Jewish Life Shabbat Primer

Lighting the Shabbat Candles

Lighting the candles

Many rabbis advise those who have not previously celebrated Shabbat to begin their journey with the lighting of Shabbat candles. And so, we visited to understand the significance of this mitzvah…and how to perform it.

Why Shabbat candles?
The Shabbat candles have ushered the holiness of Shabbat into the Jewish home for thousands of years – ever since the matriarch Sarah illuminated her tent with her Friday night lights. The primary function of the Shabbat candles is to bring peace and tranquility into the home and to enhance our enjoyment of the Shabbat meal. The candles also serve to remind us of the spiritual dimensions of Shabbat: just as a physical candle reveals the otherwise unseen contents of a room, so, too, in a spiritual sense, the Shabbat candles reveal the unseen and intangible Godly energy which permeates our existence.

Who lights?
The mitzvah of lighting Shabbat candles rests upon all members of the household. But it is the woman of the house, in her role as the mainstay of the home, who does the actual lighting. If there is no woman in the house, or if she is unable to light, the obligation falls upon the man. An age-old custom is that all women in the household, including young girls from the age they can understand the significance of the mitzvah and make the blessing (about three years of age), should each light their own candle as well. In recent years, this custom has been revived and is common practice in many Jewish homes.

When to light
The Shabbat candles are lit Friday evening, 18 minutes before sunset. Certain communities have the custom to light them somewhat earlier. The latest one may light the Shabbat candles is sunset; after sunset, it is forbidden to kindle a flame, and to light a candle would be a desecration of Shabbat. The earliest the candles may be kindled is plag haminchah, which is the beginning of the last eighth of the day (for example, on a day on which there are exactly 12 hours from sunrise to sunset, plag haminchah is 75 minutes before sunset). For candle lighting times in your community visit or check your local Jewish calendar.

Charity before lighting

It is customary to give extra charity before lighting the Shabbat candles. This reminds us to consider the needs of others even, and perhaps especially, during great spiritual moments.

Kindle the lights
Light one candle if you’re single, two if you’re married. Some women light a candle for each family member, so a mother of three lights five candles. Young girls should light first, so that their mother can assist them, if necessary, before accepting the Shabbat with her own lighting. After lighting your candle or candles, draw your hands over the flames and toward yourself, bringing the peace and sanctity of Shabbat into your home and your life.

The blessing
With your eyes covered, recite the blessing:
Transliteration: Boruch A-toh Ado-noi E-lo-hei-nu Me-lech Ho-olom A-sher Ki-de-sha-nu Be-mitz-vo-sov Vi-tzi-vo-nu Le-had-lik Ner Shel Sha-bos Ko-desh.
Translation: Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to kindle the lights of the holy Shabbat.

A private prayer
The time of candle lighting is an especially auspicious time for private prayer. From behind covered eyes, women throughout history have whispered prayers for health and happiness, and for children who will illuminate the world with Torah. Take a few moments to whisper your own prayers, allowing the unique holiness of the time to permeate your prayers and convey them on high. Finally, uncover your eyes and gaze at the Shabbat lights. Turn to your loved ones and wish them “Shabbat Shalom.” Embrace the light, peace and joy you have generated, and welcome the Shabbat into your home.

Torah Portion: Beshalach  
Newton shul now affiliated with United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
Kolot: How Isaac met Rebekah, poetry by Norma Bursack

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