middot separation mesorah separation and uniqueness

separation and uniqueness

Written by  rabbi benjamin ehrenfeld

art-havdalahThe contents of the siddur powerfully address the reality of uniqueness in the world. God is unique. The Jewish people are unique. Shabbat is unique. Holy days are unique. Different types of fruit are unique…the list goes on.

One of the more difficult components of honoring uniqueness is the separation that results, particularly in a world that is increasingly growing in its boundary-less communication. Shabbat requires that we replace global communication with face-to-face interaction. Every blessing we say requires us to separate from interaction with others around us in order to communicate with THE Creator of all. The relationship between separation and uniqueness is ever poignant in the order of havdalah (distinction):


Blessed are You, Lord, our God, Ruler of the Universe, who distinguishes between the set apart and the common, between light and dark, between Israel and the nations, between the seventh day and the six days of labor. Blessed are You, Lord, who distinguishes between the set apart and the common.

It would have been just as true for this blessing to include good and evil as distinct categories. However, havdalah expresses something different. While we must keep separate from evil, we must also acknowledge the distinctions between things that are perfectly good on their own. Work is good, but the rest of Shabbat must be separate from it for both to be good. Blessing God is good, but there is work to be done apart from saying blessings all day. In havdalah we acknowledge the uniqueness and separation of fixed realities in God’s order. Just as each color in a painting serves to draw the others out so too light makes darkness special, the nations allow Israel to be special, and Shabbat allows work to be special.

The world is not so simple a place. There are very few things that are always wrong, and almost everything can be wrong sometimes. This is the value of the middah of separation. In separation, we can bring out the good that is within the potential of almost everything. When we gather for havdalah, may we all see the value in distinction and uniqueness. May we separate between the set apart and the common for the sake of both.

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