Rabbi Yehudah said: “… Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel disagree regarding the havdalah candle and the besamim (spices). Beit Shammai maintains that the blessing over the havdalah candle is recited first, and then the blessing over besamim; whereas Beit Hillel holds that the besamim come first, and then the havdalah candle.” Rabbi Yochanan said that the public had adopted the custom of following Beit Hillel as expressed by Rabbi Yehudah. (Berachot 52b)
Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky of Vilna1 was known to recite during havdalah the berachah of borei me’orei ha’eish (– “Who creates the light of the fire”) while gazing at an electric light! He specifically chose to use a light bulb rather than the flame of a conventional multi-wicked candle.2 His reason was that as the use of electricity was becoming widespread in Europe in the early 20th century many people were unaware of the way in which it was understood according to the halachah. Some people, for example, thought that electricity was not defined as fire and that turning on an electric light was not a violation of Shabbat! Therefore, by using electricity for havdalah, and reciting the berachah that refers to “fire”, he dispelled the myth that such a bulb was allowed to be ignited on Shabbat.
In a similar vein, as he recited havdalah, he held a cup of tea as his beverage of choice in his hand. The reason he did this was, again, to demonstrate a halachic principle. Many people were very poor and could not afford wine3 for havdalah. As a result, people had become neglectful of making havdalah altogether, believing that if they did not have wine the procedure could not be done adequately. Therefore, Rav Chaim Ozer made a point of using tea, in order to show that an affordable beverage such as tea was acceptable for havdalah.4
1. 1863 – 1940
2. A multi-wicked candle is the best way to perform the Mitzvah. (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 298:2)
3. Wine is the preferred drink for this Mitzvah. (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 296:1-2)
4. Based on the article “Light bulbs and tea” in the Daf Yomi Digest Number 52 from the Chicago Centre for Torah & Chesed