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Toward Shabbat: Vayigash

There is nothing quite like having rituals to mark the transitions in our lives. Rituals help us celebrate milestones and keep our lives balanced and structured. They figuratively hold us in our moments of profound transformation, like grief or unbounded joy, and in our more routine transitions, like waking up in the morning and starting a new day.

One of the most powerful Jewish rituals for me, is the ritual of immersing in a mikveh. A mikveh is a Jewish ritual bath made of “mayyim hayyim” (living waters)—rain water, ocean water, streams. Traditionally, immersion in a mikveh marks specific transitions: when a person converts, ritual purity for a woman after menstruation, a bride before her wedding day, and the purification ritual of a body to go from this world into the world to come. However today, Jews all over the world have been empowered to reclaim this ancient and particular ritual using the practice of immersing in the mikveh as a Jewish way to mark all of life’s transitional moments—moments of healing and joy: upon finishing chemotherapy treatments or reaching a milestone birthday; moments of despair and hope: after the miscarriage of a long-awaited pregnancy or when starting a new career. The mikveh has become a Jewish ritual that can help us navigate life’s harshest and most thrilling transitions, allowing us in our entirety to go from one state of being into another.

The mikveh does not stand alone as a Jewish ritual that demarcates transition. After immersing ourselves in 25 hours of Shabbat, we emerge into the new week through the ritual of havdalah. Both the ritual of mikveh and havdalah demand full physical presence. When immersing in the living waters of the mikveh, we submerge our entire body allowing the magical waters to wash over each crease and crevice. And havdalah is made up of four blessings, each one inviting us to use our five senses to transition from the holy into the routine.

We feel the kiddush cup in our hands:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה׳ אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָּפֶן

Bless You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, Creator of the fruit of the vine.

Smell the beautiful aroma of the spices:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה׳ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא מִינֵי בְשָׂמִים

Bless You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, Creator of varied spices.

Gaze at the reflection of the fire on our fingers:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה׳ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא מְאוֹרֵי הָאֵשׁ

Bless You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, Creator of the lights of fire.

Listen to the words and melody of prayer:

…בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה׳ הַמַּבְדִיל בֵּין קֹֽדֶשׁ לְחוֹל  

…ּBless You, Adonai who distinguishes the holy and ordinary.

And we conclude with a taste of the sweet wine.

As we find ourselves approaching the final Shabbat of 2022, let’s ask ourselves: How we can use the next 25 hours as a ritual to bring us into a new secular year? Perhaps we can reflect on the things we felt, smelled, heard, saw, or tasted that we want to bring with us, or leave behind. Or we can take a walk and reflect, or speak over Shabbat dinner with a friend, about the person we are today and the person we hope to be in the coming year. Not only listing off resolutions, but trying to create kavanot (intentions) that will allow us to be our fullest selves.

Just as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel describes Shabbat as “a palace in time,” may we think of this final Shabbat and havdalah of 2022 as our “mikveh in time”—our ritual for transition as we go from the smells, tastes, songs, feelings, and sights of this past year into the possibilities, experiences, and adventures that await us.