It is believed in Judaism that every commandment that a Jew upholds in this world brings light into the world. Something special about the Shabbat candles is this light can actually be seen an enjoyed. Candles are lit on the eve of the Sabbath day so as to usher the day in, showing our love of the day. There also seems to be an instant effect of calmness and serenity on the house from the moment Shabbat candles are lit as the Holy day of Shabbat settles on the house.
The woman of the house is traditionally the one who lights the Shabbat candles. Although her husband can light and extinguish the wicks before she lights so as so to have a part in the commandment and to show that he wishes to help her, contributing to the peace between them, this is exclusively the woman’s commandment. in some Jewish circles girls from the age of three start lighting their own candles and when they get married begin to light two. Others wait until they get married and then light two straight away. Once a woman has children, she may hold by the tradition of adding an additional candle for each child who is born.
Eighteen minutes before sunset on Friday the Shabbat candles are lit. Candle-lighting times change from location to location and it is worth checking the candle-lighting times for your location on a Jewish calendar or even online.
Traditionally, if there are girls lighting then thy light before their mother. Some have the custom of giving charity before lighting the candles.
The woman of the house then lights the candles, extends her hands, drawing them in a circular motion towards herself and covers her eyes. She then recites the special blessing over the Shabbat candles, “Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to kindle the light of the holy Shabbat.”
Many women also take advantage of the auspicious occasion to pray in private. After this, the woman will uncover her eyes and wish those surrounding her, “Shabbat Shalom”- “A Peaceful Shabbat”.
Once a woman has lit Shabbat candles she has ushered in Shabbat and may therefore not permit any activities that are forbidden on Shabbat. The candles and candlesticks may not be moved until after Shabbat. In cases where Shabbat candles can’t be used, such as a hospital, an electric bulb can be used.
LIGHTING THE SHABBAT CANDLES
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.
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.