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Oh, Those Lights!
By Cynthia Samuels

"I always take a very deep breath—the kind they taught us when I was quitting smoking and exhale very slowly, releasing a lot of the stress of the week before I begin. "

Oh, Those Lights!

One of the great gifts of an observant Jewish life is the lighting of Shabbat candles. At a prescribed time each Friday, 18 minutes before sundown, it is the obligation of the Jewish woman to light candles as a symbolic acceptance of the Shabbat upon herself. The prayer is said AFTER you light the candles because once they’re lit, the Shabbat rules—ignite no fire, do no work, etc.—preclude the lighting of a match.

Here’s how it works: you light the candles, move your hands above the candles three times to bring their warmth toward you, then cover your eyes and say a simple blessing. It’s in Hebrew, but it means: "Blessed are You, Lord, our G-d, King of the Universe, who sanctifies us with his commandments, and enjoins us to light the candles of Shabbat." Yes, the words of the prayer are plain; women say them in every corner of the earth—educated or not, every week and have been doing so for thousands of years. Many of us add prayers of our own, for those we love, for peace, for the lifting of burdens, for a better world.

I always take a very deep breath—the kind they taught us when I was quitting smoking—and exhale very slowly, releasing a lot of the stress of the week before I begin. One of my friends told me that when she was in medical school and having babies at the same time, she’d weep, every week, as she felt the burdens fall from her in the glow of the flame.

Makes sense to me. Something about this ritual is transporting. I also love the idea that this is a woman’s privilege. Much has been written about what observant Jewish women are NOT permitted to do—and much of it is true. That’s another conversation. But the impact of this particular duty is profound, beautiful and serene, and I am grateful for it. So as we move toward the close of this day and toward what I have found to be the true peace of the Shabbat—I send to you, whatever your faith—a peaceful wish—Shabbat Shalom.

Cynthia Samuels is an Internet consultant and blogger who has worked on the Web since the mid-90s. In addition to work with iVillage and Amazon, she was a Today Show producer for nine years and is author of  It’s a Free Country! A Young Person’s Guide to Politics and Elections (Atheneum, 1988). This piece originally appeared as an entry on her blog Don’t Gel too Soon (www.dontgelyet.typepad.com/dontgeltoosoon)

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