Don’t make light of Shabbat. Make light for Shabbat.
A child came home from a Hebrew lesson and told her parents that she wanted to make light for Shabbat by lighting candles. The parents agreed to satisfy her whim and lit candles as the sun set on Friday. As they sat down to dinner they realized that it is not fitting for the television to play while the Shabbat candles burn so they turned down the TV. The next week the father decided that if there are candles on the table, they should chant the Kiddush on a cup full of wine. The next week the mother decided that if the candles are burning, they should have a traditional Shabbat dinner. The next week the family decided that if the candles are burning, they should attend services before coming home for dinner. Before long, the candles filled their home with the light of Shabbat.
Why are candles special and why do we light them for Shabbat?
Wood and Stone
Our sages taught that the house should not be dark on Shabbat lest we stumble on a piece of wood or a stone and disturb the Shabbat peace. Another view, Shabbat is a day of delight: make light, to delight.
Allow me a play on words: In the English language, when you preface a word with the letters ‘de’, it often negates the word. For example, to debone is to remove the bone. To detox is to remove the toxin. Delight means to remove the ordinary light and bask in a higher form of light, spiritual light. When you stare into an intense source of light, such as the sun, your eyes are blinded for a moment and it seems dark. To delight means to experience a light so intense, in this case, the Shabbat light, that the ordinary light loses its appeal. It no longer seems like light compared to the greater light.
What is this light of Shabbat?
I believe the answer is hidden in the words of our sages, “lest we stumble on wood or stone”. In the Torah, wood and stone is often a euphemism for idols, which are carved of wood and hewn of stone. Perhaps our sages are alluding to two kinds of stumbling. The literal stumble on physical wood and the spiritual stumble on the wood and stone of idolatry.
We no longer worship idols in the classic sense, but we often worship idols in the virtual sense. We often worship the accumulation of possession, keeping up with the Joneses, as it were. If it’s not our homes and furniture that we worship, it is our cars or clothes. Many of us worship the likes on Facebook and responses on Twitter. For others, it is the phones and tablets. We keep up with the latest models lest we be seen with an anarchism and be mocked by the Joneses.
On Shabbat, we leave this rat race behind and focus on the important things. We take time for family and children, neighbors and friends. We sing and pray, dine and socialize, study and discuss. We invest in the things that life is meant to serve, rather than the things that serve life. We make light for life rather than make light of life. Perhaps, this is the deeper meaning in de-light. We de-light from weekday, and delight in Shabbat. We de-light from mundaneness and delight in holiness.