Havdallah is the Jewish ceremony that marks the end of one week and the beginning of the next. Its rituals — lighting a candle, feeling its warmth, smelling a spice, sipping grape juice, hearing a melody — are intended to signify and exercise each of our senses. As a result of the nature of the service, I find myself more aware of my actions and surroundings during havdallah than at almost any other time of the week.
Havdallah is about transition. It allows us to absorb the last lingering moments of the Sabbath and transition away from it with deliberate ease and contemplative serenity. It moves us to acknowledge and soak in the value of one moment while eagerly awaiting the next.
As my family and I huddled around the havdallah candle Saturday night — its tiny flame illuminating the entire room — I wasn’t living in the moment; I was living in the shadows of another, more chaotic moment. I was somewhere else.
I could hear the cries and screams of a nation in crisis — a people suppressed of its liberties. I could see an overwhelming police force whose relentless beatings caused the streets to run red with blood. I could smell the gunpowder and feel the smoke settling into the thick Middle Eastern air. I could taste the bitter acrimony in the atmosphere; the hesitance and aversion to progress.
The massive riots and inevitable revolutions that are popping up around the world, — Tunisia, Egypt, and perhaps Yemen — illustrate that transition is transcendence. After being stuck in a tired cycle for too many moons, too many years, too many generations, it takes a cataclysmic event to wipe a slate clean. Change can be purifying. The rebellions, the revolutions, the radical upswings that have arisen are stressful and terrifying — but they are also cleansing.
The fear, of course, lies within the ambiguity of where that transitional path may lead us. As a result of the current Egyptian revolution, a paralyzing and earth shattering alarm has sounded for the State of Israel (and its supporters worldwide). If Egypt — one of Israel’s only allies in the region — loses its current leadership and drops its sympathetic policies, who and what will take over? If the nation falls into the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood, what will become of Israel’s fate?
No one knows. But it’s significant to note that in 1967, Israel brought down eleven belligerent Arab armies to protect and maintain its own sovereignty — and Egypt was one of those armies. That war became known (among Arab States) as an-Naksah, or ‘The Setback.’ In 1973, the narrative was different, but the result was similar.
Since its inception, Israel has been surrounded by more than a dozen countries whose leaders have craved nothing more profoundly than the Jewish State’s demise. Now, that count may increase. Is that going to significantly (or further) threaten Israel’s survival?
It all reminds me of one of the most powerful lines ever written into the script of the West Wing. In the heat of a tough military decision, the White House Chief of Staff turns to the president, exasperated, and shouts, “We don’t always know how it ends!” The future will always be enigmatic. In the meantime, however, we can relish the freedom and opportunity provided by this moment of transition.
A friend of mine recently made his Facebook status, “With rebellion, awareness is born.” And he’s right. Call it irony, but this moment is Egypt’s havdallah. Transition and change heighten and exacerbate our senses. When the future is unclear, when the present is tense, and when the past seems obsolete, we feel everything more deeply. If that momentary balance between possibility and digression is otherwise meaningless, let it act as an opportunity for a heightened sense of self-awareness, and a chance for the world to weigh in on a problematic leader whose policies are long overdue for criticism and denunciation.