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This setting of the havdala text is one of Zavel Zilberts’s most beloved compositions. It was conceived primarily as a choral concert work, but it later became a concert standard in various orchestrated versions, with and without the choral element. The words—which form part of the ceremony (home or synagogue) that marks the conclusion of the Sabbath on Saturday night—refer to the distinction (havdala) between the holy and the ordinary, between the Sabbath and the weekday that is about to commence.
Legend has it that the original version (later recomposed in the United States for publication) was composed in 1914 on a train en route from Moscow to Łódz, where it was first performed by the Hazomir chorus in 1916. In it, Zilberts utilized the traditional prayer modes for the section of the liturgy containing havdala, as well as bits of biblical cantillation motifs. The principal melody has a decidedly Hassidic folk tune character, but it is not known to be part of the sacred folk repertoire of any specific Hassidic dynasty or tradition, and it may be Zilberts’s own. Overall, the piece abounds in a spirit of joy and of hope for the coming week, consistent with the liturgical purpose of the words. The present orchestration follows the basic harmonic structure of the choral version.