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Ligting Shabbat Candles

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, Who has made us holy by Your commandments and commanded us to kindle the light of Shabbat.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe Who has kept us a live sustained us and enabled us to reach this moment.

On Shabbat, the marketplace disappears from our consciousness for a blessed twenty-four hours. We break free of the electronic “leash”—computers, tablets, cell phones—that have become the curse as well as the blessing of contemporary life. Shabbat is a day for relating—to our inner consciousness, to each other, and to God.

Shabbat is ushered in by the kindling of candles, usually by the mother of the household. She covers her eyes as she chants the prayer, followed by some whispered words invoking God’s blessings upon her family.

In pre-rabbinic times, our ancestors used to live by a strict interpretation of the Biblical command “You shall kindle no fire in all your habitations on Shabbat.”{Exodus 34:3} When the Judean economy was primarily agricultural, people could easily live without fire for twenty-four hours. The temperate climate made artificial heat unnecessary, and families could enjoy their dinner by Friday’s lingering twilight. But as the Judean economy became increasingly mercantile during the Greco-Roman era, most people began to live in cities rather than on farms. The climate in cities (especially Jerusalem, situated on a hilltop) was colder, and—as a visit to any ancient city will attest—most people would live in perpetual darkness if they had no artificial sources of light.

The priests continued to insist, nonetheless, that the Torah’s command against kindling fire be strictly observed. But the new leaders, the rabbis, reinterpreted that command. “The Torah tells us that we may not kindle fire on Shabbat, but it doesn’t prevent us from kindling a fire before the arrival of Shabbat; we can then use that fire for light, for heat and for warming our food.”

The Shabbat candles that we kindle before sundown today are a reminder of that ancient fire that allowed Shabbat to be a time of light and joy rather than darkness and cold.

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