One of my favorite Jewish rituals is the Havdallah ceremony that creates a distinction between the Sabbath and the rest of the week. But the singing of Shavua Tov is what stays with me as I move into the week.
During the actual ceremony, we light a braided candle with two wicks. The braiding symbolizes the unity found at the end of the Sabbath. The blessing said refers to “lights of the fire” in the plural, thus two wicks are used in one candle to enable one to extinguish them at the same time.
Then we sniff spices to remind us of the sweet smell of Shabbat. 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 also revives us as it departs and reminds us of the sweetness of its company.
The flame of the candle symbolizes the separation between the spiritual world and the material world and the first light of Creation, renewed energy for the upcoming week and new beginnings. We look at the light of the multi-wicked candle shining on our hands to notice the light and dark, the sacred and profane, the duality in the world.
And we extinguish the light in the wine. Typically the cup is filled with wine until it overflows and some of the liquid spills onto a plate or bowl beneath the cup. The overflowing wine symbolizes three things: the joy of the Sabbath, our wish for the blessings of Shabbat to overflow into the coming week and prosperity.
And then we sing. First we sing Eliyahu Hanevi to recall our hope that that Elijah the prophet will come and herald in the World to Come, and peace on Earth. But we also sing Shavua Tov, a simple blessing that we should all have a “good week,” a week of joy and gladness.
Rabbi Nachman of Breslov said the way to be close to God was through joy. So this prayer really is one in which we are asking for the fundamentals of connection as well as basic happiness.
The ceremony itself includes a variety of blessings, but this final prayer is also a blessing. It is sung as we all stand in the dark with our arms around each other. The Sabbath is over and we can finally ask God for something; the work week has begun for us and for God. We can offer our first petitionary prayer of the week, and it is for a good week, one filled with good things like happiness and continued connection to Source. I find this poignant and beautiful. Sometimes we can hardly see each other in the dark, but as we pray for ourselves we also bless the others in the room with wishes for these good things to come into their lives.
And I leave with the melody twirling in my head…a subtle prayer constantly repeated for at least a day or two…asking for such simple, yet profound things. Joy and gladness. Connection. A good week.
Lyrics by Judy Kaplan Ginsburgh
A good week, a week of peace
May gladness reign and joy increase.