Each Friday night, Jewish people usher in the Shabbat day as they light Shabbat candles. We will address several aspects of lighting Shabbat candles in an attempt to make the ceremony more understandable and meaningful.
When are Shabbat Candles Kindled?
Approximately eighteen minutes before sunset on Friday.
Why has the commandment of lighting Shabbat candles devolved upon the woman of the house?
According to Rambam the reason that it is the womens’ commandment to light Shabbat candles is that generally speaking, women are found to be in the house much more than men and are the ones who take care of household matters.
The Magen Avraham points out that in the case of a woman being too ill to light, the man lights. Additionally, in the case of a man/ men living alone, he/they are required to light Shabbat candles.
What does lighting Shabbat candles symbolize?
The Shabbat candles symbolize Shalom Bayit, translated to mean domestic peace. Through the act of every Jewish household creating mini sanctuaries in their homes, peace is being spread in the world on a wider scale.
Furthermore, Rabbi Akiva interestingly notes that the Hebrew words for man and woman in Hebrew (Ish and Isha respectively) both contain the Hebrew letters Aleph and Shin, which together spell out the Hebrew word Esh meaning fire. Ish and Isha each contain an extra letter- Yud in the case of Ish and Hey in the case of Isha. Yud and Hey together make up one of the names of G-d. He is quoted as saying in Sota 17a, that when husband and wife are worthy the Divine Presence Dwells between them. The Shabbat candles- the Esh- symbolize the light of the Divine Presence which lights up the relationship between the husband and wife in the home.
Two candles are lit to represent the two Biblical aspects of Shabbat- Shamor-guarding- and Zach or- remembering. Guarding refers to observing the prohibitions of Shabbat and remembering the keeping of the positive commandments.
How does the blessing recited over the Shabbat candles differ from other blessings we recite over commandments?
In the case of other commandments, we make a blessing over the action we are about to perform. In the case of Shabbat candles, we make the blessing after lighting them. Essentially, the lighting comes before mental acceptance of the Shabbat day. For this reason the blessing is recited while covering one’s eyes so that the blessing follows the act but precedes its benefit.