Abarbanel on the Parsha

For the week ending 28 October 2023 / 13 Cheshvan 5784

Havdalah (Part 7): Farewell, My Beloved

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
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“Hashem, my God will illuminate my darkness”

(King David, Tehillim 18:29)

Havdalah continues with the blessing over the light of a candle: “Blessed are you, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who creates the illuminations of the fire – Borei Meorei HaAish.”

Why do we have a lit candle at Havdalah? The Talmud states (Pesachim 53b) that Rav Yehuda said in the name of Shmuel, “We do not recite a blessing over a flame, except at the departure of Shabbat, because that was when fire was created.”

To what is Rav Yehuda referring? The Midrash (Ber. Rabbah 11) relates that Hashem had mercy on Adam and Chavah after they sinned. Instead of evicting them immediately on Erev Shabbat, Hashem allowed them to remain in the Garden of Eden for the duration of the first Shabbat of Creation. However, as soon as night began to fall, they were expelled from the Garden and commanded to not return. Never having experienced darkness before, Adam was frightened that his life would be in danger once he was no longer surrounded by the protection of the Garden of Eden. To assuage his fears, Hashem taught Adam how to strike two stones together in order to produce sparks that could be used to ignite something flammable and make fire. Thus, on their first night outside of the Garden of Eden, Adam and Chavah lit a fire to keep themselves safe. It is this first fire in world history that Rav Yehuda is referring to.

In a sense, fire symbolizes our ability to create. But it is just an illusion. For those who understand the reality of Shabbat, it is Hashem Who creates. Even when it may seem to us that we are creating, we are not. What we are doing is recreating, using materials that Hashem has supplied us with. This is why on Shabbat we refrain from doing any kind of creative work, which includes the “creation” of fire.

As we make the transition from Shabbat back to the weekday, it as if we are reliving Adam and Chavah’s experience of leaving the spiritual existence that was the Garden of Eden and entering into a new, stark reality. A reality that requires our collaboration, to imbue the mundane with light and joy.

The Mishna (Brachot 51b) records a disagreement between Beit Shamai and Beit Hillel as to the correct version of the blessing. According to Beit Shamai, the blessing should end with the words “Shebarah Meohr HaAish – Who created the illumination of the fire.” The sages of Beit Hillel are of the opinion that the correct wording is “Borei Meorei haAish – Who creates the illuminations of the fire,” with the word illuminations in the plural. Our Rabbis explore the disparity between the two versions in order to understand the exact difference between illuminate, in the singular, and illuminations, in the plural. Beit Shamai are of the opinion that fire is one entity, which is why the blessing is said in the singular. However, the final conclusion of the Talmud follows the opinion of Beit Hillel, that fire is not one uniform entity. Rather, fire is comprised of different “illuminations.” As Rashi explains, the “different illuminations” are the various colors that can be seen within the flame, such as red, white and yellow. And that is why it is correct to use the plural form in the blessing.

Because we follow the opinion of Beit Hillel and say “Borei Meorei HaAish,” it is correct to use a candle that has more than one wick, to practically fulfill the word “Meorei – illuminations” in the plural (Orach Chaim 298). This is why many people have the custom to use decorative candles with multiple braids, to fulfill their obligation in the most beautiful way possible.

To be continued…

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