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After saying the blessing over fire during Havdala, we do something (customs vary) involving looking at our fingers by the light of the Havdala candle. I'm wondering how seriously we take this part of the ritual. In particular:

  • If the person making Havdala doesn't do this, is the fire blessing or the Havdala invalidated?

  • If the people discharging their obligation by observing the Havdala don't do this, do they lose credit for this blessing of for the Havdala?

  • How certain must the finger-looker be that the light involved is from the Havdala candle? If most of the light cast on the fingers is from electric lights, does that invalidate the finger-looking?

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strongly related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/1869/759 –  Double AA Feb 6 '12 at 7:54
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@Vram Yes but making a bracha levatala in the middle could be a hefsek of some sort. Also, there is the question of resaying the esh bracha afterwards. –  Double AA Feb 6 '12 at 14:08
    
Outside of the halachic considerations, there is the idea that we look at our nails because of the midrash regarding the curse of Adam to work the land, and thus growing nails. –  avi Feb 6 '12 at 17:23
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2 Answers 2

Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 298:3-4 says:

  • The person needs to be close enough to the fire to potentially benefit from it, should he so choose (It is described there as being able to sort money by the light of the torch). The Mishna Berurah there (S"K 13) says that if one who is listening wants to fulfill his obligation, he too must be that close.

    Our custom is to look at our fingers and nails to make sure we are close enough to differentiate between them (Mishna Berurah S"K 9, quoting the Tur - see there for other reasons as well).

I understand this to mean that even if we don't look at our nails, as long as we are that close we have fulfilled our obligation.

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This shiur (www.vbm-torah.org/archive/halak64/28havdala.doc) suggests that be-di'avad a person fulfills his obligation even if he does not look at his hands, so long as he stands near the fire. If a person cannot come within close range of the fire, he should either quickly approach the flame immediately after havdala without making an interruption, or have in mind not to fulfill his obligation with respect to the candle, and later, when he has access to fire, he recites the berakha and derives benefit from the flame. –  Avrohom Yitzchok Feb 6 '12 at 19:23
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Based on the answer given in this other question (which matches with what I remembered to be the halacha) - the concept is merely to benefit from the light of the havdala candle.

If one turns off all of the lights in the room before reciting the havdala blessings, and the reciter reads them out of a siddur / bircon (a.k.a "bentscher"), that is also benefiting from the candlelight.

Since I can't find an explicit source which states that those who listen to havdala must benefit from the light, it stands to reason that there is no such requirement.

In normative practice, the listeners are not required to drink the havdala wine. Generally, the reciter pauses from the end of "borei minei b'samim" until all of the listeners have smelled the spices - but it would seem that even this is not essential (lo m'akev) for the listeners.

In summary, my answers to the bullet points are:

  • No.

  • No.

  • The reciter should try to benefit from the candlelight in some way. The listeners need not be concerned about it.

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Will, why is it reasonable that the listeners have a different obligation of fire than the reciter? –  YDK Feb 6 '12 at 15:52
    
Because to discharge obligations (kiddush, havdala, Megillas Esther, etc) - the listeners never do what the reciter does, and yet, they have discharged their obligations concerning that mitzvah. –  user1095 Feb 6 '12 at 16:21
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In order to say the blessing, one must be close enough to be able to benefit from the light. Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 298:4 - hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=14171&pgnum=147 -- The Mishna Berurah there (s"K 13) says that if one who is listening want to fulfill his obligation, he too must be that close. –  Menachem Feb 6 '12 at 17:05
    
Will, those are examples of shomea k'oneh. If the bracha on aish requires the mevarech to benefit from the light and I by listening am considered as blessing, I, too, must benefit from the light. But this is moot in light of @Menachem's source (pun not intended). –  YDK Feb 6 '12 at 19:37
    
@Menachem (and YDK) - this is also accomplished by turning off all other lights when reciting havdala. Anyone in a room, at night, with only a multi-wick candle burning, de facto benefits from the light. Without it, everything would be pitch black. Therefore, "close enough" becomes "anywhere in the room". –  user1095 Feb 7 '12 at 7:17
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