The very last act performed before bringing Shabbat into the home is the lighting of the Shabbat candles. While this mitzvah is considered one of the three primary mitzvot of a Jewish woman, Shabbat candles may also be lit by a man.

Shabbat candles have long been the symbol of Shabbat. Why are they so important, especially if the mitzvah of lighting candles is done before Shabbat actually begins? The candles are lit just before Shabbat because one may not kindle a flame on Shabbat, since kindling is considered “creative work.” The actual candles, however, must burn well into Shabbat evening, since the light of the Shabbat candles is perceived as a critical part of creating oneg Shabbat — an enjoyable Shabbat atmosphere.

One is supposed to enjoy Shabbat, and stumbling about in a dark house is hardly a way to experience enjoyment. Today, when every house is filled with electric light, it may be difficult to grasp the importance of candles. It should be recalled, however, that electric light came into use only at the beginning of the last century. The burning Shabbat candles, often placed on or near the dining room table, provide a sense of Shalom Bayit, peace in the home, for Shabbat evening. Even today, in rooms filled with electric light, there is a special soothing feeling when watching the flickering flames of the candles cast playful shadows as they add a glow of sanctity to the Shabbat setting.

This Treat was originally published on August 22, 2008.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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