Shabbat candles are lit by Jewish women and girls (or men, when there are no women present). In order to be sure that we do not kindle fire on Shabbat, the standard practice is to light the candles 18 minutes before the sun sets and the holy day begins. On holidays, when it is permitted to light one flame from another flame that was already lit, the candles can be lit even after sunset, provided that we do not strike a match and create a flame.
The Torah enjoins us to “honor the Shabbat and call it a delight.” Now one element of this “delight” is to have candles lit and it creates a bright and cheery ambiance. The Torah clearly tells us that we may not kindle fire on Shabbat. So the key is to light the delight-giving candles before the onset of the day. Lighting Shabbat candles is one of the seven rabbinic commandments.
The mystics explain that Shabbat is the day that brings illumination to our world, which so often seems to be dark and negative. Furthermore, candles are a metaphor for Torah and for the human soul. The Shabbat candles represent the light we introduce into the world through studying Torah and observing its precepts. And they also represent the additional soul that our sages say we are given on Shabbat.
Here is the basic candle-lighting procedure:
- Before the candle-lighting time, set up the candles.
- Light the candles.
- Don’t blow out the match. Instead, drop it onto a fireproof surface.
- Bring your hands to your face, and cover your eyes with your palms.
- Say the blessing:
Baruch A-tah Ado-nai E-lo-hei-nu Me-lech Ha-olam A-sher Ki-de-sha-nu Be-mitz-vo-tav Ve-tzi-va-nu Le-had-lik Ner Shel Sha-bbat Ko-desh.
- Glance at the candles and then whisper silent prayers for yourself, for your family, your community and for anyone and everyone in the world.