The weekly havdalah service recited on Saturday night is comprised of three parts. One part is the introductory pesukim, another is the core of the havdalah and the third are Birkot Nehenim (blessings said to express appreciation for pleasures God bestows on us) that were attached to the havdalah. We will try to understand what are the components of each section of the havdalah.
The havdalah opens with a set of pesukim which express optimism and hope of good fortune for the Jewish people. In the Ashkenazik havdalah the following pesukim are said: Hiney el yeshuati… Issaiah chapter 12, verse 2-3, Lahashem hyeshua…Psalms ch.12 verse 6, Hashem tzvaot imanu… Psalms ch.46 verse 8 or 12, Hashem tzvaot ashrei adam…Psalms ch.84 verse 13, Hashem hoshia… Psalms ch.20 verse 10, Layehudim hayta ora…Ester ch.8 verse16, Kos yeshuot… Psalms 116 verse 13. The Sefardi havdalah opens with an even broader set of pesukim and a small prayer for success. These pesukim are not an integral part of havdalah and if they are omitted by mistake the omission does not disqualify the havdalah. Therefore, if one hears the havdalah from someone else but misses one or more of the pesukim, as often happens in public places, he does not need to repeat the havdalah.
After reciting the pesukim, the actual havdalah service begins with the beracha of boreh peri hagafen. This beracha leads the other berachot of havdalah in accordance with the halachic rule that when several berachot are to be said the more common beracha receives precedence. The beracha for the besamim and the beracha over the light of the candle follow Boreh peri hagafen. In conclusion of this set of berachot the beracha of havdalah is recited.
The berachot of besamim and meorei haesh are berachot that Chazal instituted to be said on Motzei Shabat (Saturday night). In order to give these berachot a framework that would insure they are not forgotten, Chachamim attached them to the havdalah service. The beracha of Borei minei besamim is said on Motzei Shabat to console the soul from its’ despair over the conclusion of Shabat. Therefore, though besamim should be smelled on Motzei Shabat, if no besamim are available one need not search for them but may proceed with havdalah without reciting the beracha of borei minei besamim. If, later, besamim become available a beracha should be recited on those besamim independent of the havdalah service. Should the person reciting the havdalah be unable to smell the besamim he should not recite the beracha. When other people are present one of them should recite the beracha of besamim.
Even though there are different berachot for different types of besamim such as Borei atzei (trees) besamim or asvei besamim, when reciting the beracha in havdalah the general format of “Borei minei besamim” should be used to prevent confusion. (See Aruch Hashulcan OC 297/4 and Mishna Berura OC 297/1)
The beracha of meorei haesh is recited to commemorate the creation of fire on Saturday night. As is the case with the besamim, if no flame is available then havdalah may be said without the beracha of meorei haesh. Should a flame become available later a beracha may be recited independent of the havdalah.
The flame of the havdalah candle should ideally be from a multiple wicked candle as such a candle gives off a stronger light. If such a candle is unavailable and two candles can not be brought together then one may make the beracha on a single wicked candle. (Shulchan Aruch OC 298/2 and Mishna Berura 7) When making the beracha over the candle one must be in close proximity to the flame so as to be able to make use of its light. Since the proper use of the light is to the extent one can distinguish between different coins, it is customary to look at ones hands and fingers so as to distinguish between the nails and skin. A blind man should not recite the beracha of meorei haesh; if he is reciting havdalah for others, one of those who can see should recite the beracha on the candle.
The havdalah service concludes with the beracha of havdalah. This beracha is comprised of an opening as in all berachot, followed by three statements of havdalah (distinction). The basis for this structure is found in the Gemarah Pesachim 103 b-104a. Rabi Oshaya states that when making havdalah one should state at least three havdalot and no more then seven. From the discussion that follows, Tosafot note that it is clear to the Gemara that either three or seven havdalot should be recited. (See Tsafot 104a Umar lo telat amar). The three havdalot stated are between the holy (day-shabat) and the mundane (the rest of the week), between light and dark and between the nation of Israel and the rest of the nations. These havdalot are followed by a statement that returns us to the focal point of the beracha, the distinction between Shabat and the rest of the week. We conclude the beracha with a chatima (closing statement) blessing God who distinguishes between the holy and the mundane.