Abarbanel on the Parsha

For the week ending 11 November 2023 / 27 Cheshvan 5784

Havdalah (Part 9): Afterword

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
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Hashem, my G-d, will illuminate my darkness

(King David, Tehillim 18:29)

In Tehillim (18:29), King David, lyrically declares that Hashem will illuminate the darkness: “Hashem, Elokai yagiah choshki.” In the opening words of the verse, King David uses the more standard expression for lighting something up, “taihr.” But in the second half of the verse, he uses a more poetic word, “yagiah.” The Malbim, with his typical insightful brilliance, explains the word “taihr” as a derivative of the word “ohr” and refers to light that emanates from its own source. For example, the Torah describes the sun as “ha’m’ohr hagadol, the great light.” “Yagiah,” on the other hand, is rooted in the word “nogah,” which is a reference to light that does not have its own source. Rather, it is light that reflects light from something else, just as the moon reflects the light of the sun.

In this beautiful verse, King David is describing the way that Hashem’s world works. Hashem’s “ohr” is so intense and vivid that it needs to be reflected off of something physical for us to be able to benefit from it. Otherwise, its brilliance would blind us.

After having spent the last twenty-five hours in the otherworldly domain that is Shabbat, after having been privy to the pure light that belongs to the Spiritual Realms, it is now time to reflect Shabbat’s purity into the weekdays. We need to use this beautiful physical world that we inhabit for six days each week as our vehicle for bringing Hashem’s blessing of light and warmth into our lives.

Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetzky writes that in other religious philosophies there is a huge gulf between the physical, sensual being and the spiritual. According to their approach, it is possible to grow spiritually only by involvement in religious practices, such as prayer and ritual. In their view, the body and the spirit cannot coexist. This is not so with Judaism. Our week is comprised of both holiness and the mundane, together. It is true that Shabbat is an obviously holy day, but it is replete with physicality. And it is equally true that the weekdays are much more physical than Shabbat, but they are also overflowing with spiritual opportunities that await our attention.

This is why Shabbat draws to a close with Havdalah. The Rabbis teach that fulfilling our obligation to recite Havdalah utilizes each one of our five senses. We are commanded to pick up the cup of wine in our hands, the sense of touch. We smell the spices, the sense of smell. We must look at the flame of the candle, the sense of sight. We must listen to the blessings, the sense of hearing. Finally, the wine must be drunk, which uses the sense of taste.

Rabbeinu Bachye ben Asher explains that the five senses are one of the primary definitions of humankind. As we reenter the physical realms, we gather our five senses together to serve Hashem. We take leave of Shabbat, revitalized and rejuvenated, ready to unite the spiritual and the physical by giving each of our worldly actions spiritual meaning.

At Havdalah, we use each one of the senses to become cognizant that it is our responsibility to permeate the week with meaning. To imbue the mundane with light and joy. To reach an awareness that the intensely brilliant light and spiritual warmth of Shabbat can be found within the ordinary. If only we are prepared to look for it.

In the profound words of the Sefat Emet, a candle can be extinguished, but light, itself, cannot.

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