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Shabbat Candles


Question:

Where in the Torah are we taught to light candles for Shabbat?



AskTheRabbi.org answered:

The earliest source for lighting Shabbat candles is in the Talmud (Shabbat 25b): "Rav said that lighting a “ner” for Shabbat is an obligation." Ner is Hebrew for a lamp or candle. This teaching is codified by the Rambam in the beginning of the fifth chapter of the Laws of Shabbat in his monumental work, the Mishneh Torah.

Rashi comments on the Talmudic statement that "in a place where there is no lamp there is no Shalom (peace, and peace of mind), since a person will trip over things and will be walking around in the dark." The Rambam explains that the obligation of lighting a lamp for Shabbat is in order to honor the Shabbat, just like setting the table and cleaning the home."

Lighting candles is one of the seven mitzvot that were introduced by the Rabbis. They can be found at the end of the Sefer HaChinuch (attributed to Rabbi Aharon HaLevy).

They are:

1. Lighting Chanukah lights

2. Lighting Shabbat candles

3. Reading the Megillah on Purim

4. Washing hands before eating bread

5. The various different Eiruvim (Combining Domains on Shabbat)

6. Reciting Berachot (blessings), when eating food, smelling fragrances, etc.

7. Reciting Hallel

Although a person fulfils the obligation of lighting Shabbat candles by lighting just one, the accepted custom is that at least two are lit. Why two? The Sages explain that one represents the word “Zachor” (Remember) and the second represents the word "Shamor" (Guard). In the first set of the Ten Commandments that are found in the Torah God used the word Zachor, in the second set He used the word Shamor (the differences in language are to do with the spiritual level of the Jewish People before and after the sin of the Golden Calf).

The reason that women cover their eyes when they light Shabbat candles is so that they not get any benefit from the light until they have made the Blessing. I have not been able to find any source for the universal custom of waving ones hands before lighting. When I asked my wife why she did it she said because her mother does!

There is a beautiful custom that many people have which is to light an additional candle for every child in the family, because the flame of a candle is compared to a Soul, just as a flame is never still so too does the Soul continuously strive to "reach up" to God. However, one of the repercussions of the sin of Adam and Eve is that death was introduced in to the world. By lighting Shabbat candles we are, symbolically, reintroducing life in to the world because Shabbat brings with it an extra Soul called the “Neshama Yeteira” to those who “honor and guard” the Shabbat.


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