While lighting Shabbat candles is generally considered a “woman’s mitzvah,” and is traditionally performed by the woman of the house, it is actually an obligation of the entire household. If a man is living alone or the one who usually lights is away, candles must still be lit. In fact, the Talmud encourages every husband to be involved in preparing before Shabbat to assure that the Shabbat candles are properly arranged. Many men, therefore, have the custom of preparing the candles for their wives.

One could mistakenly surmise that the custom of candle lighting as the woman’s mitzvah is based on practicality. After all, in most households, women are most active in creating the Shabbat atmosphere of the home.

Tradition states, however, that the connection of Jewish women to candle lighting dates back to the matriarch Sarah. According to the Midrash (cited by the great sage Rashi on Genesis 24:67), a candle burned miraculously in Sarah’s tent from one Friday evening to the next. When she died, the candle and its glow vanished. When Isaac’s bride Rebecca moved into Sarah’s tent, however, the miracle of the light returned.

Just as the matriarchs lit a candle on Friday evening to welcome Shabbat, so too have Jewish women, from ancient times until the present, welcomed the Shabbat with the lighting of the candles.

This post was originally posted on February 27, 2013.

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