Shabbat How-To: Light the Candles
Shabbat is the perfect excuse to give yourself some “you time.” I do this by sleeping in on Saturday mornings, checking out the Boston cultural scene with friends, going for a nice afternoon jog, and indulging in really good food (though let’s be honest, I usually skip the jog and go straight to the food). But I digress. The point is that Shabbat is a wonderful time to take a few deep breaths and de-stress from your hectic week, while gearing up for the inevitably just-as-hectic week to come.
The best way to celebrate Shabbat is to start it off right. So mark your calendar for Friday evening (before sunset), and make a date with yourself, your kitchen table, your candlesticks, and a match. Totally old school, right? Maybe you’ve done this a thousand times before, maybe this concept is completely foreign to you, or maybe you’ve seen Fiddler on The Roof one-too-many times and have always dreamed of ushering in Shabbat this way. So, without further ado:
Shabbat How-To Presents: Light your own Shabbat candles!
The mitzvah: Fire—one of the basic elements of the world—is an ever-mysterious entity. Its flame stays constant, but its exterior is constantly evolving, So, too, are our lives; we are often moving, transitioning, and changing, but Shabbat is a constant that we carry with us no matter where we are. The mitzvah of lighting the Shabbat candles stems from a Rabbinic tradition to bring light into our lives, and to remind us of the significance of Shabbat. By partaking in this tradition, we usher in Oneg Shabbat (the joy of Shabbat), as well as Shalom Bayit (harmony and tranquility in our home).
The set-up: You should light candles 18 minutes before sundown, and you can use this handy calculator to find out when to light, based on your location. Make sure to buy candles that burn cleanly—white wax candles are preferred, though you can also use tea lights (these are best if you’re with a group and many people want to light).
The lighting: Woman customarily light Shabbat candles, but men are certainly invited (and encouraged) to partake in the tradition as well. Most people light two candles—which represent shamor (“keep”) and zakhor (“remember”), the first two words of God’s commandments concerning Shabbat. Families will sometimes light an additional candle for each of their children. After you’ve lit, drop the match somewhere safe (by Shabbat law, you cannot extinguish it yourself). Remain standing over the Shabbat candles, and wave your hands toward your face three times, as if you’re taking in the light and the “essence” of Shabbat. Through waving your hands, you are internalizing the Shabbat spirit, and welcoming in the “Shabbat Bride.”
The blessing: So, you’ve already lit the candles and waved your hands three times, and now you’re ready to say the customary blessing! Most Jewish blessings are said before the action they refer to (like blessing your food before you eat it). Because we're not supposed to light candles once Shabbat has begun, and this blessing officially begins Shabbat, we cover our eyes to pretend the lights aren't lit until after the blessing. Place your hands over your eyes as you recite the following:
בָּרוּך אַתָּה אַדֹנָי אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶך הָעוֹלָם אַשֶׁר קִדְשָנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָנוּ לְהַדְלִיק נֵר שֶל שַבָּת קודֶש
Transliteration: Baruch a-ta A-do-nay Elo-hei-nu me-lech ha-o-lam a-sher ki-dee-sha-nu bi-mitz-vo-tav vi-tzi-va-noo li-had-leek ner shel Sha-bat.
Translation: Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to kindle the Shabbat light.
After saying the blessing, many people allow some time for silent contemplation and prayers for family and well-being.
The aftermath: The candles are lit, and now it’s time to begin your official day of rest! Whether I’m with friends, family, or neighbors, I always try to give out some warm “Shabbat hugs” and wish everybody a meaningful and restful Shabbat. So whatever the rest of your holiday entails, you can take solace in the fact that you’ve fulfilled an important mitzvah and done your part to welcome and to sanctify the Sabbath!
For some more how-to help, check out this video from Jewish Pathways:
Photo by Flickr user Jordan Chark
This post is part of the Ultimate Shabbat How-To Guide, which is filled with awesome ways to put a DIY spin on your Shabbat and bring a little more meaning into your weekly practice. Check out the guide for more tips on cooking, decorating, and observing Shabbat rituals, and feel free to share your own tips or general musings.