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Why do we close our eyes when lighting the Shabbat Candles?

by Rabbi Yossi Marcus

  

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I assume you are referring to the beautiful custom of covering one’s eyes with one’s hands during the blessing over the candle-lighting. The actual lighting is done with eyes wide open. It would be quite a feat to do otherwise.

Anyhow, the reason we cover our eyes during the blessing is a bit complicated, so bear with me and prepare to enter some Talmudic logic.

Generally, blessings are recited before the act. You say the blessing on the Matzah before you eat it, etc. (The obvious reason for this is so that you will be in the proper state of mind when doing the Mitzvah. However, there are Kabbalistic reasons for this as well.)

covering the eyes helps one to concentrate better on the blessing and the silent prayers that are said at that time
In the case of lighting Shabbat candles, the blessing is said after the candles are lit. Why? Shouldn’t the blessing be said before the lighting?

The answer is that once the blessing is said, the woman has begun the Mitzvah of lighting the candles and thereby inaugurated the Shabbat day. It would now be inappropriate for her to light a candle—an act that desecrates the Shabbat.

So she lights the candles before saying the blessing, while it’s still weekday. But, she still wants to fulfill the concept of saying the blessing before the act. How does she manage that? She does so by not completing the Mitzvah entirely until after saying the blessing:

After lighting the candles, she immediately covers her eyes. She then says the blessing and only afterwards uncovers her eyes and enjoys the candlelight. This way, she has fulfilled the concept of saying the blessing before the act, since the act of lighting is not complete until she actually enjoys the light.

That is the technical reason. Practically, covering the eyes helps one to concentrate better on the blessing and the silent prayers that are said at that time—prayers for health, wealth and all good things. And it makes a great picture.1

Footnotes

  • 1. Source: Rabbi Moshe Isserles, Code of Jewish Law, Orach Chaim 263:5.

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COMMENTS

Candle Lighting

Posted by: Anonymous, London, England on May 07, 2005

Why are we "commanded" by G-d to light candles when there is nothing in Torah to tell us of this? (I don't mean the Talmud, but the Jewish bible including Devarim and Viyikra etc.)

Editor's Comment

We were commanded by G-d to follow the teachings of the sages (Deuteronomy 17:11). This also why we bless G-d "Who has commanded us to kindle the Chanukah candle," though the holiday of Chanukah was instituted centuries after the Bible was cannonized. See also "How can we bless G-d for "commanding" us to observe Rabbinic commandments?" (http://www.askmoses.com/article.html?h=230&o=2052223).

RELATED CATEGORIES

Women & Judaism » Women's Mitzvot » Candle Lighting

Mitzvah
(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Shabbat
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Matzah
(pl. Matzot). Unleavened bread which is eaten on Passover, especially at the Passover Seder (feast), commemorating the Matzah which the Jews ate upon leaving Egypt. It consists of only flour and water and resembles a wheat cracker.
Kabbalistic
(adj.) Pertaining to Kabbalah—Jewish mysticism.