Friday, September 1, 2023

High Holiday Highlights: Havdalah and Rosh Hashanah


Havdalah and Rosh Hashanah.

Every Saturday night, we mark the distinction between Shabbat and the week with the first of these.  Shortly we celebrate the second with the coming of the New Year, 5784. 

These two rituals, seemingly distinct, hold profound connections that illuminate the depth and richness of our faith.

NSJC is making a connection between the two by making Havdalah our mitzvah of the year.  This initiative will bring the congregation together in person or together in spirit around this ritual. 

And we will begin on Erev Simchat Torah, Saturday night, October 7th, celebrate with us and receive a gift of a Havdalah set for you and your family to use in the year ahead.  After that, they will be available to pick up at the synagogue and as possible we will deliver them to those who live locally.   

There are also deeper, religious connections between the start of the New Year and the end of Shabbat. 

Havdalah marks the transition between the holiness of Shabbat and the regular days of the week. Through the symbolic use of a braided candle, wine, and spices, we bid farewell to the tranquility of Shabbat and embrace the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. Rosh Hashanah stands as a time of reflection, repentance, and renewal. During this period, we look back at the previous year, examining our actions and seeking forgiveness.  Yet we also look forward, recommitting ourselves to living aligned with our values and the teachings of our tradition.

In Havdalah, as we extinguish the braided candle's flame, we are reminded of the light that Shabbat brought into our lives. This light represents not only physical illumination but also the spiritual enlightenment and warmth that comes from dedicating time to connect with our faith, our loved ones, and ourselves. Similarly, Rosh Hashanah serves as a beacon of light, guiding us towards introspection and self-improvement.

The traditional sweet kosher wine shared during Havdalah signifies celebration and joy, reminding us of the blessings that accompany the conclusion of Shabbat. Likewise, as we dip apples in honey, Rosh Hashanah calls us to rejoice in the gift of a new year, to celebrate life's potential, and to express gratitude for the opportunities that lie ahead.

Spices, an essential part of Havdalah, remind us of the fragrant spices used to revive our senses as the sweetness of Shabbat departs. In a similar vein, the High Holiday season, which starts with Rosh Hashanah, concludes with Sukkot when we enjoy the scents of the etrog and the myrtle in the lulav bouquet, and the smells of autumn that surround us while we sit in our sukkot. Thus, the New Year holidays also awaken our spiritual senses, reinvigorating our connection with God, and recommitting us to living with purpose and mindfulness.

The connection between Havdalah and Rosh Hashanah runs deeper than mere coincidence. Both observances guide us through transitions – from the sacred to the ordinary, and from one year to the next. They inspire us to reflect, renew, and rekindle the flame of our faith. As we gather around the Havdalah table every week and prepare to welcome the High Holy Days, may we carry the lessons of these observances with us, guiding our journey towards growth, renewal, and a deeper connection with our Creator.

Just as the braided candle, wine, and spices of Havdalah guide us through the conclusion of Shabbat, let the themes of reflection, repentance, and renewal of Rosh Hashanah guide us through the beginning of a new year. Let us take this opportunity to recommit ourselves to living a life of love, compassion, and justice, and may the blessings of both Havdalah and Rosh Hashanah shine upon us and our community.

For more information about Havdalah take a look at “Exploring Judaism,” a new website created by the Conservative Movement:  Exploring Judaism Havdalah

Shanah Tovah, Happy New Year – may each of its weeks be a Shavua Tov, a good one!

Rabbi Aaron Benson


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