By Yosef Brecher
What is the reason for the mitzvah to light candles every Erev Shabbos?
There seem to be two, distinct purposes for the mitzvah to light candles before Shabbos. The first purpose relates to the effect that the candles have on the Friday-night Shabbos seuda, while the second purpose relates to the effect that the candles have on the atmosphere inside the home.
The Gemara (Shabbos 25b) writes “lighting candles [Erev Shabbos] is an obligation”. Rashi explains that the reason for this obligation is to give honor to Shabbos. By being careful to provide adequate lighting for the Shabbos meal, we are demonstrating the great importance that we attach to this meal. Tosfos, however, have a slightly different understanding of how the candles affect the Shabbos seuda. They explain that the reason we must illuminate the Shabbos meal with candles is because a meal eaten with proper lighting is more enjoyable. According to both Rashi and Tosfos, the reason for hadlokas nairos provided to us by the above Gemara suggests that there is a mitzvah to light candles specifically in the room where the Shabbos meal will take place.
A second Gemara (Shabbos 23b), however, seems to present another side to the mitzvah of hadlokas nairos. The Gemara is discussing a situation in which one does not have enough money to purchase candles for both the mitzvah of Shabbos and the mitzvah of Chanuka lighting. Should he use his limited money to purchase candles for Shabbos or to purchase candles for Chanukah? The Gemara rules that the mitzvah of hadlokas nairos of Shabbos takes precedence over that of Chanuka because lighting candles for Shabbos promotes shalom bayis, i.e., domestic tranquility. If there is darkness in the home, members of the household may stumble over each other and thus create a tense atmosphere in the home. We therefore light Shabbos candles to ensure that the house is properly illuminated and as a result peaceful. This reason for hadlokas nairos would seem to apply not only to the room where the Shabbos meal is taking place, but also to any room that will be used over Shabbos. How do we reconcile the reason seen from the first Gemara (we light candles to illuminate the meal), with that of the second Gemara (we light candles to illuminate the entire house)?
The Biur Halacha (OC 263:6) explains as follows: There are two separate obligations of hadlokas nairos on Erev Shabbos. The first is an individual obligation on every person to light a candle in the room where his meal will take place. The purpose of this mitzvah is in order to bring honor and enjoyment to the Shabbos. Even if there is already a candle lit in the house since Friday morning, one must extinguish that candle and light a new one specifically in honor of Shabbos (Rema OC 263:3). This mitzvah of hadlakah is generally fulfilled by the woman of the house on behalf of the entire household.
The second obligation of hadlaka is a mitzvah to ensure that any room that one plans to use over Shabbos will be properly illuminated. The purpose of this mitzvah is to promote a tranquil and peaceful Shabbos environment inside the home. Therefore, even if one’s wife has already lit candles in the dining room, thus fulfilling the first obligation on behalf of the entire household, one still has an obligation to ensure that all the other rooms in the house that will be used on Shabbos are properly illuminated. The Mishna Berura does add, though, that if one has already fulfilled the first obligation together with his wife, and now wishes to light a candle in another room in order to fulfill the second obligation, he does not recite a new bracha, but rather can rely on the bracha that his wife already recited when lighting her candles.
The second obligation of hadlokas nairos (to ensure there is proper lighting throughout the house) is now generally fulfilled through electricity. A more general discussion of the effect electricity has had on the mitzvah of hadlokas nairos will b’ezras Hashem be the subject of a future column.
The purpose of this column is not to render halachic decisions, but rather to provide readers with a helpful overview of basic hilchos Shabbos. All specific halachic inquiries should be asked to a local halachic authority. General questions about the content being discussed, however, are welcome and can be sent to: email@example.com.
©2013 Yosef Brecher