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Topic: Candles, Shabbat, Purpose & Lighting After Sunset

Magnolia C. Albalat Kuncewiecki wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

I was a little astonished to read in your response to a recent question that lighting candles after the sun set on Sabbath is a transgression. Can you please explain? I work full time and especially during the winter months in the U.S. do I rarely get home before sunset. What am I to do when I arrive home 1 to 2 hours after sunset? How can I usher in the Sabbath? I spoke to a Rabbi once and he said that I can light candles but not to say the prayer. What is the correct thing to do?

Dear Magnolia C. Albalat Kuncewiecki,

The Torah states (Exodus 35:3) "you shall not kindle any fire in any of your dwelling places on the Shabbat Day." The word "day" in the Torah does not mean just the light hours; rather, it refers to the 24 hour period staring from nightfall, as the verse says (Genesis 1) "And it was evening, and it was morning, one day."

So, the Rabbi you spoke to was mistaken, as lighting any fire on Shabbat -- including Shabbat candles -- is a clear transgression of an explicit verse in the Torah. Whereas lighting candles for Shabbat -- although it is very important -- is only a rabbinic law.

Lighting candles is surely a great mitzvah and a beautiful way to usher in Shabbat, but not at the expense of breaking Shabbat itself! Let me give you a parable to illustrate this point. A woman's mother is coming to visit her, so she makes her a cake. How beautiful! But when the mother comes, the woman throws the cake in her mother's face! What a greeting!

So too regarding Shabbat; When Shabbat "visits" we honor her like a queen by lighting candles in advance, preparing delicious food and a clean house. But to break Shabbat by lighting the candles is not an honor but an affront!

And realize, one reason the Rabbis created a commandment to light candles before Shabbat is precisely because we can't light them on Shabbat itself! So they "made a big deal" about lighting so no one would ever forget. To light after sunset defeats the whole purpose. So, as we wrote, the way to greet Shabbat if you are late is not to light, and that is the greatest of honor!

Another possibility is if you know you will come home too late, you can have someone else light the candles for you in your home before sunset.

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