Devarim 5783 – Havdalah
There are many amazing things about living in Columbus, Ohio, but one of the strange things is that Shabbat never ends. Well, it does end, but at 10:00pm when I’m almost asleep. Columbus is on the Westernmost edge of the Eastern time zone, so it’s almost as if the sun never sets! What a gift to have so much sunshine! It has always been fascinating to me that during the summer, a time of light and sunshine and joy, we commemorate one of the darkest periods of the Jewish calendar, Bein Hametzarim, “between the narrows” – the three weeks between the fast of Shivah Asar B’Tammuz and Tisha B’av. This is a period of mourning and sorrow as we remember many terrible things that happened to the Jewish people.
This Shabbat, the Shabbat before Tisha B’av, is known as Shabbat Chazon (vision), due to the vision of destruction Isaiah predicts in this week’s Haftorah. But the Chasidic sage Rav Avraham Ya’akov of Sadigora (1820-1883) has a different understanding of what this Shabbat can represent. He says,
צַדִּיקִים הָיוּ אוֹמְרִים: שַׁבָּת זוֹ שַׁבָּת גְּדוֹלָה הִיא, וְהַטַּעַם פָּשׁוּט: כְּשֶׁמַּכְנִיסִים נֵר בְּמָקוֹם אָפֵל אוֹרוֹ חָבִיב מְאֹד. וְלָכֵן בְּיָמִים אֵלֶּה, יְמֵי שְׁפֵלוֹת וִירִידָה, דִּכָּאוֹן וַחֲשֵׁכוֹת, כְּשֶׁבָּא אוֹר שֶׁל שַׁבַּת קֹדֶשׁ, הוּא חָשׁוּב וְחָבִיב מְאֹד… וְכֵן בִּימֵי הַמְּצָרִים, שֶׁהֵם בִּבְחִינַת הֶסְתֵּר וְדִין, כְּשֶׁבָּא אוֹר הַשַּׁבָּת מִתְגַּלֶּה הַטּוֹב הַצָּפוּן בְּתוֹךְ הַהֶסְתֵּר.
Our sages used to say: This coming Shabbat is a very important/big Shabbat, and the reason for it is simple: When you place a candle in a very dark place, its light is valuable/greater indeed. And that is why in these days, days of feeling low, days of depression and darkness, when the light of the Holy Shabbat comes, it is so important and beloved… And so too with these days “bein hametzarim, between the sorrows,” which are very much filled with seriousness, gravity, and mystery, when the light of Shabbat comes, the good that is hidden within the mystery is revealed.
I love this idea. Light, like love, grows when it is given as opposed to receding. When one candle lights another, the glow grows and the original light is none the smaller – We do not have less when we give, rather we are filled up even more. Shabbat can be that light, and at the same time each one of us can also be that light.
This is why the wicks of the Havdalah candle are fused together. We light two separate candles to begin Shabbat, but over the course of Shabbat we learn, we grow, we pray, we sing, and we come together, so that by the time Shabbat is over we are united and re-energized, greater and stronger than when we began. That is what this melody for Havdalah sings out, and that is what I hope for us all this Shabbat. How can you be a light in the darkness, and how can you share your light with others today, tomorrow, this Shabbat, and beyond.