By Rabbi Dovid Markel
The Talmud in tractate Shabbos states, “Kindling a light on Shabbos is a [halachik] obligation.” This is the Talmudic source for the women kindling the Shabboslights to usher in Shabbos.
In explaining the reason for this law there are two general halachik explanations for this law:
- Rashi: “…It is for the honor of Shabbos; for a distinguished meal is found only in the place of light.”
- Tosafos: “This means, in the place where the meal takes place. For it is obligatory to dine in the place of light for the purpose of pleasure [of the meal].”
While the above are the fundamental reasons given for kindling the Shabbos lights, the Talmud states as well that another benefit of kindling the Shabbos lights is that it brings peace.
On the verse, “And You have removed my soul far off from peace; I forgot prosperity,” the Talmud states, “What is the meaning of, ‘and You have removed my soul far off from peace’? R. Abbahu said: “This refers to the kindling of the light on the Shabbos.”
For, not only is the gain that is derived from the Shabbos lights one that brings honor and pleasure, but light is a veritable ingredient for creating a peaceful environment. As Rashi comments, “And in a place where there is no light, there is no peace; for one walks and stumbles, and walks in the dark.”
Since it is of utmost importance to peace in the home—especially on Shabbos—and on Shabbos it is prohibited to kindle a flame we therefore light a flame before the onset of Shabbos.
The element of peace that is caused by the Shabbos candles is so great, that it can at times override other responsibilities. The Talmud states, “Raba said: ‘It is obvious to me [that if one must choose between] the house light [for Shabbos] and the Chanukah light, the former is preferable, on account [of the importance] of the peace of the home.’”
Furthermore, while peace in its most basic sense is of utmost importance, the Chassidic masters explain that the peace which is brought about through the kindling the Shabbos candles contains spiritual significance as well.
Lighting the Shabbos candles removes the tension between body and soul and creates a harmony between them. For although the body desires corporeality and the soul spirituality, on Shabbos we illuminate the world and reveal that the true desire of both the body and the soul is to reveal G-dliness in the world.
In the words of the holy Sochatchover: “The idea of the Shabbos candle is to illuminate the eyes of the intellect, until even the body will feel the holiness of Shabbos. As my father and teacher of blessed memory explained concerning this, that Shabbos candles bring peace in the home. For man is the soul, and the body is the home of the soul – and each one pulls towards its essence and there is no peace between them; and on Shabbos, even the body feels (G-dliness) and peace is made.”
It is specifically women who are tasked with the mission of illuminating the world with this light. For, while men are often struck by the dichotomy between the spiritual and the physical and cannot bridge the schism between them, the nature of women is such that they can heal that divide and reveal that both the physical and the spiritual are created for the same G-dly intent.
It is because of the great honor of lighting the Shabbos candles that the Zohar explains that it should be done with tremendous devotion: “And for the reason mentioned above, the woman should light the Shabbos candles with a joyful heart and with intent, since it is a supernal honor for her, and it is a great merit for herself—to merit through the lighting of the candles holy children, who will be the candle of the world, both in Torah and in Fear [of G-d], and who will increase peace in the world; and [this merit] gives long life to her husband; and because of this she should be careful with the lighting of the candles, that it should be with great intent.”