WHERE DOES THE CUSTOM OF LIGHTING CANDLES FOR THE SHABBATH COME FROM?
The custom of lighting the Shabbath candles is ancient. Although there have been many explanations given, the primary purpose of the Shabbath candles was to illuminate the Shabbath house, meal and to bring pleasantness, a sense of warmth and peace into the home, BT Mas. Shabbath 25b.
There were no electric lights when this tradition developed about 3000 plus years ago and this tradition lingers on today, but has taken on additional meanings. Lighting the Shabbath candles has always been one of the primary duties of a Jewish woman, BT Mas. Shabbath 31a. However if she is not available, the man or the head of the house must be responsible for the lighting, RaMBaM, MT Hilkhoth Shabbath 5,1.
WHEN SHOULD WE LIGHT THE CANDLES?
Since it is a Torah prohibition to kindle a flame on the Shabbath, it is advised to kindle at least within 18 minutes before the advent of the Shabbath, and once the flames are kindled, it is forbidden to put them out on the Shabbath as well.
WHEN TO SAY THE BLESSING, BEFORE OR AFTER?
Many traditions vary in opinions as to when to say the berakha of ‘L-hadelik ner haShabbath’ (blessing of lighting the Shabbath lights). The question was in regards to whether it should be said before or after the lighting. Those who follow the minhag to bless afterwards explain that once you say the blessing, you have ushered in the Shabbath into your domain, and thereby according to them, are lighting after the the Shabbath, which would be a grave sin.
Nonetheless, we follow the RaMBaM, which teaches to light after the blessing. Understanding that the lighting must be done before the Shabbath, we believe that the blessing only covers the miswah of lighting the candles, and not the Shabbath day it-self, MT Hilkhoth Shabbath 5,3. To quell this concern of perhaps making a blessing for the Shabbath, and to keep with the halakha as taught by RaMBaM, we have a tradition of saying a berakha, which acknowledges the reception of the Shabbath named ‘Lishmor w’zikor haShabbath’ following the piyyut of ‘Lekha Dodi’.
Rabbi Yehudah BenLewi © 2013 all rights reserved