mean here to suggest only that we would stand to gain much from recognizing and perhaps grappling with these underlying questions: what to reject for always, what for now; and what to accept, build, and foster. As God differentiates, so do we, hoping to do it as well and as accurately as the blessed Holy One.


Differentiating Our Differentiations: Shades of Havdalah


With respect to the emotional impact of the ceremony, see the essay by Jacob Adler elsewhere in this volume. 2 See, e.g., Maimonides, M.T. Hilkhot Dei∙ot 1:5. Many of the essays in the first volume in the Mesorah Matrix series deal with just this topic; see Sanctification: Kedushah, eds. David Birnbaum and Benjamin Blech (New York: New Paradigm Matrix, 2015). 3 In this regard, see the essay elsewhere in this volume by David Greenstein. 4 Rashi’s reading of Genesis is an easy place to see this attitude. See, e.g., his comments on 25:22 and 28. 5 Bereishit Rabbah 38:13. For Maimonides’ acceptance of this as historical truth (rather than a metaphorical or allegorical story), see M.T. Hilkhot Avodat Kokhavim 1:3, where he includes smashing idols in the list of Abraham’s actions after discovering monotheism. 6 Such as B. Bava Metzia 86b. 7 There are many sources attesting to this claim; for one that connects it explicitly to his acts of kindness, see Bereishit Rabbah 84:4. 8 B. Taanit 28a. 9 Similar to the talmudic portrayal of Sadducees, Karaites see Scripture as the sole legally binding text, and interpret it as literally as possible. The movement started around the seventh century CE, and there are still between thirty-five and forty thousand Karaites in Israel today. For more about the Karaites, see 10 The medieval cost of separation has been laid out, among others, by: Jacob Katz, Exclusiveness and Tolerance (London: Oxford University Press, 1961); Haym Soloveitchik, Yeinam: Saḥar B’yeinam shel Goyim al Gilgulah shel Halakhah B’olam Ha-ma·aseh (Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 2003); and idem, Ha-yayim Bimei Ha-beinayim: Yein Nesekh – Perek B’toldot Ha-halakhah B’ashk’naz ( Jerusalem: Zalman Shazar Center, 2008). Many of Soloveitchik’s shorter pieces appear in the first two volumes of his Collected Essays (Oxford and Portland, OR: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2013 and 2014).


Havdalah: Sanctification of Ḥol

Havdalah: Sanctification of Ḥol 1 Dena Freundlich

After three stars have emerged in the heavens on Saturday evening, we gather around and perform the Havdalah service in order to end the Sabbath. We light a candle, smell spices, and recite a text over wine in which we recognize the distinction between sacred and profane, between light and dark, between Israel and the other nations, and between the Sabbath and the other six days of the week. What is the significance of this ritual? Generally speaking, one tends to think of Havdalah as a wistful service that regretfully puts Shabbat to rest. However, I would like to suggest that Havdalah does not merely serve to end the Sabbath. Just as we perform the ritual of Kiddush in order to sanctify the Sabbath at its inception, I believe that Havdalah is the parallel process that we perform at the onset of the work-week in order to sanctify ḥol.2 In order to develop and appreciate this dimension of Havdalah, we must explore the Torah’s attitude toward ḥol, and in particular toward m’lakhah, the “work” that is prohibited on Shabbat but permitted during the week. What precisely is the difference between Shabbat and the weekdays, that would make m’lakhah forbidden on the former but permitted during the latter?


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M’lakhah in Mishkan = M’lakhah on Shabbat The word m’lakhah is a mysterious one, with no familiar verbal root to suggest its meaning, and the Torah is maddeningly silent regarding the critical question of what constitutes forbidden m’lakhah on Shabbat. The sages ultimately define it to comprise the thirty-nine activities that were performed in constructing the Tabernacle (mishkan) in the desert.3 This is baffling. The Torah explicitly tells us that by ceasing from m’lakhah on Shabbat, we recall that God created the world in six days and then rested (Exodus 20:8–11; 31:17). It therefore stands to reason that the rabbis should have combed through the opening chapters of Genesis in search of all the verbs describing God’s acts of creation, and those should have been the activities proscribed on Shabbat. In seeking to define m’lakhah, why do the sages abandon the obvious choice of the creation narrative in favor of the seemingly random Tabernacle account? Furthermore, not only did the sages derive the thirty-nine m’lakhot prohibited on Shabbat from the thirty-nine activities performed in constructing the mishkan, but they also decreed that those activities are prohibited on Shabbat only if they are performed in the very manner in which they were carried out in the construction of the mishkan. Specifically, this means the act must involve m’lekhet maḥshevet4— thoughtful, purposeful, skilled work. The Tosafot carried this yet another step further and insisted that it be performed for the same purpose as that for which it was performed in the mishkan.5 Why did the sages forge such a powerful bond between the m’lakhah that must be refrained from on Shabbat and the m’lakhah that was carried out in constructing the mishkan? I believe that the sages did not randomly link the two types of m’lakhah through creative rabbinic hermeneutics. A careful review of the mishkan narratives reveals that there is a clear connection between m’lakhah on Shabbat and m’lakhah for the mishkan, based on p’shat


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alone.6 First, admonitions to observe the Sabbath are oddly interwoven within the mishkan section. Immediately upon concluding all of the detailed instructions for how to erect the mishkan, God launches on a six-verse seeming non sequitur about observing the Sabbath (Exodus 31:12–17). Then, when Moses gathers the nation to relay to them God’s instructions, prior to speaking about the Tabernacle, he strangely inserts two verses about Sabbath observance (Exodus 35:1–3). These textual juxtapositions would seem to indicate that building the mishkan and observing Shabbat are interdependent in some way. Similarly, Leviticus 19:30 and 26:2 both state, “You shall keep My Sabbaths and venerate My sanctuary, I am the Eternal,” again associating Shabbat and the mishkan.7 Additionally, and more specific to the Shabbat–Tabernacle m’lakhah equation, the same word (m’lakhah) is used repeatedly to describe both the work that is forbidden on Shabbat and the work that went into constructing the mishkan,8 suggesting that they are one and the same. Furthermore, in chapters 31 and 35 of Exodus, the word m’lakhah is used numerous times within the very same chapter to refer both to what cannot be done on Shabbat and to what was done in erecting the mishkan.9 The Torah never explicates what it means by the term m’lakhah in the context of Shabbat, but it devotes no fewer than thirteen chapters10 to spelling out every last detail of the m’lakhah that went into building the mishkan. Given that it uses the same term, m’lakhah, within the same chapters to refer to both, it seems obvious—even without the sages’ exegesis—that the Torah intends for one to be defined by the other. However, all of this simply leads to an even stronger question than the one with which we started. Earlier, we had asked: Why did the sages ignore the creation narrative in favor of the mishkan narrative, in explaining what constitutes m’lakhah? But a more apropos question now appears to be: Why does the Torah itself ignore the creation narrative, in favor of the mishkan?


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To answer this, we must gain a deeper understanding of the mishkan and the significance of its construction.

Meaning of the Mishkan The mishkan was no less than a house for God on earth,11 constructed by human beings. It was assembled in the center of the Israelite camp in the wilderness, so that it constituted the nucleus of the encampment. The focal point of the Tabernacle was the aron, the Ark, which contained within it the tablets from Mount Sinai (Exodus 25:16, 21; 40:20) and upon which sat the two golden cherubs. God personally communicated with Moses from atop the Ark between those two angelic figures (Numbers 7:89). The verse that probably best captures the Tabernacle’s essence is Exodus 25:8, “Make for Me a sanctuary so that I may dwell in their midst.” God’s presence resided in and emanated from the mishkan; the mishkan is what enabled God’s presence to be a palpable part of the Israelites’ daily experience. Naḥmanides (1194–1270, called Ramban) adds that the mishkan essentially was a perpetuation of the Sinai experience. At Mount Sinai, every man, woman, and child saw and heard God. The Tabernacle transformed this from a one-time event frozen in history to an ongoing, vibrant part of Israelite experience, by making God’s presence a tangible part of the people’s daily lives.12 As God continued to communicate with humanity from the mishkan and imbue it with the divine presence, the mishkan represented a continuation of the Sinai encounter in a very real way. A fascinating insight that further magnifies the mishkan’s significance is that there are many parallels between the mishkan and creation.13 Midrash Tanḥuma explicitly states that the construction of the mishkan was the equivalent of the creation of the world, and supports this contention by citing a linguistic parallel between the


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mishkan and each of the seven days of creation. In addition, the verbal root ayin-sin-hei, meaning “to make,” appears frequently in both the creation and mishkan narratives. Moreover, Exodus 24:16 describes the glory (kavod) of God covering Mount Sinai for six days, followed by God summoning Moses on the seventh to receive the instructions for the mishkan. There is seemingly no reason for God to have kept Moses waiting for six days, other than to ensure that the mishkan is introduced with language that resonates strongly with God’s creation of the world in six days, followed by the Sabbath on the seventh. Furthermore, the word used in that verse to tell of God’s glory resting on Mount Sinai for six days is va-yishkon, which shares the same root as the word mishkan—thus further linking the concept of mishkan with this creation-like depiction. There are additional linguistic parallels as well. For example, compare the verses below, which describe the completion of creation and the completion of the mishkan: Thus were finished (va-y’khullu) the heavens and the earth and all their host. And God finished (va-y’khal) on the seventh day His work (m’lakhah) that He had made… (Genesis 2:1–2) Thus was finished (va-teikhel) all the labor of the Tabernacle of the tent of meeting….And Moses finished (va-y’khal) the work (m’lakhah). (Exodus 39:32, 40:33) And note the similarity in the following two texts, the first about creation and the second about the mishkan: And God saw (va-yar) all that He had made (asah) and behold (hinneih) it was very good…And God blessed (vay’varekh) the seventh day and sanctified it because on it He rested from all His work (m’lakhto) that God created to make (la-asot). (Genesis 1:31–2:3)


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And Moses saw (va-yar) all the work and behold (hinneih) they had made (asu) it as God had commanded so had they made (asu) it, and Moses blessed (va-y’varekh) them. (Exodus 39:43) What might we make of these parallels? It seems that the Torah is conveying that just as fashioning a universe is God’s act of creation, crafting the mishkan is how humans can also engage in an act of creation. Its complex and intricate construction, which involved every form of artisanship, brought human creativity to its fullest expression. In fact, as mentioned previously, the work involved in its construction is defined as being m’lekhet maḥshevet, a term that defies precise translation because it encompasses all manner of meaningful work—purposeful, creative, thoughtful, skilled.15 It is very significant that this kind of all-encompassing creative human endeavor takes place specifically within the context of constructing the mishkan, suggesting that we ought to utilize our immense reservoirs of human talent and creativity in serving God. Taking this a step further, constructing the mishkan was more than simply an act of service to God, as any mitzvah is; rather, the mishkan created a home for God’s presence within our midst. Thus, the message is to direct our talents and creativity not just to serving God and obeying divine commands, but more specifically to bringing God’s presence into our world. Some commentators have suggested16 that the purpose of humanity in general is to develop a relationship with the Divine and infuse our physical world with a sense of godliness. If so, then constructing the mishkan—a place for God to dwell in our midst—is no less than the fulfillment of the very purpose of our creation.17 Thus, our human act of creation, constructing the mishkan, completes and fulfills the purpose of God’s act of creation, creating the world.18 The mishkan becomes the ultimate partnership between humanity and God19 as we join forces to bring creation to its pinnacle.


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Given the cosmic significance of the mishkan, why would God use it to define prohibited Shabbat m’lakhah—which implies that Shabbat and the mishkan are in opposition to one another? Why should the guideline of what we must not do on Shabbat be what needs to be done to construct the mishkan?20

The Mishkan and Shabbat: Sanctity of Place and Sanctity of Time Many different answers have been suggested to this question, but the most famous treatment is probably that of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in his book The Sabbath. His primary thesis is that the reason Shabbat takes primacy over the mishkan is that, in Judaism, k’dushat ha-z’man (sanctity of time) surpasses k’dushat ha-makom (sanctity of place).21 “Judaism is a religion of time, aiming at the sanctification of time,”22 he writes. “The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space.”23 Though Heschel develops a brilliant, beautiful, and inspiring vision of the Sabbath, I find it difficult to agree with his interpretation of the Torah’s overarching value system of time above place. A cursory glance through the Torah seems to reveal otherwise. Though Heschel maintains that “the Bible is more concerned with time than with space,”24 approximately one-quarter of the entire Book of Exodus is devoted to detailed descriptions of how precisely to construct the mishkan—considerably more space than is devoted even to the giving of the Torah or to the Sabbath. Furthermore, the very first command given to Abraham, the directive through which God begins the process of creating a chosen nation, is lekh l’kha, “go forth from your land to the Land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). And the specific place to which God sends Abraham is not merely incidental; it becomes the focus of chapter upon chapter of


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the Torah. Indeed, God promises the patriarchs many blessings,25 but the two that are the most prominent—and that signify through whom God is selecting to continue the covenant—are the promises of progeny and the Land.26 In other words, the promise of a specific locale constitutes fifty percent of the covenantal blessing! Moreover, virtually the entire Torah, from the moment of the Exodus through the conclusion of Deuteronomy, is all about the journey (both physical and spiritual) to the Promised Land. For centuries, we Jews have prayed and longed for God to restore us to that holy place, and we are indescribably fortunate to live in a time in which God has in fact once again returned us to the Land and re-established Jewish sovereignty. The centrality of sacred places in the Bible and in Jewish experience can hardly be overstated. Contrary to Heschel’s contention, sanctity of space is indeed a dominant and celebrated theme in Judaism; Judaism is a religion of space no less than of time. What, then, are we to make of the fact that Shabbat unequivocally trumps the mishkan—and even more, that by defining prohibited m’lakhah on Shabbat for all time based on the mishkan, it appears as though Shabbat and the mishkan are fundamentally incompatible? After all, those activities that were performed for the mishkan are precisely the ones that must be halted once Shabbat arrives, seeming to imply that Shabbat eclipses the mishkan and what it represents. I think the key to understanding these relationships lies in the fact that forbidden m’lakhah is derived from the construction of the mishkan, not from worship in the mishkan.27 In fact, communal sacrifices could be, and were, slaughtered in the Temple on the Sabbath, even though slaughtering animals would have constituted violation of the Sabbath in any other context.28 Rashi points out that on every single Shabbat, at least four sacrifices were brought— two as regular daily sacrifices (tamid) and two as additional (musaf) offerings—each one of which overrode the Sabbath (doḥeh et hashabbat).29 When the halakhah states that on Shabbat all mishkan


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construction had to cease,30 it is not saying that sanctity of time is more important than sanctity of place, or that Shabbat causes the negation of the mishkan. On the contrary, worship in the mishkan overrode the Sabbath in certain specific instances. Rather, what Shabbat supersedes is the creative construction of the mishkan.31 Shabbat provides the opportunity to sit back in the sacred place that one has constructed already and experience being with God there. Shabbat ensures that we do not get so swept up in the creative construction of sacred spaces that we forget to simply spend time with God in them. On Shabbat, we desist from m’lakhah, not so as to in any way negate the importance of such activity, but rather so as to make sure to spend time in what that activity has hopefully produced: a sacred space in which God’s presence is profoundly felt. This is why worship in the mishkan could and did continue on Shabbat; it was the construction that had to cease. Thus, the message is not, as Heschel suggested, that sanctity of time trumps sanctity of space, nor is it the opposite. I would suggest that the ideal is to unite the two, and spend sanctified time in a sanctified place. In fact, on the three pilgrimage festivals of Pesaḥ, Shavuot, and Sukkot, there is a mitzvah to do exactly that: to perform aliyah la-regel32 and celebrate the sanctified time of the holiday in the sanctified space of the Temple.

The Link Between M’lakhah on Shabbat and M’lakhah in the Mishkan Now we can finally appreciate why it is that the definition of m’lakhah is derived from what humans did in constructing the mishkan, rather than from God’s actions in creating the world. The mishkan connection reminds us that not only did God create the world, but also that we humans play a critical role in furthering creation through our own ongoing creative work.


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But more significantly, perhaps we were missing the mark when we asked why God would choose mishkan-construction to be the model of m’lakhah that must be halted on Shabbat. Perhaps the focus ought to be instead on the fact that mishkan-construction is what must be resumed after Shabbat, after Havdalah. By linking Shabbat to the mishkan, the Torah powerfully conveys the message that the m’lakhah we engage in during the week can be, and ought to be, mishkanesque m’lekhet maḥshevet—that is: holy, creative, skillful work whose purpose is to bring God ever more into this world and into our lives. Thus, the pattern of engaging in constructing the mishkan and then putting it on hold for Shabbat, only to resume construction after the Sabbath, forms the blueprint for how God wants us to experience the cycle of ḥol–Shabbat–ḥol–Shabbat. We are meant to spend the weekdays passionately engaged in m’lakhah33—not just any work, nor even work modeled after God’s creation of the world, but rather work inspired by and even defined by the mishkan; work that brings human creativity to its fullest expression, directed toward the goal of creating sacred spaces and bringing God’s presence more into the world. And then on Shabbat we cease from this work, so as to remember that the ultimate goal is not the act of creating itself, but rather appreciating and benefitting from what we have hopefully created: a place for God to reside in our midst, so that we can enjoy a closer relationship with God than existed the week before.

Transformation of Havdalah34 This transforms our understanding of Havdalah. As was presented at the outset of this essay, I believe that Havdalah is not a ritual that simply ends the Sabbath, but that it also serves to initiate and sanctify ḥol. What Havdalah enables us to resume is m’lakhah, defined as the creative activities necessary for constructing the mishkan. In


Havdalah: Sanctification of Ḥol

other words, Havdalah is not a mournful ritual that sadly ends the Shabbat and sends us back to our humdrum weekday existence. On the contrary, Havdalah permits us to resume our human yet Godlike work of creativity, of partnering with God in contributing to the purpose of creation, and of working to bring God more into this world.35 The rituals and text of the service support the contention that Havdalah is actually a positive ceremony that is meant to empower us to resume creative, spiritually meaningful m’lakhah. First, the Havdalah text in Maariv (the evening service) is inserted into the attah ḥonein blessing of the Amidah, which praises God for bestowing wisdom and understanding upon humanity. It is only as wise and understanding human beings that we are able to resume the creative, God-like acts of creation that hopefully characterize our weekday m’lakhah. Second, the Havdalah ritual commences with lighting a candle. God’s very first act of creation was to create light. Lighting a fire is also one of the only m’lakhot that is explicitly prohibited in the Torah (at Exodus 35:3). Thus the act of lighting a candle, of creating light, serves simultaneously both as a symbol of God creating the world and of the types of creative acts that were performed in constructing the mishkan. Initiating the ritual of Havdalah with the lighting of a fire sends a powerful and positive message that meaningful, creative activity, such as that performed by God in creating the world and by humans in creating a house for God on earth, is to be resumed once again. Furthermore, the text of Havdalah focuses primarily on the act of being mavdil, of creating separations—between kodesh and ḥol, light and dark, Israel and the other nations, the seventh day and the six days of activity. In fact, the Havdalah ritual itself serves to divide between Shabbat and the other days of the week. The very act of partitioning into different domains is strongly reminiscent of creation. The root bet-dalet-lamed, meaning “to separate” or “to divide,” appears five


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times in the first eighteen verses of Genesis. God divides between the light and the darkness (verse 4), between the waters below the rakia (firmament) and those above it (verses 6–7), between day and night (verse 14), and then once again between light and darkness (verse 18). Thus, again, the ritual of Havdalah—whose very name is derived from this same root—is a rite filled with positive overtones of resuming creative activity. Through the very act of performing Havdalah itself, we are becoming God-like creators once again. To take this a step further, there is no indication in the Torah that the divine acts of separation in the opening verses of Genesis constitute a differentiating between good and bad, or even between a greater good and a lesser good; God is merely separating and dividing things into different domains, thereby creating order out of chaos. So too, when we recite Havdalah, we are not separating between the Sabbath which is good and the weekdays which are bad, but rather between two different goods.36 When we recite in the text of Havdalah that we are separating between kodesh and ḥol, we perhaps ought not to think of “sacred” and “profane” (the standard translations), but rather of two different types of sacred: while Shabbat of course possesses its own sanctity, so too do the weekdays possess a sanctity of their own.37 The ritual of Havdalah helps us appreciate the spiritual power latent within ḥol as the time when we can resume m’lakhah and use our creative energies to build sanctuaries for God, in this world and in our lives.

Conclusion Ultimately, by exploring m’lakhah’s roots as derived from the mishkan, we have developed what I hope is an inspiring perspective on our weekday activities, on their relationship with Shabbat, and on the ritual of Havdalah that helps us to transition from one to the other.


Havdalah: Sanctification of Ḥol

As Shabbat ends each week, we should feel as though we ourselves are about to resume construction of the mishkan. May the ritual of Havdalah inspire us to view the m’lakhah we are poised to perform in the upcoming week as another opportunity to bring our creative talents to their fullest expression, with the ultimate purpose of making God’s presence more palpably felt here on earth.


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NOTES 1 This essay is dedicated to the memory of my grandfather, Simcha Zimmel ben Asher Zelig Freundlich, who passed away as I was completing the first draft. He truly embodied the ideas of this essay and passionately brought God into his every endeavor. 2 Ḥol is generally translated as “profane,” the opposite of kodesh, “sacred.” When juxtaposed with Shabbat, ḥol denotes the six work-days of the week. 3 B. Shabbat 49b. 4 The work involved in constructing the Tabernacle is called m’lekhet maḥshevet in Exodus 35:33. A reminder to observe the Sabbath appears at the beginning of that same chapter, and this juxtaposition leads the sages to apply the term m’lekhet maḥshevet to Shabbat work as well (Rashi on B. Beitzah 13b, s.v. ella mai it l’kha l’meimar). See Doniel Schreiber’s “The Laws of Shabbat: Issur Melakha and the Shabbat Day of Rest” (available online at for the eight conditions an activity must meet in order to be deemed biblically prohibited on the Sabbath as m’lekhet maḥshevet. For a clear overview of the m’lekhet maḥshevet proviso and its ramifications, see “Melekhet Maḥshevet: Calculated Labor” in the General Introduction to Massekhet Shabbat Part II, in The Schottenstein Edition of the Talmud: Tractate Shabbos (New York: Mesorah Publications, 2006), vol. 1, pp. xli–xliv. 5 Comment at B. Shabbat 94a, s.v. rabbi shimon poteir. This is how the Tosafot understand the qualification of m’lakhah she-einah tz’rikhah l’gufah (“an act not needed for its purpose”), a corollary of m’lekhet maḥshevet. Rashi, commenting on the same passage (B. Shabbat 93b, s.v. rabbi shimon poteir), however, interprets m’lakhah she-einah tz’rikhah l’gufah to mean that the activity simply has to be carried out for a constructive purpose, just as all mishkan labor was performed for a constructive purpose—but it does not have to be for the same constructive purpose as was intended in the mishkan. 6 The term p’shat generally denotes the simple understanding of the text divested of its midrashic or halakhic interpretations. 7 Rashi to Leviticus 19:30, based on B. Yevamot 6a, derives from the juxtaposition of Sabbath and sanctuary that ein binyan beit ha-mikdash doḥeh shabbat—that is, construction of the Temple does not override Sabbath observance.. See note 20 below and the subsequent section of this essay, “The Mishkan and Shabbat: Sanctity of Place and Sanctity of Time,” for further explanation of the significance of this halakhah. 8 In the context of the mishkan, the word m’lakhah appears more than twenty times. See, for example, Exodus 35:21, 31, 33, 35; in chapter 36, the word m’lakhah appears in every single one of the first eight verses. In the context of Shabbat, see for example Exodus 20:9, 10; 31:14, 15; 35:2. 9 In Exodus 31:2–5, God twice refers to the work to be done in constructing the mishkan as m’lakhah, followed a mere nine verses later by three instances of the word m’lakhah used to describe what can be done during the week but not on Shabbat (31:14–16). Similarly, Exodus 35:2 utilizes the word m’lakhah twice, once to refer to what we ought to be engaged in during the six days of


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the week, followed by the Torah’s enjoinder not to engage in such m’lakhah on the Sabbath. Then, at the end of that very chapter, the Torah employs the word m’lakhah four times in the space of five verses (35:31–35) to describe the work that went into the construction of the mishkan. 10 Exodus 25–31 and 35–40. 11 Many commentators address the perplexing question of what it means for an incorporeal God to have a physical home. Pesikta D’rav Kahana (a collection of aggadic midrash, probably dating to some time between the fourth and sixth centuries CE) is one of the earliest sources to raise this issue. In parshat Ki Tissa, piska 2 of that work, a dialogue between Moses and God is recorded in which Moses exclaims that if the heavens cannot contain God, how can the Tabernacle possibly do so? God responds, “I am descending and constricting My presence among you.” In other words, God chooses to do the seemingly impossible and constrict divine infinity and incorporeality into a limited, physical space. Similarly Ramban, who (as I shall explain) sees the mishkan as the perpetuation of the Sinai experience, seems to understand that in whatever way God physically descended onto Mount Sinai is the same way in which the Divine descended and resided in the mishkan. Several other commentators choose a different approach, suggesting that God did not really dwell in the mishkan in any way, and that the mishkan was primarily for the benefit of humanity. Sefer Ha-ḥinnukh (a work of uncertain authorship published in thirteenth-century Spain) explains that the reason for the mitzvah to build a Temple for God is to help us better direct our prayers and worship of the Divine (see mitzvah 95). Abravanel (1437–1508, Portugal) suggests in his commentary to Exodus 25 that creating a physical space for God to dwell in our midst is a parable, meant to instill the concept of divine providence—namely, that God interacts with us despite the seemingly insurmountable barrier created by divine incorporeality in contrast to human physicality. Samuel David Luzzato, also known by his acronym Shadal (1800–1865, Italy), writes at the beginning of his commentary to Exodus 25 that the Tabernacle’s purpose was primarily to unify the nation and strengthen our commitment to God and Torah. Rabbi Meir Leibush Wisser (1809–1879, called the Malbim) notes an apparent textual anomaly, insofar as Exodus 25:8 says, “Build for Me a sanctuary so that I may dwell in them” (b’tokham) rather than “in it” (b’tokho)—and he infers that the real command is thus for each individual to construct a sanctuary for God in his or her heart. Certainly, if one subscribes to the approach of Pesikta D’rav Kahana and the Ramban, the mishkan is truly, in the most literal sense, a house for God on earth. Even if one subscribes to the latter approach—namely, that the mishkan was primarily for human benefit—the Israelites were commanded to construct a very physical structure that was clearly meant to be a home for God in their midst, whether in a literal or figurative sense. 12 See Ramban’s comment to Exodus 25:2, where he cites numerous parallels between Mount Sinai and the mishkan to support this idea. In addition, Martin S. Cohen has pointed out to me that the strange description of the altar at the conclusion of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:21–23) describes it not as it eventually appeared but rather as a model of the mountain—that is, made of


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earth, studded with unhewn rocks, with fire at its top. (Cf. Maimonides’ attempt to explain how the real altar conformed to this description in M.T. Hilkhot Beit Ha-b’ḥirah 1:13.) Rashi (to Exodus 31:18, s.v. va-yittein el moshe), Ḥizkuni (to Exodus 31:2, s.v. b’tzalel ben uri ben ḥur), and Seforno (to Exodus 31:18, s.v. va-yittein el moshe k’khalloto) have a somewhat less glowing view of the mishkan than does Ramban. They feel that the mishkan became necessary only after the sin of the golden calf, both as a concession to human nature and so as to enable the nation to gain atonement for their grievous transgression. However, these commentators also agree that the mishkan was a house for the Shekhinah (the Presence of God) and served the lofty purpose of bringing God’s presence into the Israelite camp in a way that the people could handle and relate to. (In this regard see Menachem Leibtag, “The Mishkan: Before or After Chet Ha-eigel?” [], who has creatively argued that Rashi’s position is much closer to the Ramban’s than first appears.) 13 For interesting presentations and analyses of these parallels, see: Nechama Leibowitz, Studies in Shemot (Israel: Ha-omanim Press, 1995), pp. 477–482; Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s “Covenant and Conversation 5767: Terumah,” at www.; Rabbi Alex Israel’s “Mishkan and Creation,” at www.yehatzvi. org; and Rabbi Aryeh Klapper’s essay on this topic at 14 Midrash Tanḥuma, P’kudei §2. 15 Exodus 35:33. As discussed above, these defining characteristics are ultimately applied to the definition of what type of work is prohibited on Shabbat. 16 See, for example, the second chapter of Moshe Ḥayyim Luzzatto’s Derekh Hashem, as well as Ramban’s commentary to Exodus 13:16. 17 Rabbi Alex Israel beautifully develops this idea in his essay “Mishkan and Creation” (cited in note 13 above). 18 In his introduction to the Book of Exodus, Naftali Zvi Yehudah Berlin (1816–1893, called the Netziv) addresses the fact that one of the oldest halakhic compendia, the Halakhot G’dolot, dubs Exodus Sefer Sheini (“The Second Book”), rather than giving it its own independent name based on its content, as he does for the other four books of the Torah. (The authorship of the Halakhot G’dolot is a matter of ongoing scholarly debate, but it is surely a product of the geonic age, possibly as early as the eighth century CE.) The Netziv explains that Exodus in its essence is really the second book of Genesis, because it completes creation and brings about its purpose. (The Netziv suggests that it is either the formation of the Jewish nation upon their exodus from Egypt or the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai that completes and is the purpose of creation, while I suggest that it is the construction of the mishkan; but I agree with the Netziv’s basic point that the events in the Book of Exodus complete creation and bring about its purpose.) 19 We partner with God in two senses. First, God creates the physical world for us and we then create the mishkan for God, thereby achieving the purpose of creation. Second, the very creation of a “house” for God requires a partnership between humans and God. What makes a sanctuary a sanctuary is only the presence of the Shekhinah; without it, all we humans have succeeded in constructing is a beautiful building. But at the same time, the Shekhinah will


Havdalah: Sanctification of Ḥol

not come unless we build it. Thus the mishkan is truly a partnership between humans and God: we must build it, and God must then decide to come into it. 20 Interestingly, mishkan construction had to cease on Shabbat—both literally, during the year of its construction in the desert (Rashi, based on B. Yevamot 6a, derives from the juxtaposition of the mishkan and Shabbat in Leviticus 19:30 that ein binyan beit ha-mikdash doḥeh shabbat, construction of the Temple does not override Sabbath observance), and symbolically forever after (insofar as the activities that were performed in constructing the mishkan serve as the paradigm for those actions that are prohibited as m’lakhah on Shabbat). 21 In this regard, see the essay of Saul Berman, “The Holiness of God: Its Meaning, Actualization, and Symbolic Embodiment,” in Kedushah, eds. Benjamin Blech and David Birnbaum (New York: New Paradigm Matrix, 2015), pp. 371–429. 22 Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath (1951; rpt. New York: Noonday Press, 1998), p. 8; italics in the original. 23 Ibid., p. 10. 24 Ibid., p. 6. 25 For example, God promises Abraham that he shouldn’t be afraid, because God will protect him and provide him with much reward (Genesis 15:1); that his descendants will be slaves in a foreign land but will ultimately leave with much wealth (15:13–14); and that he will be buried at a good old age (Genesis 15:15). God vows to Jacob that he will be guarded wherever he goes (Genesis 28:15), and that he shouldn’t be afraid of going down to Egypt because God will go down with him and will ultimately bring him back up (Genesis 46:2–4). 26 To Abraham: Genesis 12:7; 13:14–17; 15:5–7, 18–21 (note the explicit language of “covenant” here); and 17:1–8 (note again the covenantal language used here repeatedly, as well as the fact that the promises of progeny and the Land are made here in the context of Abram’s name being changed to Abraham, as well as of the covenantal ceremony of circumcision, indicating the central significance of these specific blessings). To Isaac: Genesis 26:3–4. Significantly, though Isaac bestows blessings on both his sons during the episode in which Jacob disguises himself as Esau, it is only later (when Jacob is departing for a prolonged stay in the house of Laban) that Isaac confers upon Jacob what he refers to specifically as birkat avraham (“the blessing of Abraham”), and this special blessing once again consists of the promise that he and his descendants shall inherit the Land. To Jacob: Genesis 28:13–15 and 35:9–12 (note that, as with Abraham, the promise of progeny and the Land happens here within the context of a name change— here, from “Jacob” to “Israel”). Notice that Ishmael also receives the promise of progeny but not of the Land of Canaan (Genesis 16:10–12; 17:20–21; 20:13, 18), and it is the absence of the promise of the Land that marks him as the one not selected to continue the line of God’s covenantal people. 27 Though Rav Hai Gaon (939–1038), as quoted in the introduction to Ma∙aseh Rokei∙aḥ of Rabbi Eliezer ben Yehudah of Worms (Mogilev: Zev Rubinstien, 1819) maintains that the m’lakhot related to the baking of bread (sidura d’pat, as the first eleven m’lakhot are known) are derived from preparations for various sacrificial offerings, the majority position is that the m’lakhot are derived exclusively from the mishkan’s construction, and the bread-related m’lakhot


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are derived from the preparation of dyes used to color the mishkan’s tapestries and curtains. See, for example, Rashi to B. Shabbat 49b, s.v. heim zar’u, and B. Shabbat 73a, s.v. ha-ofeh; Meiri to B. Shabbat 49b, s.v. u-m’lakhot; Rabbi Nissim ben Reuven (1320–1376, called the Ran), printed as a commentary to B. Shabbat 31b in the standard edition of the Sefer Halakhot of the Rif (Rabbi Isaac Alfasi, 1013–1103), s.v. ha-ofeh. 28 See B. Pesaḥim 65b–66a, which contains an extensive discussion of which activities were permitted on Shabbat for the korban pesaḥ (the Passover sacrifice). Within that passage, the Talmud cites the sources for permitting the slaughtering of the korban pesaḥ on Shabbat as well as for sacrificing the tamid (daily) offerings. 29 Rashi to B. Pesaḥim 66a, s.v. v’khi pesaḥ eḥad yesh lanu she-doḥeh et ha-shabbat. 30 B. Yevamot 6a; Rashi to Leviticus 19:30. 31 This is also perfectly consistent with the halakhah that “construction of the Temple does not override the Sabbath” (Rashi to Leviticus 19:30, based on B. Yevamot 6a). See also notes 7 and 20 above. 32 The Hebrew expression aliyah la-regel denotes the mitzvah to ascend to the Temple in Jerusalem to celebrate the three pilgrimage festivals of Pesaḥ, Shavuot, and Sukkot. See Exodus 23:14–17, 34:18–23, and Deuteronomy 16:16–17. 33 No authorities codify performing m’lakhah during the six days of the week as a mitzvah. Yet interestingly, the verse “Six days you shall work and do all your m’lakhah” (Exodus 20:9, Deuteronomy 5:13) seems to intimate that there is an imperative to engage in m’lakhah during the six days of the week. 34 I wish to thank Rachel Besser, who was instrumental in helping me think through the ideas in this section. 35 At B. Pesaḥim 104a, Rav proposes that the concluding blessing of Havdalah ought not to be ha-mavdil bein kodesh l’ḥol (“who separates between sacred and profane”) but rather m’kadeish yisrael (“who sanctifies Israel”). The Talmud states that Abaye cursed Rav for holding this position, leading later commentators to question why Abaye reacted so strongly to what seems like a relatively innocuous issue. Rav Elazar Moshe Halevi Horowitz (the chief rabbi of nineteenthcentury Pinsk), in his Haggahot V’ḥiddushim L’massekhet P’saḥim (printed in the back of the standard Vilna Shas), suggests that Abaye was concerned that Rav’s conclusion of m’kadesh yisrael might supply ammunition to heretics who claimed that the holy day of the week is really Sunday. I would suggest, based on this, that Abaye understood that with Rav’s concluding line, the latter was showing that he believed Havdalah does exactly what I am claiming it does: namely, it sanctifies the day that is about to begin. Though Abaye strongly opposed concluding Havdalah with this line (for fear it might lead to the mistaken notion that the day of rest is really Sunday), I do not think Abaye’s concern undermines the fundamental idea that Rav was expressing: namely, that Shabbat is of course holy, but so is ḥol—and Havdalah serves to sanctify the latter (just as Kiddush sanctifies the former). 36 In this regard, see the essay elsewhere in this volume by David Greenstein. 37 As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes, “Ḥol is the space God makes for man. Kodesh is the space we make for God” (see his essay on Parshat Terumah 5767 [2007],


Havdalah in the Reform Context

“Two Narratives of Creation,” available online at In other words, both are holy, each characterized by its own unique God–human relationship. I would suggest, in line with Rabbi Sacks, that God creates for us the space of ḥol with the mandate that we use it to create space for God—that is, k’dushah (holiness).


Elyse Goldstein


Havdalah in the Reform Context

Havdalah in the Reform Context Elyse Goldstein

One of my congregants took a safari to Uganda several years ago and came back telling this story: On Saturday night she was invited to a Jewish event at the synagogue of the newly “discovered” Jewish African tribe called the Abuyadaya. They introduced themselves and noted that they were going to start the evening with the “traditional way of doing Havdalah.” This group of black Africans, who accepted Judaism in the 1920s, proceeded to sing the melody by Debbie Friedman—a life-long affiliate of the Reform Movement—that is popular in summer camps and synagogues all over the world. As they began the familiar Reform tune, my congregant was struck with the idea that what has become known as “traditional” in the Jewish world is, in the end, that which enters the heart and remains there, no matter what its origin. That a remote tribe in Africa knows Havdalah is not so surprising, given the visits of Jewish groups bringing these teachings with them. But that this remote tribe believes the Debbie Friedman tune to be “traditional” shows just how far the boundaries of what is “in” and what is “out” in Jewish tradition can be stretched. This can be said as well about the recognition of Havdalah in the Reform Movement. The early Reform Movement of the 1800s rejected the ritual of Havdalah as being grounded in superstition. They saw the shadow-casting fingers held up to the candle as being evocative of spirits. They regarded the smelling of spices to keep the “extra soul” of Shabbat happy as primitive. But more than that, these


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customs marked the end of what they perceived to be a grueling twenty-four-hour period of no electricity, no travel, no cooking—all rules that they rejected. Why would we need a ceremony to mark the separation between Shabbat and weekday when the traditional rules of Shabbat no longer applied? For a movement that no longer required—or even encouraged—full observance of a traditional Shabbat, having a ceremony to mark its ending after twenty-five hours seemed contradictory. Although the Reform Movement still encouraged the marking of Shabbat’s beginning with candles, wine, and challah (although not necessarily at sunset), they discouraged what they thought of as “over-ritualizing” and instead favored simple ways to mark time and space. Havdalah seemed an unnecessary extra ritual—why not just go back to your “normal” activities once Saturday morning services and lunch were over? However, as early as the 1960s and 1970s, summer campers came back to their Reform temples singing the praises of Havdalah. For them it had marked the end of the “specialness” of Saturday (which included special services with Sabbath tunes, wearing white, Israeli dancing, and a special meal with extra singing), and its braided candle against the night sky near a lake conjured up memories of campfires and singing. By then the Reform Movement had become more and more cognizant of its members’ need for, and attachment to, ritual; Reform temples had started welcoming former Conservative and Orthodox Jews who were familiar with these rituals and who missed them. Havdalah began finding its way back into the agenda of Reform Saturday-night events in the synagogue, and it eventually found its way back into Reform homes as well. Today it is a constant, and the Debbie Friedman tune resounds on Saturday nights throughout Reform temples, camps, youth groups, communal events, and homes—and not just in Africa. Havdalah is a Hebrew word, the three-letter root of which generally means “division” or “separation.” The service of Havdalah in form and


Havdalah in the Reform Context

function is meant to separate the Sabbath from the rest of the week by marking distinctions. In this way the new week is ushered in, just as the Sabbath is ushered out, by noting the differences between the time of Shabbat and the “rest” of time. The ceremony focuses on the ways Shabbat is unique and stands out from the rest of the week. The liturgy of the ceremony refers to the separation of the sacred from the mundane, light from darkness, Israel from the rest of the nations, the holiness of the Sabbath day from the ordinary workdays of the week. The ceremony itself is a short service containing three symbols: wine or grape juice, special spices, and a braided candle. The service begins with pouring wine and reciting the blessing over it. This parallel to the Friday night opening of Shabbat with wine reminds us, as the psalmist wrote, that “wine gladdens the heart”(Psalm 104:15). Although we are certainly sad to have Shabbat leave us, blessing the wine pushes us forward to think about next Shabbat, when we will once again experience the gladness of Sabbath rest and peace. Next, the blessing over the sweet-smelling spices is recited and the spices passed around to help revive us and comfort us for the loss of a day of rest. There is a tradition from the Talmud that we receive an extra soul on Shabbat: “Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish said: The blessed Holy One gives the Jew an extra soul on Shabbat eve. After Shabbat ends, it is taken away from the person, as it says, ‘He ceased working and rested’ (Exodus 31:17). Since it ceased—oh my, the soul is lost.”1 The spices help soften the trauma from losing the extra soul that is within us just for Shabbat, and leaves us when Shabbat ends—until it returns to us the following week. The candle, which was lit at the beginning of the service but without the blessing being pronounced until after the spices are used, has more than one wick, their multiplicity representing the juxtaposition of the many kinds of worlds we inhabit and the material and spiritual realms, as well as the many kinds of light that


Elyse Goldstein

exist in our world (the blessing references the creation of “lights” in the plural). Rabbi Susan Silverman writes: “This light is the first fire of the new week. It is a sign that the time to begin creating again has arrived. No more dreamlike days until next week. It is now time to invest ourselves in our work again.”2 We look at our fingernails and palms in the light of the candle, marking physically the distinction between light and darkness. The ceremony is then concluded with a song expressing our longing that Elijah the Prophet may come soon, to herald the Messianic Age. And, indeed, Shabbat is so special that it has been likened to the Messianic Age. The Talmud states that Shabbat is one-sixtieth of the World to Come.3 And this idea in turn is suggested by a familiar midrash: When God was about to give the Torah to the Jewish people, God summoned the people and said to them: “My children, I have something precious that I would like to give you for all time, if you will accept My Torah and observe My commandments.” The people then asked: ‘Ruler of the universe, what is that precious gift You have for us?’ The Holy One replied: “It is the World to Come [that is, the Messianic Age]!” The Holy One then [continued and] said: “The Shabbat is a taste of the World to Come, for that world will [will feel to those who experience it as though it were] one long Shabbat.”4 The rabbis understood the biblical basis for the Havdalah service to derive from the fourth of the Ten Commandments: “Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it” (Exodus 20:8). Maimonides legislated that “remembering” Shabbat required sanctifying it at both its beginning (with Kiddush) and its end (with Havdalah).5 Havdalah—the noting of distinctions—is one of our most ancient concepts. According to the Talmud, “The members of the Great Assembly instituted blessings and prayers, sanctifications (k’dushot, here meaning the


Havdalah in the Reform Context

versions of Kiddush) and separations (havdalot, here denoting the various version of Havdalah) for Israel.”6 Today, the celebration of Havdalah reminds us that Shabbat is more than simply another day of the week. It is a special day, but we must invest it with its significance. Friday and Saturday arrive automatically on our weekly calendar, but turning Friday night and Saturday into “Shabbat” is our responsibility. We do this by special attention to the clothes we wear, the meals we organize and the way we eat them, the invitations to guests, the special ritual objects we place on the table, the lighting of candles, the chanting of the Kiddush blessing over wine, the braided challah bread covered with a beautiful cloth—all of these have the express purpose of setting apart this time. Havdalah too brings us back to the idea of sanctifying time, the time of separation and return to the “normalcy” of everyday living. The focus of the Havdalah service is on making distinctions: between holy and profane, between light and darkness, and between Israel and the other nations, between weekday and Shabbat. God is blessed as the One who makes these distinctions. The Torah teaches in the first chapter of Genesis that God actually created the world through the making of distinctions: first between light and darkness, next between the various bodies and types of water, finally between earth and water. In the rabbinic mindset, the concept of separation became critical to understanding all of Jewish spirituality. The rabbis begin to see the separation of Judaism from other religions, and the notion of Jews as separate from other peoples, as a basic foundational tenet of who we are. The sages instituted the saying of the phrase asher baḥar banu mi-kol ha-ammim (“who has chosen us from among all the nations”), before both Torah study and Torah reading, to teach the philosophy of the “election of Israel”—that although we may be “among” the nations we are not “of ” them.7 This is the underpinning of a whole system of holiness that begins to rely on a concept of separation of things, time, and humans one from the other. We are


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“different” from other people; this day is “different” from other days; this food is “different” from other food. For example, in the marriage ceremony, the groom declares to the bride harei at mikudeshet li. This is normally translated as “Behold, you are sanctified to me,” but it could also be translated as “Behold, you are set apart [from other women] for me.” The rabbinic concept of hekdeish is that specific goods or money must be set aside, separated from the rest of one’s belongings, for the purpose of tithing or donation. Holiness is intrinsically linked in Judaism to separateness, to havdalah, and to distinctions: meat from milk, Shabbat from weekday, Jew from gentile, male from female, and God from humans. Our transcendent language assumes a separation between the Divine and the human, and that hierarchical separation is echoed in the other paired distinctions.8 Viewed through a hierarchical kind of lens, it becomes clear that “one of these things is not like the other”—and, indeed, that one is more desirable than the other: meat, which has always been seen as a desirable luxury (and thus we refrain from eating it on mourning occasions), and is traditionally served, rather than dairy, on special occasions like weddings and on Shabbat; Shabbat as a taste of “the World to Come” is elevated over the ordinary workday; Jew as chosen is seen as a preferred status to non-Jew; males are traditionally obligated in more of the mitzvot than females are; and God, of course, is transcendent over human. It’s no wonder that the Reform Movement was also uncomfortable with this theology of differentiations as a focal point of Havdalah. The Movement had rejected the notion of choseness and had expunged from the Reform prayerbook notions of the “election” of Israel. Therefore, when the Reform Movement began reinstituting the ceremony of Havdalah, it shied away from making the focus the distinctions between “us and “them”—even removing from the closing blessing the phrase bein yisrael la-ammim (“between Israel and the rest of the nations”), in some renditions, and refocusing on


Havdalah in the Reform Context

the aspects of Havdalah that underscore the beauty, the spirituality, and the communal aspects of coming together to end Shabbat. This recalibration helped Reform temples see Havdalah not as requiring a strict loyalty to the idea of distinction, but rather as a ceremony that added joy and meaning to the conclusion of Shabbat. It was not only the Reform Movement that struggled with this notion of distinction. The early feminist movement in the 1970s began to critique the need for dichotomies and for what many saw as a male way of looking at the world—the strict categorization into what has been termed “binary opposition,” two theoretical opposites strictly defined and set off against one another. Feminists claimed that wherever there are polar oppositions, binary thinking almost always builds in dominance or privilege—sometimes overtly and sometimes covertly.9 In Jewish terms, I call this “the spirituality of separation” and I ask: Does this concept of spirituality ring true for women? If imitatio Dei—the desire and striving to be godlike—is real for Jews, it is fair to ask if there would be a different kind of imitatio Dei for women. Recall that according to Genesis 1:27, both men and women are created from the same stuff—adamah (earth)—at the same time. But, then, do women experience holiness differently? What does the “spirituality of separateness” mean for women, taught from early on to be connected to each other, to family, to circles and webs of friendship built and nurtured from childhood? For those women who carry life inside themselves, being attached to, or part of, the centrality of separateness as a spiritual category is complicated. For those women who breastfeed, who nurture and sustain from their very own bodies, connection to others and in general to the unity of all things may be more at the root of holiness for them. Women—who are expected and encouraged to form bonded friendships from earliest childhood, and who then bring the family together, and who are often the cohesive force in a group—may long for a definition of holiness that does not imply building fences and reinforcing separations.


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And so we live in this tension as modern Jews. We do want to sanctify time and to make it special. As Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote: “The mythical mind would expect that, after heaven and earth have been established, God would create a holy place—a holy mountain or a holy spring—whereupon a sanctuary is to be established. Yet it seems as if to the Bible it is holiness in time, the Sabbath, which comes first.…The emphasis on time is a predominant feature of prophetic thinking. ‘The day of the Lord’ is more important to the prophets than ‘the house of the Lord.’”10 Yet we recognize that we no longer live in a world of binaries, of juxtapositions of this-against-that; we live in a society that longs for and believes in unity and the blurring of distinctions. Havdalah marks that tension perhaps more than any other Jewish ritual. In its insistence on distinguishing between things, it actually forces us to render them whole once again—even if only in our own spirits.


Havdalah in the Reform Context

NOTES B. Beitzah 16a. The Hebrew for “and rested,” va-yinnafash, is being connected with the standard Hebrew word for “soul,” nefesh. 2 Yosef I. Abramowitz and Susan Silverman, Jewish Family and Life: Traditions, Holidays, and Values for Today’s Parents and Children (New York: Golden Books, 1997), p. 51, reprinted at 3 B. Berakhot 57b. 4 Otiyot D’rabbi Akiva, text A, in Adolph Jellinek, Beit Ha-midrash )5612 [1861/1862]; rpt. Jerusalem: Sifrei Wahrman, 5723 [1966/1967]), vol. 3, p. 14, s.v. davar aḥeir alef (3). 5 M.T. Hilkhot Shabbat 29:1. 6 B. Berakhot 33a. 7 B. Berakhot 11a. 8 For a different understanding of these paired distinctions, addressing specifically the question of whether one in each pair is meant to be understood as the more desirable of the two, see the essays by Catharine Clark, David Greenstein, and Gidon Rothstein elsewhere in this volume. 9 See, for example, Peter Elbow, “The Uses of Binary Thinking,” in The Journal of Advanced Composition [Special Issue: Philosophy and Composition Theory] 13:1 (Winter 1993), p. 49. 10 Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man (New York: Farrar, Straus and Young, 1951), pp. 9 and 80. 1


About the Contributors

About the Contributors


About the Contributors

Adena K. Berkowitz is Scholar-in-Residence and co-founder of Kol HaNeshamah in New York, dedicated to re-energizing the spiritual life of both affiliated and not-yet-affiliated Jews. A graduate of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law with a doctorate from the Jewish Theological Seminary, she is the co-author of Shaarei Simcha: Gates of Joy (KTAV, 2007), the mini-prayerbook that is the first liturgical work in the modern era written by Orthodox women. She is also a visiting lecturer at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School. Benjamin Blech served as co-editor of Sanctification, the first volume in this series. A Professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University since 1966, he is the author of fifteen highly acclaimed books—including his latest, The Sistine Secrets (HarperOne, 2009), now available in twenty-six countries and translated into sixteen languages—in addition to hundreds of articles in both scholarly and popular publications. Herbert Bronstein has combined a successful vocation as a congregational rabbi with teaching and lecturing at various colleges and universities, publishing in scholarly journals, and serving as editor of Reform Judaism’s Passover Haggadah (1974) and Five Scrolls (1984), both published by the CCAR Press. He served for many years as Chairman of the Joint Worship Commission of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and as a member, and then Chairman, of the Liturgy Committee of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Reuven P. Bulka, C.M., has been the rabbi of Congregation Machzikei Hadas in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, since 1967, and


About the Contributors

is presently its Rabbi Emeritus. He chairs the Trillium Gift of Life Network that is responsible for organ and tissue donation and transplantation in all of Ontario, and is President/CEO of Kind Canada Généreux. He and his wife Leah share many generations of children. Geoffrey Claussen is the Lori and Eric Sklut Emerging Scholar in Jewish Studies, director of the Jewish Studies Program, and Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Elon University. He is the current president of the Society of Jewish Ethics and is the author of Sharing the Burden: Rabbi Simḥah Zissel Ziv and the Path of Musar (SUNY Press, 2015). Martin S. Cohen is the rabbi of the Shelter Rock Jewish Center in Roslyn, New York, and one of the senior editors of the Mesorah Matrix series. He is the author of Our Haven and Our Strength: The Book of Psalms (Aviv Press, 2004), The Boy on the Door on the Ox (Aviv Press, 2008), and four novels, and he served as senior editor of The Observant Life, published in 2012 by the Rabbinical Assembly. His translation and commentary on the Torah are forthcoming. Noah Zvi Farkas serves as a rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, California. He is the author of numerous articles on Jewish thought as well as the book The Social Action Manual: Six Steps to Repairing the World (Behrman House, 2010). He is an activist for social justice and a social entrepreneur. Baruch Frydman-Kohl is Anne and Max Tanenbaum Senior Rabbi of Beth Tzedec Congregation, Toronto, and Senior Rabbinic Fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute of Jerusalem.


About the Contributors

Aubrey L. Glazer, Ph.D. (University of Toronto), is rabbi of Congregation Beth Sholom, San Francisco. As a graduate of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality, Aubrey continues studying and practicing Jewish meditation. Aubrey publishes reflections on contemporary spirituality, Mystical Vertigo (Academic Studies Press, 2013) and is completing a forthcoming book, called Tangle of Matter & Ghost on the intersection of Jewish mysticism and Rinzai Buddhism in the songbook of Leonard Cohen. Mark B. Greenspan serves as rabbi of Beth Shalom Oceanside Jewish Center in New York. He has translated fifteen Hebrew commentaries on the Haggadah, most recently the MinḼat Ani by Rabbi Jacob Ettlinger. David Greenstein serves as rabbi of Congregation Shomrei Emunah in Montclair, New Jersey and is also a painter who has exhibited his work in the US, France, and Israel. He has published essays in various journals, periodicals, and anthologies, and is the author of Roads to Utopia: The Walking Stories of the Zohar (Stanford University Press, 2014). James Jacobson-Maisels is the founder of Or HaLev: A Center for Jewish Spirituality and Meditation ( and has been studying and teaching meditation and Jewish spirituality for over fifteen years. Rabbi Dr. Jacobson-Maisels teaches Jewish thought, mysticism, spiritual practices, and meditation at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, Haifa University, Yeshivat Hadar, and in a variety of settings around the world. He strives to integrate his study and practice and to help teach and live Judaism as a spiritual discipline.


About the Contributors

Elie Kaunfer is co-founder and executive director of Mechon Hadar ( A graduate of Harvard College, he completed his doctorate in liturgy at the Jewish Theological Seminary, where he was also ordained. A Wexner Graduate Fellow and Dorot Fellow, Rabbi Dr. Kaunfer is the author of Empowered Judaism: What Independent Minyanim Can Teach Us About Building Vibrant Jewish Communities (Jewish Lights, 2010). Steven Kepnes is Professor of World Religion and Jewish Studies, and Director of Chapel House, at Colgate University, Hamilton, New York. He is the author of seven books, including The Future of Jewish Theology (Wiley Blackwell, 2013). Peter S. Knobel is rabbi emeritus of Beth Emet-The Free Synagogue in Evanston, Illinois and teaches Jewish Studies at the Spertus Institute in Chicago. He chaired the editorial committee that produced Mishkan T’filah, the new siddur of the Reform Movement published in 2007, and recently reedited the Gates of the Season, now entitled Mishkan Moed A Guide to the Jewish Year, and Gates of Mitzvah, now called Mishkhan Mitzvah - A Guide of the Jewish Life Cycle, for the Central Conference of American Rabbis. David A. Kunin is the spiritual leader of the Jewish Community of Japan. Interfaith relations having been an ongoing mark of his rabbinate, he served as board member and president of the Edmonton Interfaith Centre for Education and Action for many years and received the Alberta Centennial Medal in recognition of his community work. Rabbi Kunin is author of the recently published Beyond the Golden Rule: A Jewish Perspective on Dialogue and Diversity (Gaon Books, 2015).


About the Contributors

Martin I. Lockshin is University Professor at York University in Toronto, where he has taught Jewish Studies for the last thirty-eight years. Rabbi Dr. Lockshin is the author of six books and many articles, mostly dealing with the history of Jewish Bible commentaries. Michael Marmur is the Jack Joseph and Morton Mandel Provost of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. His Abraham Joshua Heschel and the Sources of Wonder was recently published by the University of Toronto Press. He lives in Jerusalem. Dalia Marx, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Liturgy and Midrash at the Jerusalem campus of Hebrew Union CollegeJIR, and teaches in various academic institutions in Israel and Europe. Rabbi Dr. Marx, a tenth-generation Jerusalemite, earned her doctorate at the Hebrew University and her rabbinic ordination at HUC-JIR in Jerusalem and Cincinnati, and is involved in various research projects as well as being active in promoting liberal Judaism in Israel. Marx writes for academic and popular journals and publications. Among her publications is A Feminist Commentary of the Babylonian Talmud (Mohr Siebeck, 2013). Avi S. Olitzky is spiritual leader at Beth El Synagogue, St. Louis Park, Minnesota. Rabbi Olitzky recently co-authored New Membership & Financial Alternatives for the American Synagogue: From Traditional Dues to Fair Share to Gifts from the Heart (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2015).


About the Contributors

Kerry M. Olitzky, D.H.L., is the executive director of Big Tent Judaism (formerly the Jewish Outreach Institute). Named one of the fifty leading rabbis in North America by Newsweek, Rabbi Olitzky formerly served on the faculty and administration of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and is well known for his many inspiring books on Jewish spirituality, healing, and religious practice that bring the Jewish wisdom tradition into everyday life. Dan Ornstein is rabbi at Congregation Ohav Shalom in Albany, New York. He blogs at the Times of Israel, writes essays for WAMC Northeast Public Radio, and has recently published poetry with the Jewish Literary Journal and the Pine Hills Review. He is also a rabbinic panelist for Jewish Values On Line. Avram Israel Reisner, rabbi emeritus of Congregation Chevrei Tzedek in Baltimore, MD, is an Adjunct Professor at Towson University and St. Mary’s Ecumenical Institute. Rabbi Dr. Reisner is a member of longstanding on the Conservative Movement’s Committee of Jewish Law and Standards. Jeremy Rosen is a graduate of Cambridge University and Mir Yeshivah in Jerusalem and has worked in the rabbinate, education, and academia in Britain and Europe. Now retired to New York, he writes and lectures and is the rabbi of a small congregation of Persian Jews.


About the Contributors

Barbara Shulamit Thiede is a faculty member in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where she teaches courses on the Hebrew Bible, Jewish history, the history of anti-Semitism, and the legacy of the Holocaust. The spiritual leader of Temple Or Olam in Concord, North Carolina, Rabbi Dr. Thiede writes and publishes in both popular and academic settings and blogs at Orna Triguboff serves at Emanuel Synagogue in Sydney, Australia, having received her rabbinic and spiritual direction ordination from Aleph, the Jewish Renewal Movement. Rabbi Dr. Triguboff received her Ph.D. from the University of Sydney with a focus on Lurianic Kabbalah, and teaches Kabbalah and Jewish Meditation internationally. Ruth Walfish is a senior lecturer in Bible and chair of the Bible Department at Efrata College of Education in Jerusalem, where she mentors student teachers in Bible pedagogy. Dr. Walfish’s articles on Bible appear in the Hebrew-language journals Megadim and Massekhet, and in the Jewish Bible Quarterly. Herbert A. Yoskowitz is a rabbi at Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills, Michigan, a lecturer in Jewish Bioethics at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine, and editor of The Kaddish Minyan (Eakin Press, 2001; second edition, 2003). His most recent articles have been featured in Michigan Jewish History.
















Jonathan Sacks






















Avivah Zornberg Author

David Ellenson HUC-JIR

Saul Berman Y.U. / Stern

London, UK

New York, NY

New York, NY

Jonathan Sacks United Hebrew Congregations London, UK

James Kugel Bar Ilan University

Shalom Carmy Yeshiva University, Tradition Magazine New York, NY

Or Rose Hebrew College

Rachel Friedman Lamdeinu

Newton Centre, MA

New York, NY

Ramat Gan, Israel



Patricia Fenton American Jewish University Bel-Air, CA

Hillel Goldberg Intermountain Jewish News Denver, CO

Rachel Adelman Hebrew College

Shai Held Mechon Hadar

Newton Centre, MA

Shlomo Riskin Ohr Torah Stone Colleges, Efrat, Israel

Lawrence Schiffman Yeshiva University New York, NY

Alan Cooper Jewish Theological Seminary New York, NY

Michelle Sarna The Tikvah Center, Educational Allliance New York, NY

New York, NY




Jacob Schacter Yeshiva University New York, NY

Michael Graetz Congregation Eshel Avraham Omer, Israel

Aryeh Cohen American Jewish University Los Angeles, CA

Avram Reisner Chevrei Tzedek Congregation Baltimore, MD

Elliot Dorff American Jewish University Los Angeles, CA

Steven Kepnes Colgate University

Reuven Bulka Congregation Machzikei Hadas Ottawa, Canada

Adena Berkowitz Kol Ha-neshamah

Hamilton, NY

New York, NY



Alan Mittleman Jewish Theological Seminary New York, NY

Asher Lopatin Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Chicago, IL

Bradley Artson American Jewish University Los Angeles, CA

Jill Jacobs T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights New York, NY

Michael Broyde Emory University

Noam Zion Hartman Institute

Sid Schwarz CLAL

Raḥel Berkovits Pardes Institute

Atlanta, GA


New York, NY





Howard Addison Temple University Philadelphia, PA

Yehuda Sarna NYU Bronfman New York, NY

Robert Harris Jewish Theological Seminary New York, NY

Miriyam Glazer American Jewish University Los Angeles, CA

Haim Rechnitzer Hebrew Union College - JIR Cincinnati, OH

Yehuda Kurtzer Shalom Hartman Institute New York, NY

Roberta Kwall DePaul University Law School Chicago, IL

Alon Ferency Heska Amuna Synagogue Knoxville, TN



Aubrey Glazer Congregation Beth Shalom San Francisco, CA

Rebecca W. Sirbu Rabbis Without Borders, CLAL New York, NY

Geoffrey Claussen Elon University

Shoshana Klein Poupko Ahavath Torah Englewood, NJ

Michael Wasserman The New Shul Scottsdale, AZ

Daniel Greyber Beth El Synagogue

Elon, NC

Durham, NC

Jeremy Gordon New London Synagogue London, U.K.

Gail Labovitz American Jewish University Los Angeles, CA




James Jacobson-Maisels Or HaLev, Center for Jewish Spirituality & Meditation New York, NY

Yeshaya Dalsace Dor Vador Communaute Massorti Paris, France

Shaiya Rothberg Conservative Yeshiva Jerusalem

Karyn Kedar B’nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim Deerfield, IL

Nina Cardin

Jonathan Slater Institute of Jewish Spirituality New York, NY

Jonathan Wittenberg

Michael Knopf Temple Beth-El

London, UK

Richmond, VA

New York, NY



Rivon Krygier Congregation Adath Shalom Paris

Elie Spitz Congregation B’nai Israel Tustin, CA

Ira Bedzow Aspen Center for Social Values Aspen, CO

Yitzchak Blau RCA

Alfred Cohen YU High School

Elliot Cosgrove Park Avenue Synagogue New York, NY

Yehonatan Chipman Hitzei Yehonatan Israel

David Flatto Penn State Law

New York, NY


University Park, PA




Shohama H. Wiener ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal Philadelphia, PA

David Evan Markus Temple Beth-El

Nathaniel Helfgot SAR & YCT

City Island, NY

New York, NY

Admiel Kosman Postdam University

Simcha Krauss Eretz Hatzvi

Melanie Landau Monash University

Berlin, Germany


Melbourne, Australia

Cass Fisher University of South Florida Tampa, FL

Vernon Kurtz North Suburban Synagogue Beth-El Highland Park, IL



Rolando Matalon B’nai Jeshurun

Daniel Nevins JTS

Peter Knobel Beth Emet

New York, NY

New York, NY

Evanston, IL

Jan Urbach The Conservative Synagogue Beidgehampton, NY

Aryeh Frimer Bar-Ilan University

Martin Lockshin York University

Shai Cherry Shaar Hamayim

David Shatz Yeshiva University

Ramat Gan, Israel

Toronto, ON

Del Mar, CA

New York, NY




Jeremy Rosen Persian Jewish Center New York, NY

David Greenstein Congregation Shomrei Emunah Montclair, NJ

Avraham Walfish Herzog College

David Mescheloff RCA

Alon Shvut, Israel

Moshav Hemed, Israel

Alan Brill Seton Hall University

Lawrence Troster GreenFaith

Ron Margolin Tel Aviv University

South Orange, NJ

Highland Park, NJ

Tel Aviv, Israel

Lenn Goodman Vanderbilt University Nashville, TN



Dan Ornstein Congregation Ohav Shalom Albany, NY

Dena Freundlich Ma’ayanot AMIT

Yael Leibowitz Stern College

Pinchas Allouche Beth Tefillah


New York, NY

Scottsdale, AZ

Orna Triguboff Neshama Life Organisation Sydney, Australia

Nehemia Polen Hebrew College

Sandy Sasso Congregation Beth-El Zedeck Indianapolis, IN

David Singer Congregation Shearith Israel Dallas, TX

Newton Centre, MA




Avi Olitzky Beth El Synagogue

David Ingber Romemu

Shmuel Trigano Paris X University

St. Louis Park, MN

New York, NY

Nanterre, France

Avraham Feder

Elyse Goldstein City Shul

Kerry Olitzky Big Tent Judaism


Ontario, Canada

New York, NY

Herbert Bronstein Lake Forest College, Lake Forest, IL

Sheila Weinberg Institute for Jewish Spirituality New York, NY



Jason Rubenstein Mechon Hadar New York, NY

Herbert Yoskowitz Adat Shalom Synagogue Farmington Hills, MI

Mark Sameth Pleasantville Community Synagogue Westchester, NY

Catharine Clark Congregation Or Shalom London, Ontario

Jacob Adler University of Arkansas Fayetteville, AR

Jonathan Jacobs John Jay College, CUNY New York, NY

Ysoscher Katz Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Bronx, NY

Michael Marmur Hebrew Union College Jerusalem




Mordechai Luria Institute for Jewish Ideas & Ideals New York, NY

Noah Farkas Valley Beth Shalom

Elie Kaunfer Mechon Hadar New York, NY

Benjamin Sommer JTS

Encino, CA

Marc Angel Institute for Jewish Ideas & Ideals New York, NY

Lilly Kaufman Talmud Torah of St. Paul St. Paul, MN

David Golinkin Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies Jerusalem

Efrayim Unterman Congregation Torat Emet Columbus, OH

New York, NY



Avital Hochstein Mechon Hadar

Bradd Boxman Congregation Kol Tikvah Parkland, FL

Chaim Seidler-Feller Hillel at UCLA

New York, NY

Baruch Frydman-Kohl Beth Tzedec Congregation Toronto, Canada

DovBer Pinson IYYUN Center for Jewish Spirituality Brooklyn, NY

Erica Brown The Jewish Federation Rockville, MD

Ethan Tucker Mechon Hadar

Everett Gendler Shomer Shalom Institute Stonypoint, NY

New York, NY

Los Angeles, CA




James Diamond University of Waterloo Ontario, Canada

Jane Kanarek Hebrew College Newton Centre, MA

Ruth Walfish Herzog College and Michala Jerusalem Tekoa, Israel

Berel Dov Lerner Western Galilee College; Herzl Inst. Northern Israel

Jeffrey Fox Joel Hecker Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshi- Reconstructionist Rabvat Maharat binical College Bronx, NY Wyncote, PA

Mark Greenspan Oceanside Jewish Center Oceanside, NY

Alfredo Borodowski Skirball Center for Adult Jewish Learning New York, NY



Byron Sherwin Spertus College Chicago, IL

David Kunin Beth Shalom Synagogue Edmonton, AB

Michelle Levine Yeshiva University

Benjamin Blech Yeshiva University,

Martin S. Cohen Shelter Rock, Jewish Center Roslyn, NY

New York, NY

New York, NY

Mishael Zion The Bronfman Youth Fellowships Delmar, NY

To View Series Authors List, See






Benjamin Blech Editor

Born in Zurich in 1933, Benjamin Blech is an Orthodox rabbi who now lives in New York City. Rabbi Blech has been a Professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University since 1966, and was the Rabbi of Young Israel of Oceanside for 37 years. In addition to his work in the rabbinate, Rabbi Blech has written many books on Judaism and the Jewish people and speaks on Jewish topics to communities around the world.

Education Rabbi Blech received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Yeshiva University, a Master of Arts degree in psychology from Columbia University, and rabbinic ordination from the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary.

Milestones Rabbi Blech is the author of 15 highly acclaimed and best selling books, with combined sales of close to half a million copies. The last one of which – The Sistine Secrets: Michelangelo’s Forbidden Messages in the Heart of the Vatican – has now been translated into sixteen languages. His book, Understanding Judaism: The Basics of Deed and Creed, was chosen by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations as “the single best book on Judaism in our generation”....

Benjamin Blech Yeshiva University, “Understanding Judaism”



Martin Samuel Cohen Editor

Martin S. Cohen was born and raised in New York City, where he received his B.A. summa cum laude from the City University of New York and was ordained as rabbi at the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1978. In addition to his ordination, Rabbi Cohen was earned a Ph.D. in the history of ancient Judaism in 1982. The recipient of post-doctoral fellowships at the Hebrew University in 1983 and Harvard University in 1993, Rabbi Cohen has also lectured on the History of Religion at Hunter College of the City University of New York and taught Bible and Talmud at both the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York and at the Institute for Jewish Studies attached to the University of Heidelberg in Germany. In 1986, Rabbi Cohen left Europe to come to Canada, where he accepted the pulpit of the Beth Tikvah Congregation in Richmond, British Columbia. In 1999, he left Canada to assume the pulpit of Congregation Eilat in Mission Viejo, California, the position he left in 2002 to become the rabbi of the Shelter Rock Jewish Center in Roslyn, New York. In addition to his work as teacher and rabbi, Rabbi Cohen is an author and has published two scientific studies in the history of prekabbalistic Jewish mysticism, four novels and four books of essays, including the Hebrew-language Sefer Ha‘ikarim Livnei Zemanenu, as well as his own 2004 edition of the Book of Psalms, called Our Haven and our Strength: The Book of Psalms in New Translation. More recently, Rabbi Cohen has published the two-volume prayer book Siddur Tzur Yisrael, Zot Nechemati for the house of mourning, a children’s book called Riding the River of Peace, and The Boy on the Door on the Ox, an exploration of the relationship between Mishnah study and service in the congregational rabbinate. From 1997 to 2000, he served as chairman of the Publications Committee of the Rabbinical Assembly and chaired the editorial board of the quarterly journal, Conservative Judaism, for thirteen years. Rabbi Cohen also served as senior editor of the 2012 landmark volume, The Observant Life, and is currently at work on his own Torah commentary. An avid amateur pianist and a great lover of dogs, Rabbi Cohen is married to Joan Freeman Cohen and the father of two sons Max and Emil, and a daughter, Lucy Cohen Cirlin.

Martin S. Cohen Editor, Conservative Judaism, 2000-2013



Saul Berman

Mesorah Editor Saul J. Berman is one of the world’s leading Jewish intellects. An American Jewish scholar and Modern Orthodox rabbi, Rabbi Berman was ordained at Yeshiva University, from which he also received his B.A. and his M.H.L. He completed a degree in law, a J.D., at New York University, and an M.A. in Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley, where he studied with David Daube. He spent two years studying mishpat ivri in Israel at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at Tel Aviv University. He did advanced studies in Jewish Law at Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University Law Schools. Since 1971 Rabbi Berman has served as Associate Professor of Jewish Studies at Stern College for Women of Yeshiva University. Rabbi Berman was Rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel of Berkeley CA (1963-1969), Young Israel of Brookline, MA (19691971) and of Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan (1984-1990.) Since 1990 he has served as an Adjunct Professor at Columbia University School of Law, where he teaches a seminar in Jewish Law. Rabbi Berman is a contributor to the Encyclopedia Judaica and is the author of numerous articles which have been published in journals such as Tradition, Judaism, Journal of Jewish Studies, Dinei Yisrael, and others. Rabbi Berman was the founder and director of the Edah organization for the promotion of Modern Orthodoxy. Edah was ultimately absorbed into the Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. He is married to Shellee Berman; they have four children and seven grandchildren.

Saul Berman Yeshiva University, Stern College



Shalom Carmy

Contributing Editor Shalom Carmy teaches Jewish Studies and philosophy at Yeshiva University, where he is Chair of Bible and Jewish Philosophy at Yeshiva College. He is an affiliated scholar at Cardozo Law School of Yeshiva University. He is also Editor of Tradition, an Orthodox theological journal. A Brooklyn native, he is a prominent Modern Orthodox theologian, historian, and philosopher. He received his B.A. in 1969 and M.S. from Yeshiva University, and received his rabbinic ordinationfrom its affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, studying under Rabbis Aharon Lichtenstein and Joseph Soloveitchik. He has edited some of Rabbi Soloveitchik’s work for publication. Carmy has written many articles on Biblical theology, Jewish thought, Orthodoxy in the 20th century and the role of liberal arts in a Torah education. He edited Modern Scholarship in the Study of Torah: Contributions and Limitations and Jewish Perspectives on the Experience of Suffering as well as several other works. He writes a regular personal column in Tradition, and contributes regularly on Jewish and general subjects to First Things and other journals. In addition to his exegetical and analytic work, Carmy’s theological contribution is distinguished by preoccupation with the way religious doctrine and practice express themselves in the life of the individual.

Shalom Carmy Yeshiva University, Tradition Magazine











David Birnbaum

Martin S. Cohen







David Birnbaum Editor-in-Chief

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