Havdalah for Community Transitioning to New Rabbi

light skinned jewish woman with dark curly hair in purple t-shirt holding a silver spice holder and sniffing the spices with a smile


We created and ran this program as part of our congregation’s preparation to welcome rabbinic candidates in the weeks that followed. We invited everyone to join the synagogue community in a havdalah ritual to mark the next stage of their first transition year – the interim year. Through the symbols and blessings of the havdalah ceremony, community members were invited to walk themselves through four “gates”: the gate of spirit (wine), the gate of variety (spices), the gate of the future (candle light), and the gate of transition (separation). The evening sought to guide the congregation to look back on the past with gratitude as they start to let go, to open themselves up to new possibilities, and to ready themselves to receive the gifts of the rabbinic candidates with love. Following the havdalah ceremony, they were invited to stay for a community potluck dinner.

We used a camera for live streaming on Zoom, and instructions for positioning the camera are included throughout.

Set up, space, and stage directions

Find six congregants to serve as volunteers. Two for the wine cups, two for the spices, and two for the candles. Have them arrive a bit early for brief instruction on when and where to stand.

Arrange the space in a circle of chairs. The camera (for live streaming) should be mostly focused on the middle of the circle, where the volunteers will be standing.

After the introduction and framing, the volunteers pick up their props and the candles are lit. This can be done before the start, but we wanted to minimize how long the candles were burning unnecessarily.

Each symbol has a kavannah to introduce it, and each kavannah ends with “Let us pass through the gate of …” When the two wine volunteers hear “Let us pass through the gate of joy,” they stand up and move to the center of the circle, facing each other. The space between them is the “gateway.” The camera should be looking through the gateway in the same direction people will walk through it.

After everyone in the room has walked through the gate and the singing stops, the wine pair can return to their seats. The spices pair repeats the process at the cue of “Let us pass through the gate of variety,” and the candle pair repeats the process at the cue of “Let us pass through the gate of the future.”

For the fourth gate, all six volunteers stand in the center facing their partner.

Opening Song/Niggun

We used “Layehudim Haytah Orah,” by Rabbi Noam Katz.


We introduced the evening by explaining that havdalah means “separation,” and it ritualizes the separation between Shabbat and the rest of the week, between sacred time and ordinary time. We also ritualize another separation: between rabbi and rabbi.

We went on to narrate our community’s specific circumstances, in which one rabbi retired, an interim rabbi came for a year, and the community was preparing to receive rabbinic candidates. We offered the following framing for preparing to meet rabbinic candidates.

Meeting these candidates will, in a way, be like going on a first date. You and the rabbis will all be on your best behavior, hoping to impress one another. And you will know very little about one another, because you’ve only just met. You are encouraged to go up to the rabbis and talk with them, ask them questions about themselves and their rabbinic styles – and don’t be discouraged if it’s a little awkward. You may have many things in common, and you haven’t discovered them all yet. That takes time, and candidates are only here for a weekend. In the time you have together, they will bring their strengths and their gifts to share with you, just as you are showing them the strengths and gifts of this congregation. The melodies they sing may not be familiar to you, but how they sing them will demonstrate the kind of leader they can be.

As I have mentioned a few times this Shabbat, these weekends are not about compare – they are about contrast. The question is not, “How can these rabbis do what our previous rabbis have done?” The question is, “How is each one of these rabbis different and special, and what unique gifts can they bring to the community?”

After each candidate, your feedback will be integral to the process continued by the search committee. And just as you have trusted the committee to bring you to this moment, you can trust them to bring you to the next moment. The committee is a beautiful cross-section of this congregation, with diverse representation of the membership. They care deeply about the congregation and what the community wants, and you can trust that they will honor that as they come to their final decision about which rabbi to offer the position.

Framing of the ceremony

Now let us ritualize this moment and mark our transition into this exciting new phase of the process by passing through four gateways, represented by the symbols of the havdalah ceremony.

Each symbol – the cup of wine, the spices, and the candle – will be held up by two members of the community, who will face each other to create a gateway, a threshold. On Zoom, you will be able to look right through each gateway. In the sanctuary, after we say each blessing, you are invited to stand up, take a moment to let a little bit of the past go, open yourself to receive the blessing of the gateway, and walk through, cross that threshold, and return to your seat. If you are on Zoom and have a doorway nearby, and you are able to do so, you may even walk through your own gateway after each blessing. To do this, walk up to the doorway and take a moment to let a little bit of the past go and open yourself to receive the blessing of the gateway. Then intentionally cross that threshold and pause on the other side to acknowledge where you are now. Then you may come back to Zoom. Walking back through the same doorway after this moment does not undo your threshold moment. If you are unable to walk through a nearby doorway, you may also simply look at one, or at the gateway represented here on your screen, and acknowledge your presence on both sides of the moment.

Sing lai-lai to Debbie Friedman’s havdalah (or the melody of your choice) and light the candles.


The first part of havdalah is the wine, the Gate of Joy. Wine represents joy, spirit, and the goodness of our community. The taste awakens our taste buds and reminds us that even when things are challenging, there is so much joy to be grateful for. We let go of the challenges holding us back, and we open ourselves to receive the joy that each candidate will bring. Let us pass through the Gate of Joy.

Sing wine blessing to Debbie Friedman’s havdalah. Sing lai-lai as people pass between two cups of wine.


The next part of havdalah is the spices, the Gate of Variety. We enjoy the smell that reminds us of the beauty of the natural world and also reminds us of the spice of life, the incredible variety of the experiences we have and the amazing people we know. We let go of the need to hold onto everything that always has been, and we open ourselves to receive the variety that each candidate will bring. Let us pass through the Gate of Variety and smell the spices.

Sing spice blessing to Debbie Friedman’s havdalah. Sing lai-lai as people pass between two spice boxes, smelling as they walk by.


Now we come to the candle and the light, the Gate of the Future! As the darkness of night grows, we lift the braided havdalah candle to remind us that, even though we don’t know what is to come, the light is here to help us see the possibilities that await us. We let go of our expectations from the past, and we open ourselves to all the possible futures that each candidate will bring. Let us pass through the Gate of the Future and see the light’s reflection in our fingernails, to know that the light is within us.

Sing light blessing to Debbie Friedman’s havdalah. Sing lai-lai as people pass between two candles, gazing at their hands as they walk by.


The final part of havdalah is extinguishing the candle in the wine, the Gate of Transition. We bless separation, between light and darkness, between Shabbat and weekday, between rabbi and rabbi. The moment that the light is immersed in the wine is a visual reminder of holy distinctions, of contrast between light and dark, and between rabbi and rabbi. We let go of the need to compare, and we open ourselves to the holy distinctions and new gifts that each candidate will bring. Let us pass through the Gate of Transition.

Sing separation blessing to Debbie Friedman’s havdalah. Sing lai-lai as people pass between all six symbols.

When everyone has walked through the gate, wine and candle pairs on either side of the spices pair come together, forming a sort of circle. In silence, the candles are extinguished in the cups. Sing lai-lai in the dark, then turn on the lights.

Final benediction

May we let go, open ourselves, and receive all the gifts that the candidates have to offer in the coming weeks. Amen.

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