Shabbat CandlesDon’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 StoneOur 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 idol 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. For many of us, it is our 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.
Candle and LightKing Solomon taught that a Mitzvah is a candle and Torah is a light. Every Mitzvah is a candle, but the Shabbat candles are especially luminescent because their light is visible even in the physical plane.
Let’s look at candles and lights. Suppose your home is strewn with obstacles, the kind that our Shabbat lights are designed to prevent us from stumbling upon. There are toys everywhere, stools in the middle of the room, papers all over the floor. . . you get the idea.
Now imagine walking through this room in the dark. There is no doubt that you would stumble at nearly each step. Now imagine turning on the light. You can now see where you are going, you have light compared to the darkness that preceded it. But it is not a delight. It is depressing. You now see the awful mess. Why would you want to see it? In some ways, ignorance is bliss.
Now imagine that you organized the mess and put each thing in its proper place. Now, the things that were obstacles, have become adornments that beautify the room. The mess has become orderliness. The depression has turned into delight. You threw away the trash, polished the silver, things in their rightful place, and the room has become a palace. From the mess, you created a candle.
A candle is a carrier of light, but without the flame it has no light. A flame is a source of light, but without a candle, it can’t hold its light. You need both. A candle and a light. If you turn on the light, you have temporary relief, but one you see the mess, you are left with depression. If you clean up the mess in the dark, you have created a candle, but you can’t see the beauty that your candle created. The candle and light together, brighten up your home. They turn a mess into a delight.
Torah and MitzvahWe now return to king Solomon; a Mitzvah is a candle and Torah is a light. When we study Torah, we ignite a light in our hearts and minds and discover just how much more meaningful our lives can be. We realize that we often pursue meaningless pleasures and accumulate treasures of little value. Our purpose has become temporal and we given little thought to life’s eternal purpose. This is depressing.
But then we set ourselves to filling our day with Mitzvahs. We know how bad the mess is, but we also know how to clean it up. So, we set ourselves to turning our idols into candles. Our toys, be they of wood, stone or silicone, are turned into sources of light. We use our spacious homes and comfortable furnishings to host delightful Shabbats for our family and friends. We use the internet and social media, our phones and tablets–even the latest models and fashions, to study and to teach Torah. We use our cars and trucks for eternal purposes of Mitzvah. Our lives are now filled with candles that produce eternal light. Our toys now generate delight in both senses of the word; they de-light the temporal joy that they gave us before and allow us to delight in the sacred light that they begin to generate now.
In a word, the meditation for the Shabbat candles goes like this: Make light for Shabbat and you won’t make light of life.