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How to Perform Havdalah

The Jewish Ritual of Havdalah


How to Perform Havdalah

Example of a havdalah candle


Havdalah is a ritual that takes place at the end of Shabbat. Just as candles are lit to welcome Shabbat on Friday evenings, havdalah (Hebrew for “separation”) marks the end of Shabbat and separates it from regular weekdays. We know that Shabbat has ended and it is time for havdalah when three stars appear in the night sky.

In addition to saying blessings, there are three important components of havdalah:

  1. wine
  2. fragrant spices
  3. the havdalah candle

Opening Blessings

Havdalah begins by reciting a collection of Biblical verses that talk about the heavens and express the hope for happiness in the future.

Then the havdalah candle is lit. (Scroll down for more information about this candle.)


Next, a Kiddush cup is filled with wine until it overflows and some of the liquid spills onto a plate or bowl beneath the cup. If wine is not available you can also use grape juice or another preferred liquid, except for water.

The overflowing wine symbolizes two things: our wish for the blessings of Shabbat to overflow into the coming week and prosperity. In an ideal world people should feel so financially comfortable that spilling a little bit of wine isn’t a hardship.

Lift the cup, but don’t drink from it. Then recite this blessing:

Baruch atah Adonai Elohaynu melech ha'olam boray pri hagafen.
Blessed are You Adonai our God, King of the universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine.


A special box filled with fragrant spices is another important part of havdalah. There are many different designs available, but the image on the left is an example of one popular design. It doesn’t matter which spices are used so long as they give off a sweet smell. Cloves and allspice are common choices.

According to Jewish legend, we each receive an extra soul that makes us especially attuned to the spiritual world during Shabbat. This soul leaves when Shabbat is over and the smell of spices is meant to revive us as it departs. In a way the spices are our spiritual smelling salts!

Lift the box, then say this blessing and smell the spices:

Baruch atah Adonai Elohaynu melech ha'olam, boray minay vesamim.
Blessed are You Adonai our Lord, Ruler of the universe, Creator of the different spices.

Havdalah Candle

Now it’s time to turn to the havdalah candle. A havdalah candle is a braided candle with several wicks that is usually about a foot long. A child or a woman often holds it while it is lit, then it is placed in a special candle holder that fits its thin, oblong shape.

The flame of the candle symbolizes the separation between the spiritual world and the material world. It also represents the first light of Creation, renewed energy for the upcoming week and new beginnings.

Say the following blessing while looking at the flame:

Baruch atah, Adonai, Elohaynu melech ha'olam, boray me'oray ha'aysh.
Blessed are You Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, Creator of the fire's light.

Traditionally people now raise their hands toward the flame and look at their fingernails, which reflect the fire’s light. Why? One explanation is simply the pleasure we receive by watching the flame’s reflection dancing on our fingers. Another is that the light reflected by our nails and the shadows cast by our fingers onto our palms represent the separation between light and darkness.

Havdalah Blessing

Finally we say a blessing that uses the distinction between Shabbat and the rest of the week as a metaphor for other kinds of differences in the world: between the sacred and profane, light and darkness, Israel and other nations.

Pick up the wine and say:

Baruch atah Adonai Elohaynu melech ha'olam, hamavdil bayn kodesh lechol, bayn or lechoshech, bayn Yisra'el la'amim, bayn yom ha'shevi'i leshayshet yemay hama'aseh.

Baruch atah, Adonai, hamavdil bayn kodesh lechol

Blessed are You Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe, who separates the holy and the profane, the light and dark, Israel and the other nations, the seventh day and the six days of the week.

Blessed are You Adonai, who separates between the holy and the profane.

Now you can drink the wine, but leave enough to extinguish the candle in the wine after everyone has had a sip.

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