By Yosef Brecher
What is the basic procedure for lighting the Shabbos candles each week?
The Mishna Berura (O.C. 262:11) writes that a woman should preferably be dressed in her Shabbos clothing when lighting the candles. The Mishna Berura warns, however, that if a woman is running late, it is better that she light Shabbos candles on time, in her weekday clothes, rather than risk Shabbos desecration by lighting too late.
There is also a minhag that a woman should give some charity before lighting her candles. The Ben Ish Chai (Parshas Noach, Yr. 2) explains that the time of candle-lighting is a time of kapara, i.e., atonement. A woman therefore gives charity to serve as an aid to achieving this atonement.
Some are of the opinion that a woman should first make the bracha on the hadlaka and then light candles (Rema O.C. 263:5). This is due to the rule that a bracha is always recited over la’asiyasan, i.e., before [the mitzvah] is performed. We follow a second opinion, however, that holds that if a woman would recite the bracha first, the bracha itself would be viewed as an acceptance of Shabbos, making her subsequent lighting of the candles a forbidden act. Therefore, a woman should first light the candles (and thereby accept Shabbos) and only then recite the bracha.
Even though our minhag is to recite the bracha only after lighting the candles, we still wish to accommodate the general rule of over la’asiyasan as much as possible. The Rema (ibid.) therefore writes that a woman should be careful not to have any benefit from the candles until after she has recited the blessing on them. She should instead use her hands to shield either the candles or her eyes, until after the bracha has been recited. By doing so, a woman is demonstrating that she is not bringing these candles into her reality until after she has recited a bracha on them. In this way, the bracha can be viewed as having been recited before the candle lighting rather than after.
As we have explained previously (Hadlokas Nairos, Part 2) a woman can, under certain circumstances, stipulate that she does not wish to accept Shabbos at the time of her lighting. Some poskim (Biur Halacha O.C. 263:5 cites Rabbi Akiva Eiger) hold that in such a case a woman should in fact recite the bracha before lighting candles. Since she will not be accepting Shabbos when she recites the bracha (so as not to make the subsequent lighting forbidden), there is no reason not to follow the general of rule of reciting brachos over la’asiyasan. According to this opinion, the same logic would always apply to a man who is lighting candles. Since a man does not accept Shabbos with candles lighting, he too should first recite the bracha and then light the candles. Other poskim (Biur Halacha 263:5 cites Divrei Chaim), however, hold that in order to maintain one uniform practice in all cases, even one who is clearly not accepting Shabbos with his or her candle-lighting should nevertheless first light the candles and only then recite the bracha.
After lighting candles, a woman should gaze at them and pray that Hashem grant that her sons will shine and excel in Torah learning (Mishna Berura 263 s.k. 2). This practice is based on the Gemara (Shabbos 23b) that tells us that someone who is scrupulous in the mitzvah of hadlokas nairos will merit having children who are talmidei chachamim. Rashi there explains that the Gemara derived this concept from the pasuk (mishlei 6:23) “ki ner mitzvah v’torah ohr”, i.e., “for a commandment is a lamp and Torah is light”. Our Chazal understood these words as referring to the connection between Torah and candle-lighting, “through the commandment of the candle of Shabbos will emerge the light of the Torah.”
The purpose of this column is not to render halachic decisions, but rather to provide readers with a helpful overview of basic hilchos Shabbos. All specific halachic inquiries should be asked to a local halachic authority. General questions about the content being discussed, however, are welcome and can be sent to: email@example.com.
©2013 Yosef Brecher