Category Archives: havdalah

Our job: to uphold and increase the light

Hands-holding-candle

” וַֽיְהִי־עֶ֥רֶב וַֽיְהִי־בֹ֖קֶר י֥וֹם אֶחָֽד / And there was evening, and there was morning: a first day.” (Genesis 1:5)

This poetic account of the beginnings of creation — from the first verses of Bereshit, the opening of the Torah that we read each year at this season — is the reason why Jewish days begin at sundown. When God began to create the heavens and the earth, there was chaos. God hovered over the face of the deep like a mother bird. And then God spoke light into being, and saw its goodness, and separated it from the darkness. And Torah teaches that “there was evening, and there was morning: a first day.”

On the secular calendar, each new day begins at one minute after midnight when our clocks move from PM to AM, which is technically “morning.” (I suspect that most of us think of each day beginning when we wake up in the morning.) But on the Jewish calendar, a new day begins with sundown. Erev Shabbat comes before Shabbes morning. Kol Nidre comes before Yom Kippur morning. Every Jewish “day” begins with evening. As in today’s Torah verses, night comes before day.

There’s always something poignant for me about reading these words as autumn approaches. I love the long days of summer and everything that they represent. I brace against Seasonal Affective Disorder as the days grow shorter. And every year Torah reminds me with these verses that night is part of the natural order of things — and that it is the precursor to day. Dark will give way to light every day. Dark will give way to light in a bigger-picture sense as the round of the seasons continues to turn.

One of my spiritual tasks right now is cultivating faith that dark will give way to light in a psycho-spiritual sense, too. But psycho-spiritually, we can’t count on the planet’s natural orbit to bring us from darkness to light. We need to make that turn happen ourselves. God set the planets and stars on their paths of time and season, and the earth will continue to orbit the sun and to shift on its axis no matter what we do or don’t do. But the task of increasing the world’s spiritual light falls to humanity.

It is easy to feel, these days, that we are living in dark times. Every day brings a new outrage. (I could list them for you. I expect each of us could make our own list.) Faced with injustices both large and small, it would be easy to despair.

Our task is to resist that impulse toward despair. Instead we’re called to kindle and nurture light in the darkness: the light of integrity, the light of hope, the light of justice.  Because unlike the light of the sun, which will return no matter what we do, the light of justice needs our protection and our effort. The light of justice can easily be hidden, or diminished, or even extinguished. Our job is to protect it as it burns, and to ensure that its shining can reach every place that’s in need of its radiance.

And every place is so in need of that radiance.

Today is Shabbat. Today we live in the “as if” — as if injustice and corruption and cruelty and prejudice and despair were things of the past. And tonight at sundown when we begin a new day, it will be time to take action again, in whatever ways we can. Tonight at sundown it becomes our job again to build a world of greater justice and hope and compassion. Tonight at sundown it becomes our job again to nurture and protect justice and integrity. When the world around us is dark, it’s our job to be a light.

Later this fall, Bayit: Your Jewish Home will launch a new initiative we’re calling #BeALight. We’ll invite participants to make havdalah, kindling the multi-wicked candle that evokes our souls coming together in community. And we’ll invite participants to emerge from Shabbat’s restorative sweetness by taking a concrete step toward building a better world. Though that project hasn’t officially launched, I invite us to think about what we could do tonight after havdalah to bring more light into the world.

In this week’s Torah portion everything begins again. In a sense that’s a once-a-year phenomenon. But it’s also a weekly phenomenon, as havdalah gives us the chance to start each week anew. It can even be a daily phenomenon: in Mary Oliver’s poetic words, “Every morning the world is created…” As our liturgy teaches, every morning our souls are given back to us, clean and clear for the new day. So what will we do with our souls, with our selves, with our hearts as we begin again and again?

Tonight at sundown we’ll begin again, and the work of kindling and protecting the light of justice will be in our hands. What will we do in the new week to uphold and promote and share that light?

 

This is the d’varling that Rabbi Rachel offered from the bimah at CBI this morning. (Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)

Image source: eagleinthestorm.

 

Flourishing Project, Mitzvah 2: Havdalah

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Some of you have been joining me in a mitzvah experiment this month — trying to remember to bless the food that we eat every day. We are doing this as part of a nationwide project called The Flourishing Project. The Flourishing Project’s goal is to explore a simple question: How do mitzvot function, if at all, to help us live more flourishing lives?

The lunar month is drawing to its close — Adar II will end this Friday. These are the last few days of our month of assessing the impact of blessing regularly before eating.  Once Adar II is over, the Flourishing Project will circulate a survey asking you to reflect on your experiences.

During Nissan (April 9th – May 8th), the next mitzvah we will be testing is Havdalah.  (Here’s a short post I wrote a few years ago explaining what havdalah is, how it works, and why I love it. At the bottom of that post there are links to other havdalah resources, including the text of the blessings and recordings of the blessings being sung.)

If you’re interested in participating in this havdalah experiment, before Nissan begins, we ask that you complete this very short survey (1-2 minutes) about Havdalah.  We encourage you to invite members of your community to participate.  Please pass along the survey to anyone who is interested in partaking.

Wishing you blessings, now and always —

Rabbi Rachel