I have friends who enjoy the rush just before Shabbat begins - setting the table, digging out the candles, tidying up, etc. Me, I like starting to wind down mid-day and to move slowly into Shabbat. Yet I'd never given the same loving attention to Havdalah (the ritual concluding Shabbat) until recently.

So recently Joe and I went outside an hour before Shabbat ended, sat in loungers, and watched the sunset. As the stars began to sprinkle across the sky, we didn't hurry inside. Instead, we tried to identify a couple of constellations (unsuccessfully), then just spent a few quiet minutes looking at the sky, engulfed in serenity and stillness.

Back inside, we sang as we put away our Shabbat items and replaced them with our Havdalah candle, spices and wine. Standing side by side, we made a concerted effort to sing more slowly, savoring the sweet period of time we were leaving, and moving slowly - but happily - into a new week. We drank a little more wine after we'd extinguished the candle. We didn't rush to turn our computers and telephones back on.

Finally, we spent a few minutes talking about other traditions we'd like to add to our Havdalah ritual. After kiddush, we plan to walk back into the yard and smell herbs growing fresh in our yard before we come back inside to extinguish the candle. We discussed planting a few additional herbs or even occasionally just picking up fresh ones in the produce department, bypassing the usual spice-in-a-jar aisle.

Although we have travel Shabbat "kits", we can't always use them. If we're staying in a hotel, we can't light the candle. At times, we've forgotten to bring along spices for Havdalah. Also, since we're not rigid about Shabbat, we sometimes leave before Shabbat officially ends so we can meet friends or go to an entertainment event.

In the past, we've chosen either to do Havdalah early or not to do it at all. Now we may do havdalah at our friends' home or we may just go outside and look at the stars and smell the fragrance of the evening.

Recently, we've also been more prone to observing Shabbat until it ends. It's soothing to move out of Shabbat in a relaxed manner. And both sunsets - one moving into and one moving out of Shabbat - have a special holiness about them.

As I move more deeply into my Jewish faith, I continually find that middle ground between mindlessly doing a ritual because I'm "supposed to" do it or doing away with it because I can't find meaning in it.

I've always found Shabbat rituals meaningful and powerful. Now I'm finding that immersing myself in the spirituality of Havdalah allows the sweetness of the previous hours to linger into the week.

Shavua Tov,