Enter a Judaica shop in search of a Havdalah candle and you might be surprised at the incredibly diverse selection: from the traditional three-braided candle, to candles woven together with a multitude of wicks to a pillar built around several wicks together. Havdalah candles can be astoundingly beautiful, but Havdalah can also be made by simply using two candles held together.

According to the Midrash, “Samuel said: Why do we recite a blessing over a lamp [flame] at the termination of Shabbat? Because it [fire] was then created for the first time” (Genesis Rabbah 11:2). It was Adam’s first experience with darkness, and, when it frightened him, God “made him two flints that he struck against each other; light came forth and he uttered a blessing over it” (Ibid.).

Describing the Havdalah ceremony, the Talmud records a debate about the candle that explains why a multi-wick candle is used: “The School of Shammai says ‘Who created the light of the fire,’ while the School of Hillel says ‘Who is creating the lights of the fire’” (Talmud Brachot 51b). It is a difference between singular and plural, and the reasoning of the School of Hillel is that “there are several illuminations in the light” (Ibid. 52b). The rule follows the School of Hillel–hence the use of the multi-wick candle.

In order to distinguish the light of Havdalah, it is necessary to derive some benefit from the Havdalah light. For this reason, it is customary to lift one’s fingers toward the flame and observe the distinction between the fingernail and the flesh.

Click here for NJOP’s Spirituality at Your Fingertips Guide to Havdalah.

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