Havdalah Ritual for a Failed Adoption

Anyone who has adopted a child knows that the process is complex and time consuming, filled with complicated paperwork, decision-making that forces the prospective adoptive parents to examine their core needs and beliefs, and waiting  a lot of waiting  that can last for months or sometimes, years. Especially if it follows years of unsuccessful infertility interventions, adoption is also an emotional “roller coaster,” a mix of hope and frustration, longing and anxiety.

Happily, the majority of adoptions ultimately work out as planned, but sometimes, due to a wide variety of reasons, an adoption doesn’t come to fruition. In many circles, a failed adoption is referred to as an adoption “miscarriage,” an apt name in that a failed adoption is as devastating to hopeful adoptive parents as the loss of a biological child.

An adoption plan can come undone at any point, from before the baby is born, to several days or even months after the baby has been living with the adoptive parents. However and whenever this happens, it’s a tremendous loss.

Just as many people don’t fully appreciate the pain of miscarriage or stillbirth, neither do they understand the anguish of a failed adoption.

(This ritual is dedicated to Zoe Rayzel Falon-Mazer)

(NOTE: Each reading in this ritual is assigned to a “speaker.” The “speaker” can be either or both of the adoptive parents, or friends, family members, spiritual leaders, or anyone the adoptive parents chose to include.)

Light two separate candles and hold them together, in one hand.


The havdalah ceremony, used as a transition from the Sabbath to the rest of the week, is a ceremony of separation: A separation of holy from secular, of light from darkness, and of the day of rest from the days of creation. When we emerge from a havdalah ceremony we are refreshed and restored, the day of rest having nourished us so we can take on the demands of the workaday world. It is a havdalah, a separation, that is expected and anticipated, one that has a regular place in our weekly cycle of life.


But today is different. Today we are feeling the pain of a separation that we never wanted and didn’t expect. The child we thought was ours will never become a part of our family; we have to let him/her go. Let us dig deep into our hearts, beyond the anger and disappointment and anguish, and wish this child love, and a good life, even as we own the pain of not becoming his/her parents as we had expected and so fervently wanted.


Even as we acknowledge the grief that we feel so acutely right now, let us pray for the power to move on and to heal. Let us pray that we will soon be in the position to assess our situation, and for the strength to make good decisions. Let us pray that we don’t succumb to bitterness and hopelessness; let us pray for the sweetness of love, which never fails.

Blessed is the Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, Creator of the Fruit of the Vine and of all sweet things.

(Circulate the wine.)


Tradition holds that each person receives an extra soul during the Sabbath, and that we pass around a spice box at the end of Sabbath so that the scent of the spices revives us and strengthens us to go on without that extra soul. We, too, today, are aware of our loss – but this is the loss of a presence that we expected would be with us every day of the week. We lost an extra soul that had come into our family, a child who would bring tears and joy and magic to our lives. We, too, need replenishment right now. We, too, need to be reminded that there are many sources of rejuvenation in our world. But because our loss is also bitter, we will also inhale the odor of a lemon, twinning it with the sweet spices.

Blessed is the Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, Creator of all the Spices and of all things that revive and rejuvenate us.

(Circulate a lemon that has been studded with cloves, or some other sweet-and-bitter combination.)


Although each of these candles shines brightly on its own, their glow is even stronger when they burn together. But the child who we imagined would bring more light into our lives is not going to join our family. He/she will go on a separate life journey, one that we hope will sustain and strengthen his/her own unique light. We, too, will continue to shine our own light, but we will miss this special little flame that we imagined would join our own and help us, as a family, burn brighter.

(Separate the two candles, and hold one in each hand.)


Let us take the love that we have inside us the love that we were so ready to give to this child who will never be ours and give it to ourselves and each other, especially right now as we hurt so badly from the sharp pain of our loss. Let us remember that love is a well that is never depleted, and that it will always be there for us to draw from as we heal, and as we make decisions about the future of our family.

Blessed is the Lord our God, ruler of the Universe, who wants us each to heal, grow, and love.

(Both candles are extinguished in the wine.)

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on email

Ritualwell content is available for free thanks to the generous support of readers like you! Please help us continue to offer meaningful content with a donation today. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Rituals

Shop Ritualwell - Discover unique Judaica products

The Reconstructionist Network

Serving as central organization of the Reconstructionist movement

Training the next generation of groundbreaking rabbis

Modeling respectful conversations on pressing Jewish issues

Curating original, Jewish rituals, and convening Jewish creatives

Count On Telling Your Story: A Ritualwell In-Person Immersion

Join us for Count On Telling Your Story: A Ritualwell In-Person Immersion on Sunday, June 9th. Mix and mingle with old and new friends, enjoy delicious kosher-vegetarian food and engage in a variety of creative, thought-provoking sessions exploring rituals, writing, and art.

Get the latest from Ritualwell

Subscribe for the latest rituals, online learning opportunities, and unique Judaica finds from our store.

The Reconstructionist Network