Abarbanel on the Parsha

For the week ending 4 November 2023 / 20 Cheshvan 5784

Havdalah (Part 8): Farewell, My Beloved

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

(King David, Tehillim 18:29)

Havdalah concludes with the final blessing: “Blessed are you, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who separates between holy and secular, between light and darkness, between Israel and the nations, between the seventh day and the six days of labor. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who separates between holy and secular.”

The final blessing of Havdalah lists a series of opposites. Holy and secular; light and darkness; the Jewish nation and the other nations of the world; the seventh day and the six days of the week. These opposites teach us a fundamental lesson. It is not possible to appreciate something fully without also having experienced its opposite. Without living the six days of the week, we would not be able to recognize and treasure the splendor that is Shabbat. The opposite is also true. If Shabbat were not an integral part of our week, it would not be possible to value the true significance of the weekdays.

The prophet Michah says (7:8), “Though I sit in darkness, Hashem is my light.” Our familiarity with darkness gives us the ability to compare it to light, and allows us to perceive just how wondrous the light truly is. If we would be bathed in light for twenty-four hours a day, it would mean very little to us because we would not know anything else.

So, too, is true with Shabbat. At this time in history, we need the six days of the week to appreciate just how effectively Shabbat uplifts and enriches our lives. Our Shabbat experience is enhanced when we compare the innate holiness of Shabbat with the seeming lack of purity of the weekdays and how hard we have to work to imbue them with spiritual meaning.

We are all waiting for the Mashiach to reveal his identity, may it be very, very soon. And when that happens, we will begin a new era, one that our Sages describe as “Yom Shekulo Shabbat, a time of eternal Shabbat.” At that point, we will not need the six days of the week, as we do now, to help us appreciate the holiness of Shabbat. Being connected to Hashem will be an integral part of our identity, such that we will be able to live in an elevated state, similar to that of Shabbat, throughout the entire week. But, until then, we need the weekdays to heighten and deepen our appreciation of Shabbat. And, as we bid farewell to Shabbat, it is beholden upon us to recognize that the beauty and the sanctity of Shabbat enhances our week. As we move back into the mundane, we must take with us the knowledge that the weekdays complement Shabbat. And Shabbat complements the weekdays. They belong to each other.

Havdalah ends with the words, “Blessed are You, Hashem, Who separates between holy and secular.” The blessing is not referring to a separation where there is no connection. It is not suggesting that the two themes are independent of each other and have nothing in common. Rather, Havdalah is teaching us that even though there is a clear distinction between the holy and the secular, they share a sense of reciprocity. We need to be able to identify which is which, so that we can work throughout the week to discover the holiness within the mundane.

In doing so, we are preparing ourselves for next Shabbat.

To be continued…

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