Abarbanel on the Parsha

For the week ending 26 August 2023 / 9 Elul 5783

Havdalah Introduction (part 4): Farewell, My Beloved

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“Hashem, my G-d, will illuminate my darkness”

(King David, Tehillim 18:29)

Havdalah continues: “For the Jews there was light, gladness, joy and honor, so it should be for us. I will raise the cup of salvations and I shall invoke the Name of Hashem.”

This next verse of Havdalah is from Megillat Esther 8:16, “For the Jews there was light, gladness, joy and honor, so it should be for us.” Rabbi Yehuda teaches that the light, gladness, joy and honor are veiled references to other dimensions of Jewish life. (Tractate Megillah 16b) Light refers to Torah, and that until Hashem demolished Haman’s genocidal plan, the Jewish People were not able to learn Torah with the necessary focus and concentration. Gladness is a reference to the Yamim Tovim, the Festivals. Joy refers to Brit Milah. And honor refers to Tefillin.

The Sefat Emet asks why the Megillah does not directly state, “For the Jews there was Torah, Yamim Tovim, Brit Milah and Tefillin”? Why do these concepts have to be hidden within other descriptions? He answers that one of the central lessons of our deliverance from Haman’s threat of annihilation was that true light, gladness, joy and honor are all Divine in their essence. It is easy to mistakenly imagine that our source of light is the sun. After being delivered from Haman’s evil decrees, the Jewish People understood that the only real source of light is the Torah. Only after the Jewish People realized that the Torah is the source of all light, were they able to comprehend that gladness, joy and honor can only be found within mitzvah fulfillment.

These are truly beautiful ideas. But how does this connect to Havdalah? As we bid farewell to Shabbat, after having spent such an elevated time in the presence of Hashem, it might be possible to think that we have nothing to look forward to until next Shabbat. We might expect the coming week to be bleak and devoid of spirituality. Our verse comes to teach us that nothing could be further from the truth. As we again enter the mundane, we do so with the knowledge that our lives and homes can be illuminated with the light and joy of the World to Come. By learning Hashem’s holy Torah and keeping His mitzvahs, we remain firmly united together with Him. The Mishna Berurah (669) cites the Arizal, who attested about himself that he attained all of his spiritual achievements because he performed the mitzvahs with great joy!

The final verse we recite before beginning the blessings of Havdalah is from Tehillim (116:13), “I will raise the cup of salvations and I shall invoke the Name of Hashem.” It fits into Havdalah, as Rashi explains, since “the cup” refers to a cup of wine. And, according to the Ibn Ezra, the cup refers to a person’s lot in this world. Whatever a person receives, whether they perceive it as good or as bad, should be raised up and dedicated to Hashem. Therefore, as we take leave of the delights of Shabbat, we lift our cup of wine and declare that everything comes from Hashem.

To be continued…

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