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Thought for the Day: The Three Havdalah Ceremonies

My granddaughter who just started first grade this year wanted to know why we couldn't cook on Yom Kippur.  She knows, of course, that we fast; but she also knows that children don't fast.  Since Yom Kippur is not Shabbos and she knows that we are allowed to cook on Yom Tov, she was just curious why she couldn't have a hot meal.  Perfectly reasonable question and I gave her the only answer that she could understand and is also true: Because.  In fact, that is really the only answer for anyone.  Yom Kippur has its own set of rules.

Because of that, there are really three kinds of havdalah ceremonies (listed in order of frequency): (1) Shabbos, (2) Yom Tov, (3) Yom Kippur.  Shabbos is the most elaborate, requiring wine, spices (usually), and candle.  Yom Tov is the simplest, requiring only wine.  Before we get to Yom Kippur, let's understand why havdala for Shabbos and Yom Tov has those elements.

Wine is easy; all important ceremonies in the Jewish tradition are accompanied by wine.  Spices for Shabbos are because we lose the נשמה יתרה/additional dimension of spiritual connection that comes with Shabbos.  We feel that loss physically and need a bolster.  Four of our five senses were damages by that first sin of eating fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  She listened to the dastardly snake, saw the fruit that it would be good , touched the fruit, and tasted it.  Since the sense of smell was not used the commission of that grievous offence, smells can still connect directly with our נשמה.  We therefore incorporate sweet smelling spices into the havdalah ceremony.  There is one notable exception to the inclusion of spices: when Yom Tom starts on Saturday night.  In that case, the fact that we are eating a Yom Tov meal, which is a mitzvah, elevates the food to the point that it can also give us a spiritual boost necessary upon the loss of the נשמה יתרה.

What about the candle?  Well, we were not allowed to directly use fire on either Shabbos or Yom Kippur.  Using fire to cook on Shabbos is a more serious offence (capital, in fact) than Yom Kippur (where the punishment is "only" spiritual excision); but they are both forbidden.  I said "directly", to exclude permitted uses, such as having light in the room with the meal or to honor a  deceased parent (ie, yahrtzeit candle).  Moreover, Adam haRishon first made fire on his first motzei Shabbos.  For Shabbos, then, we use a fire to both commemorate the first creation of fire by man and also to note that forbidden uses of fire are now permitted.  For the havdalah of Yom Kippur we only have one reason (unless Yom Kippur falls on Shabbos); therefore we need to make havdalah on a fire that existed throughout Yom Kippur.  When Yom Kippur falls on Shabbos you can use a regular fire, but the use of spices is a matter of discussion.  Also whether one is permitted to use a yahrtzeit candle on motzei Yom Kippur is certainly discouraged by the Mishna Brura (he says in siman 297 that it is obvious to him that one should not), but seems to be permitted by the Aruch HaShulchan.  Contact your local Orthodox Jewish rabbi for details of what you should do.

All of this is an issue, of course, because the havdalah ceremony starts with a bracha on wine, but the wine is not drunk until the end of the ceremony.  If we were to talk -- including to make an unnecessary bracha -- that would constitute a halachically significant break between the bracha on the wine and its drinking; don't ever do that.

Why does it matter the purpose for which the candle was lit?  Good question, perhaps I have a way to understand.  Why do we only commemorate the permissibility to now light a fire and not any of the only other 38 categories of forbidden labors on Shabbos (and Yom Kippur)?  Great question, R' Kaufman; I have no thoughts on that one... at least so far...


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