Light One Candle...Or More!
During the course of the Jewish year, candles (or oil wick lamps and other types of lights) are used in many different ways. In fact, many different types of lights are used, depending on the occasion.
How many different types of lights can you think of? When are some of the times that we light candles or other lights for Jewish reasons?
Below we are going to look at 4 different types of lights.
Shabbat candles
  • Why do we light two candles?
  • What is the purpose of Shabbat candles?
  • The Talmud says that Shabbat candles are very important since they are needed for Shalom Bayit, peace in the home. How do the Shabbat candles help with Shalom Bayit?
  • The Mishneh Torah says that the Shabbat candles are an important part of our Shabbat pleasure (oneg Shabbat). How do you think the Shabbat candles contribute to our oneg Shabbat?
(יב) שָׁמ֣֛וֹר אֶת־י֥וֹם֩ הַשַׁבָּ֖֨ת לְקַדְּשׁ֑֜וֹ כַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר צִוְּךָ֖֣ ׀ ה' אֱלֹקֶֽ֗יךָ
(12) Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you.
(ח) זָכ֛וֹר֩ אֶת־י֥֨וֹם הַשַּׁבָּ֖֜ת לְקַדְּשֽׁ֗וֹ
(8) Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy.
אמר רבא פשיטא לי נר ביתו ונר חנוכה נר ביתו עדיף משום שלום ביתו נר ביתו וקידוש היום נר ביתו עדיף משום שלום ביתו
Rava said: It is obvious to me that there is a fixed list of priorities. When a person is poor and must choose between purchasing oil to light a Shabbat lamp for his home or purchasing oil to light a Hanukkah lamp, the Shabbat lamp for his home takes precedence. That is due to peace in his home; without the light of that lamp, his family would be sitting and eating their meal in the dark. Similarly, if there is a conflict between acquiring oil to light a lamp for his home and wine for the sanctification [kiddush] of Shabbat day, the lamp for his home takes precedence due to peace in his home.
הדלקת נר בשבת אינה רשות אם רצה מדליק ואם רצה אינו מדליק... ואחד אנשים ואחד נשים חייבין להיות בבתיהן נר דלוק בשבת. אפילו אין לו מה יאכל שואל על הפתחים ולוקח שמן ומדליק את הנר שזה בכלל עונג שבת. וחייב לברך קודם הדלקה ברוך אתה ה' אלקינו מלך העולם אשר קדשנו במצותיו וצונו להדליק נר של שבת. כדרך שמברך על כל הדברים שהוא חייב בהם מדברי סופרים.
The lighting of Sabbath lights is not optional, to light or not to light as one chooses... It is rather a duty, binding on men and women alike; they are obligated to have lamps burning in their homes on Sabbath eve. Even if one has nothing to eat, let him go begging at the doors, buy oil, and light a lamp, forming an integral part of Sabbath delight (oneg shabbath). Before lighting, one should recite a blessing: "Blessed art thou, Lord our God, King of the universe, who hast sanctified us with thy commandments, and commanded us to light the Sabbath lights." This is on the same principle that one recites a benediction over all duties introduced by the sages.
How to Light Shabbat Candles (beracha below)
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה' אֱלֹקֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ לְהַדְלִיק נֵר שֶׁל שַׁבָּת:
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe who has commanded us to light the Shabbat lights.
Havdalah candle
  • Shabbat begins after lighting candles and after it ends, another candle is lit. Why do you think that Shabbat is sandwiched between two special candles?
  • According to tradition, which Biblical personality is connected to the Havdalah candle?
  • When Shabbat begins, the two candles are separate. At Havdalah, we light a candle with at least two intertwined wicks. What message can you derive from the two types of candles?
ואמר רבא אבוקה להבדלה מצוה מן המובחר
Rava said: a torch for Havdalah is the ideal way to perform the mitzvah.
הַגָּה: וְנֵר שֶׁיֵּשׁ לוֹ שְׁתֵּי פְּתִילוֹת מִקְרֵי אֲבוּקָה (אֲגֻדָּה).
Note: a candle whose fire comes from two wicks is considered a torch.
According to many commentators, the following Talmudic legend is the reason for reciting a blessing on fire with Havdalah:
במחשבה עלה ליבראות בערב שבת ולא נברא עד מוצאי שבת דתניא ר' יוסי אומר שני דברים עלו במחשבה ליבראות בערב שבת ולא נבראו עד מוצאי שבת ובמוצאי שבת נתן הקב"ה דיעה באדם הראשון מעין דוגמא של מעלה והביא שני אבנים וטחנן זו בזו ויצא מהן אור
[God] thought to create [fire] before Shabbat [in the week of creation], but it was not created until after Shabbat [on Saturday night]. As Rabbi Yossi taught in a braita...after Shabbat, the Holy One, blessed be He, gave Adam wisdom akin to that of the Divine. He [Adam] brought two stones, ground them against each other, out of which came fire.
(טו) בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה' אֱלֹקֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא מְאוֹרֵי הָאֵשׁ:
Blessed are you, Lord, our God, King of the universe, Creator of the fire’s lights.
Havdalah Across the World
Memorial candle
The verse below, from Proverbs, is the source for lighting a memorial candle on the anniversary of the death (yahrzeit) of a loved one.
  • What do you think is the "candle of God"? Why do you think God needs a candle?
  • Have you ever seen a yahrzeit candle lit? What is the feeling in the house when the candle is lit? If you haven't seen one, what do you imagine is the atmosphere in the house?
(כז) נֵ֣ר ה' נִשְׁמַ֣ת אָדָ֑ם...
(27) The soul (spirit) of man is the candle of God...
Photograph by Rachel Buckman
Chanukah lights
Shabbat candles are meant to be used. We light them so that we're not sitting in the dark during Shabbat, which helps us to enjoy Shabbat and to get along with the people in our home.
The Havdalah candle signals the end of Shabbat by being the first act of creation in the new week.
A memorial candle helps us to remember a loved one who has died.
The purpose of Chanukah lights (candles or oil) is different from the other lights. Read the texts below and answer the following questions:
  • What is the purpose of the Chanukah lights?
  • Why can't we derive benefit (use the light) from the Chanukah lights?
הַנֵּרוֹת הַלָּלוּ שֶׁאָנוּ מַדְלִיקִין, עַל הַנִּסִּים וְעַל הַנִּפְלָאוֹת וְעַל הַתְּשׁוּעוֹת וְעַל הַמִּלְחָמוֹת, שֶׁעָשִׂיתָ לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם בַּזְּמַן הַזֶּה, עַל יְדֵי כֹּהֲנֶיךָ הַקְּדוֹשִׁים. וְכָל שְׁמוֹנַת יְמֵי הַחֲנֻכָּה הַנֵּרוֹת הַלָּלוּ קֹדֶשׁ הֵם וְאֵין לָנוּ רְשׁוּת לְהִשְׁתַּמֵּשׁ בָּהֶם, אֶלָּא לִרְאוֹתָם בִּלְבָד, כְּדֵי לְהוֹדוֹת וּלְהַלֵּל לְשִׁמְךָ הַגָּדוֹל עַל נִסֶּיךָ וְעַל נִפְלְאוֹתֶיךָ וְעַל יְשׁוּעָתֶךָ.
We light these lights [to commemorate] the miracles, wonders and salvation which You have performed for our forefathers, in those days at this time, through Your holy priests. Throughout the eight days of Chanukah, these lights are holy, and we are not allowed to make use of them, but only to look at them, in order to offer thanks and praise to Your great Name for Your miracles, for Your wonders and for Your salvations.
(ה) אֵין מַדְלִיקִין נֵרוֹת חֲנֻכָּה קֹדֶם שֶׁתִּשְׁקַע הַחַמָּה אֶלָּא עִם שְׁקִיעָתָהּ לֹא מְאַחֲרִין וְלֹא מַקְדִּימִין. שָׁכַח אוֹ הֵזִיד וְלֹא הִדְלִיק עִם שְׁקִיעַת הַחַמָּה מַדְלִיק וְהוֹלֵךְ עַד שֶׁתִּכְלֶה רֶגֶל מִן הַשּׁוּק. וְכַמָּה הוּא זְמַן זֶה כְּמוֹ חֲצִי שָׁעָה אוֹ יֶתֶר. עָבַר זְמַן זֶה אֵינוֹ מַדְלִיק. וְצָרִיךְ שֶׁיִּתֵּן שֶׁמֶן בַּנֵּר כְּדֵי שֶׁתִּהְיֶה דּוֹלֶקֶת וְהוֹלֶכֶת עַד שֶׁתִּכְלֶה רֶגֶל מִן הַשּׁוּק. הִדְלִיקָהּ וְכָבְתָה אֵינוֹ זָקוּק לְהַדְלִיקָהּ פַּעַם אַחֶרֶת. נִשְׁאֲרָה דּוֹלֶקֶת אַחַר שֶׁכָּלְתָה רֶגֶל מִן הַשּׁוּק אִם רָצָה לְכַבּוֹתָהּ אוֹ לְסַלְּקָהּ עוֹשֶׂה:
(5) One may not light Chanukah candles before the sun sets, but rather [light] with its setting - not after, and not before. [If] he forgot or intentionally did not light with the setting of the sun, he can light until pedestrians leave the marketplace. And how long is this time? Like a half hour or more. If this time passes, he [may] not light. And he needs to put enough oil in the candle so that it will continue to be lit until the pedestrians leave the marketplace. If he lit it and it became extinguished it, he is not required to light it another time. If it stayed lit after the pedestrians leave the marketplace, he can extinguish it or take it away, if he wants.
(ט) ...הִדְלִיקוֹ מִבִּפְנִים וְהוֹצִיאוֹ דָּלוּק וְהִנִּיחוֹ עַל פֶּתַח בֵּיתוֹ לֹא עָשָׂה כְּלוּם עַד שֶׁיַּדְלִיקֶנּוּ בִּמְקוֹמוֹ. אָחַז הַנֵּר בְּיָדוֹ וְעָמַד לֹא עָשָׂה כְּלוּם שֶׁהָרוֹאֶה אוֹמֵר לְצָרְכּוֹ הוּא עוֹמֵד...
...If the candle was lit indoors and brought outside, and set next to the entrance of the house, the mitzvah is not fulfilled; it must be lit in its place. One that holds the candle in in his/her hand and stands [outside] has not fulfilled the mitzvah, because one who sees him/her will say that s/he does so only for his/her own use...
How to Light the Chanukah Menorah (berachot below)
(ב) בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה' אֱלֹקֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
(ג) אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ לְהַדְלִיק נֵר שֶׁל חֲנֻכָּה.
(ד) בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה' אֱלֹקֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
(ה) שֶׁעָשָׂה נִסִּים לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם בַּזְּמַן הַזֶּה.
(ז) בלילה הראשון מוסיפים:
(ח) בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה' אֱלֹקֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
(ט) שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לַזְּמַן הַזֶּה.
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to kindle the Chanukah light.
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.
חג אורים שמח!
Happy Chanukah!