Lighting candles before Shabbat is your special time to be with G-d. Learn how to make the most of this opportunity.

The Mitzvah of Hadlakas Neiros

Jewish women have been lighting Shabbat candles for thousands of years, bringing light and joy into their homes in the darkest of times. Today, even with electric lighting in all of our homes, there’s a very special light that only the Shabbat candles can bring.

The mitzvah (Torah commandment- good deed) of Hadlakas Neiros (Shabbat Candle lighting) takes place just before Shabbat begins. In most communities, women light candles eighteen minutes before sundown on Friday night, which is when we begin observing the Shabbat. Some say Hadlakat Nerot, and others call the mitzvah Licht Benching, which is Yiddish for lighting candles.

Why do we light candles? Lighting candles before Shabbat is a way of honoring the Shabbat by ensuring that our home is lit up and festive. Having the Shabbat candles at the table makes it a more inviting and enjoyable experience, with an atmosphere of elegance.

Another reason for Hadlakas Neiros is that it brings Shalom Bayis (peace in the home). Years ago, this could be taken literally. Lighting a flame is forbidden on the Shabbat itself. So a home in which candles were not lit before Shabbat would remain dark the entire day. Trying to eat in the dark is definitely not a recipe for peaceful interactions! By lighting Shabbat candles, Jewish families were ensured a peaceful home over Shabbat. 

But aside from this literal explanation, which is true, there’s more significance to this. Lighting Shabbat candles, on a deeper level, pushes out any negative influences from the home and protects the people living there. It attracts goodness and removes evil. In this way, the mitzvah of Hadlakas Neiros enhances the spirit of Shabbat in our homes on many levels.

Preparing for the Shabbat

Friday is a busy day as the Jewish woman handles all the preparations for Shabbat. She cooks the food, cleans her house, and sets the table, all in honor of Shabbat. The house is full of the smells of fresh chicken soup and pungent cleanser, with the sounds of water running as the family members get dressed for Shabbat, anticipating its Kedushah (holiness), its beauty, and its peacefulness.

Then the Jewish woman approaches the table to light the candles. Dressed regally, with a kerchief covering her head, she looks like a queen, prepared to greet the Shabbos. The table is beautifully set with a white tablecloth and Shabbos finery, sparkling with the Shabbat glow. Her family members, freshly scrubbed and faces shining, gather around her.

Now all is silent and peaceful as they wait for the Jewish woman to usher Shabbat into the world, bringing the atmosphere of serenity to their home.

The Power of Lighting Candles

The mitzvah of Hadlakas Neiros was given specifically to women. One reason for this is because women are the light of their homes, taking care of their families and bringing light into their loved ones’ lives. Therefore, they are privileged to bring in the light and radiance of Shabbat to their homes as well.

Women are also given this opportunity as a kapparah (rectification) for the sin of Chava (Eve). When Chava convinced Adam HaRishon to eat the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, she extinguished the light of the world with her sin. Lighting Shabbat candles every week is a way to make up for that sin, and regain a close connection with G-d.

Because Hadlakas Neiros is such a special mitzvah, it is a powerful time to pray for your family. Jewish sources describe a great reward for those that are involved with Jewish lighting candles. In Judaism, candle lighting for a mitzvah, such as Shabbat candles, brings a person merit. Therefore, lighting candles regularly is a merit for special children, children who light up the world with their Torah learning and good deeds. A woman who lights Shabbat candles is also rewarded with a long life for her husband.

After performing the actual lighting, women stand before the lit candles and pray for their family, utilizing this auspicious moment of connection with G-d to ask for His mercy in all aspects of their lives. Because they’ve just performed this great mitzvah, it’s a time when G-d is listening closely to their prayers.

Another prayer that some women say at this time is that of Tefillas Chana, a prayer composed by the prophetess Chana, mother of Shmuel Hanavi. This prayer also focuses on the spiritual success of one’s children, which makes it perfectly appropriate for this auspicious time.

How To Perform Hadlakas Neiros Shabbos

Neiros Shabbos (the Shabbat candles) need to be lit in every Jewish home. Usually, it’s married women who perform the mitzvah, but if there is no woman to do it, a man or a child will need to do it instead. Most women light at least two candles, some adding an additional flame for each child.

Eighteen minutes before sundown, the Jewish woman gets ready to light the candles, or, as many say, to bench licht, which is the Yiddish term for lighting the candles. Before actually lighting the candles, Judaism has a tradition to give charity just before candle lighting. There are a couple of reasons to give charity at this time.

As mentioned earlier, the Jewish woman uses the time immediately after candle lighting to pray. Before praying, in which she asks G-d to show her kindness, it’s appropriate to show kindness to others. The merit of this kind act accompanies her prayers, making it more likely for G-d to accept it favorably.

Another reason to give charity before Shabbat candle lighting is as an additional rectification. Lighting candles helps women make up for the sin of Chava (Eve) and the forbidden fruit, and adding charity to this act makes lighting candles even more powerful in taking away sins.

Traditionally, the charity given before candle-lighting is given to the poor of Israel. In the Shabbat prayers, we remember Zion and Jerusalem, thinking about the connection to G-d that we have there. In giving charity specifically to the poor in Israel, we have an additional way to remember Zion and Jerusalem as we usher in Shabbat. Rabbi Meir Baal Haness tzedakah has been a favorite charity for women to donate to for generations, as Rabbi Meir Baal Haness tzedakah supports the needy in Israel.

The Blessing Upon Shabbat Candle Lighting

The Jewish woman now gives charity and is ready to actually light the candles. She strikes a match and kindles the flames, holding the match to the wick until there is a steady flame rising.

Then, she waves her hands around the candles, and immediately covers her face. She does this so she shouldn’t have any enjoyment from the light until she makes the blessing upon them. With her hands covering her face, the woman now makes the blessing over the Shabbat candles. (Text can be found in most prayer books.)

Those around her may say “Amen,” to her blessing, if she makes it aloud.

These moments after making the blessing is an auspicious time for Shabbat candle lighting prayer. Many women remain with their hands covering their eyes and pray silently to G-d, asking for all that they desire. It’s especially appropriate to pray for spiritual requests, such as that one’s children should grow up to be righteous, to be Torah scholars, and to be Jews with a true connection to G-d. There is a great power in these prayers, said before the Shabbat candles.

After completing her prayers, the woman removes her hands from her eyes, gazes at the candles for a few moments, and then wishes her family a “Shabbat Shalom.” Appropriately, this blessing means, “A peaceful Shabbat.” That is exactly what the role of candle lighting is all about.

Hafrashat Challah
The Jewish woman is the one who performs the unique Mitzvos that are involved in preparing for Shabbat. She is the one who lights the Shabbat candles, spreading light in her home and to the world. Another Mitzvah involved in preparing for Shabbat is Hafrashat Challah (separating a piece of dough), to be performed when baking a large batch of dough with at least five pounds of flour.

Many women bake lots of beautiful loaves of challah, (Jewish bread) for Shabbat. After preparing the dough, they do the mitzvah of removing a small part of the dough. In the Torah, we are told to give this piece of dough to a Kohen. Since nowadays we can no longer fulfill the mitzvah of giving this piece of dough to the Kohen (Priest) in the Temple, we burn it instead. This mitzvah symbolizes the role of women in sustaining their families as well as the world.

Giving Charity Before Candle Lighting

It’s up to you to harness the blessings that come with candle lighting and giving charity to the poor in Israel.
When you perform this act of kindness, you are making yourself deserving of G-d’s kindness in return.

  1. Sign up for RMBH’s candle lighting program
  2. Choose an amount for your weekly donation
  3. Your credit card will be charged every week 15 minutes before sundown (based on sundown in your location’s time zone)

When you go to light the candles just before Shabbat, you’ll be accompanied by the merit of your charity to the poor in Israel. Now, as you light, say the blessing, and pray to G-d, the merit of your kind act accompanies your mitzvah of hadlakas neiros. You’ll have the merit of Rabbi Meir Baal Haness prayer accompanying your own, bringing it extra power and significance.