Forgetting Shabbos Candles
Since we derive the laws of Shabbos from the construction of the Mishkan, this topic is unquestionably in order.
Question #1: Missed One
“After Shabbos began, I noticed that I had forgotten to light one of my candles. Must I light an additional candle in the future?”
Question #2: Unable to Light
“I was unable to light my Shabbos lights because of circumstances beyond my control. Must I begin lighting an additional candle every week in the future?”
Question #3: Already Add
“My mother lights only two candles all the time, but I have been lighting three. One week, I missed lighting; do I now need to light an additional one, for a total of four, even though I already light more than my mother does?”
Question #4: Electrified
“I did not light my Shabbos candles, but there was plenty of electric light in the whole house. Must I add an additional light in the future?”
An accepted custom is that a woman, who misses lighting Shabbos candles one week, adds to her future lighting, either by kindling more lights, by adding more oil to her lamps, or by lighting longer candles. The basis for this practice is recorded relatively late in halachic literature. It is not mentioned anywhere in Chazal, nor in the period of the ge’onim or early rishonim. The source for this custom is the Maharil (Hilchos Shabbos #1), the source of most early Ashkenazic customs, particularly those of western Germany (sometimes called minhag bnei Reinus, those who lived along the Rhine River). Although the Rema refers to this custom as a chumra rechokah, an excessive stringency (Darchei Moshe, Orach Chayim 263), he notes that women observe this practice and, therefore, he rules this way in his glosses to the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 263:1), where he mentions the practice of adding a light.
In this instance, the custom reported by the Maharil was accepted and became established not only over all of Ashkenaz, including the eastern European world, but also by the Edot Hamizrah, the entire world of Sefardic Jewry. So, halachically, this has the status of a minhag Klal Yisroel. It is uncommon to find such a relatively late custom that has become so well established.
It is also curious that, although we would consider this a relatively minor custom, the halachic authorities devote much discussion to understanding its halachic ramifications, complete with many applications.
Lamp or candle
An important technical clarification is required. Although most women fulfill the mitzvah of kindling Shabbos lights with candles, we should be aware that the word “ner,” which today means “candle,” in the time of Tanach and Chazal meant the lamp in which you placed oil to light. Although candle manufacture goes back to antiquity, it was not commonly used in Eretz Yisroel and Bavel until long after the era of Chazal. In their day, unless the term ner shel sha’avah (wax lamp; i.e., a candle) or similar term is used, it should be assumed that the word ner refers to a lamp. Thus, the posuk, ki ner mitzvah veTorah or (Mishlei 6:23), means that a mitzvah functions as a lamp and the lights that burn inside it is the Torah.
Man or woman
Another introduction is in order. Technically speaking, the mitzvah of kindling Shabbos lights is incumbent on every member of a household. To quote the Rambam: “Everyone [emphasis is mine] is required to have a lamp lit in his house on Shabbos” (Hilchos Shabbos 5:1). Although it is usually only the lady of the house who kindles the Shabbos lights, she does so as the agent of the rest of the family and their guests(Levush 263:3; Graz, Kuntros Acharon 263:2). In other words, they have implicitly appointed her a shaliach to fulfill their mitzvah for them, just as they have appointed the man of the house to recite kiddush on their behalf.
The custom, going back to the time of the Mishnah (Shabbos 34a), is that a woman kindles the lights. The Zohar mentions that the husband should prepare the lights for her to kindle. Rabbi Akiva Eiger, in his glosses to the Mishnah, notes that the Mishnah also implies this when it states that a woman is responsible for kindling the lamp (Shabbos 31b), implying that someone else prepared it for her to kindle. The Magen Avraham, quoting the Arizal, notes that preparing the lamps for kindling is specifically the responsibility of the husband (Magen Avraham 263:7).
Thus, if there is no woman in the house, or she is unavailable to kindle the Shabbos lights at the correct time, a different adult should kindle the lamps and recite the bracha when doing so. (Some have the practice that the husband kindles the Shabbos lamps on the Shabbos after a woman gives birth, even when his wife is home [Magen Avraham 263:6; Mishnah Berurah 263:11 and Aruch Hashulchan 263:7].)
If a man was supposed to light candles — for example, he is unmarried — and forgot to light them one week, is he now required to kindle an extra light every week because of the custom mentioned by the Maharil? This question is disputed by late halachic authorities.
If a woman kindled less than the number of lamps that she usually does, is she required to add more lamps in the future?
This matter is the subject of a dispute between acharonim; the Pri Megadim rules that she is required to add more lamps or more oil in the future, whereas the Biur Halacha concludes that there is no such requirement.
Two or three
The Rema raises the following question about the custom of kindling an extra light: Although the Gemara makes no mention of kindling more than one lamp for Shabbos use, common custom, already reported by the rishonim, is that people kindle two lamps every Friday night. Many reasons are cited for this custom of lighting two lights; the rishonim mention that one is to remind us of zachor and the other of shamor. (Other reasons for this custom are mentioned in other prominent seforim,such as Elyah Rabbah [263:2]; Elef Lamateh [625:33]; and Halichos Beisah [14:57].) The Rema asks that when a woman kindles three lights, because she forgot once to light and is now adding an extra one to fulfill the Maharil’s minhag, it seems that she is preempting the custom of kindling two lights because of zachor and shamor.
The Rema responds to this question by quoting sources in rishonim (Mordechai, Rosh Hashanah #720; Rosh, Rosh Hashanah 4:3)that, in general, when a halacha requires a certain number, this is a minimum requirement, but it is permitted to add to it. Thus, for example, when we say that reading the Torah on Shabbos requires seven people to be called up, this means that we should call up at least seven people, but it is permitted to call up more, which is indeed the accepted halachic practice (see Mishnah Megillah 21a).
Based on these rishonim, the Rema explains that the custom is to kindle at least two lamps, and that adding extra because a woman forgot once to light is not against the custom (Darchei Moshe and Hagahos, Orach Chayim 263). This is why the fairly common practice of adding one lamp for each child of the household is not a violation of the custom of lighting two lamps for zochor and shamor. Furthermore, the custom that some have to kindle seven lights or ten lights every Erev Shabbos, mentioned by the Shelah Hakodosh and the Magen Avraham, does not violate the earlier custom of the rishonim of lighting two.
The prevalent custom is that a woman who kindles more than two lamps when at home kindles only two when she is a guest (She’arim Hametzuyanim Bahalacha 75:13). Some late authorities discuss whether a woman who lights extra lights because she once forgot should do so also when she is a guest (Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasa, Chapter 43, footnote 31; see She’arim Hametzuyanim Bahalacha 75:13, who is lenient).
Why do we light Shabbos candles?
Prior to answering our opening questions, we should clarify a few other issues basic to the mitzvah of kindling lights for Shabbos. The Gemara explains that kindling Shabbos lights enhances shalom bayis, happiness and peacef in the household. Specifically, the authorities provide several ways that lighting increases the proper Shabbos atmosphere.
(1) A place of honor is always properly illuminated, and, therefore, there should be ample lighting for the Shabbos meal (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 30:5; Rashi, Shabbos 25b).
(2) Not only is there more kavod for the Shabbos meal when it is properly lit, but it also increases the enjoyment of that meal (She’iltos #63). It is not enjoyable to eat a meal when it is difficult to see what you are eating.
(3) It also makes people happy to be in a well-lit area. Sitting somewhere that is dark conflicts with the Shabbos atmosphere (Rashi, Shabbos 23b).
(4) If the house is dark, someone might stumble or collide with something and hurt himself, which is certainly not conducive to enjoying Shabbos (Magen Avraham, 263:1).
There are circumstances when some of the reasons mentioned above apply and other reasons do not. For example, according to the first two reasons — to treat the Shabbos meal with honor and to enjoy it — one is required to have light only where one is eating; however, one would not necessarily need to illuminate an area that one traverses. On the other hand, the fourth reason, preventing a person from hurting himself, requires illuminating all parts of the house that one walks through on Shabbos. Since these reasons are not mutually exclusive, but may all be true, one should make sure that all areas of the house that one uses in the course of Shabbos are illuminated (Magen Avraham 263:1).
Husband does not want
What is the halacha if a woman would like to kindle extra lamps, more than her custom, but her husband objects, preferring that she light the number of lamps that is her usual custom. I found this exact question discussed in Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer,who rules that she should follow her husband’s directive, noting that the reason for kindling Shabbos lamps is to increase shalom bayis, which is the opposite of what this woman will be doing if she kindles lamps that her husband does not want (Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer 13:26).
Atonement, Reminder or Compensation?
At this point, we can return to our specific discussion about someone who forgot to kindle Shabbos lights. The acharonim discuss the purpose of adding an extra lamp because a woman once forgot to light Shabbos lights. The Machatzis Hashekel (Orach Chayim 263:1) suggests three different reasons for the custom:
The reason mentioned by the Bach and other acharonim for the custom is that kindling an extra light every week provides a permanent reminder to kindle Shabbos lamps (Bach, Orach Chayim 263; Magen Avraham 263:3).
The Machatzis Hashekel suggests another reason, that kindling the extra light is atonement, kaparah, for not having fulfilled the mitzvah.
Yet another reason is that not kindling Shabbos lights one week caused a small financial benefit. To avoid any appearance that we benefit from a halachic mishap, the extra lamp is kindled to make compensation.
(Yet another reason for the custom of adding an extra light is suggested by the Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 263:7).
Do any halachic differences result from these reasons?
Yes, they do. If the reason is because of “reminder,” it is appropriate only if she forgot to kindle, but if she was unable to light, she would not require a “reminder” for future weeks (Magen Avraham 263:3). The example chosen by the Magen Avraham is that she was imprisoned, although we could also choose an example in which a life-threatening emergency called her away from the house right before Shabbos.
On the other hand, if the reason is because of compensation, she should add extra lamp.
The Magen Avraham and the Machatzis Hashekel conclude that we may rely on the first reason, that it is to remind her for the future, and that the minhag applies, therefore, only when she forgot to kindle, but not when she was unable to.
Unable to light
At this point, let us address the second of our opening questions: “I was unable to light my Shabbos lights because of circumstances beyond my control. Must I begin lighting an additional candle every week in the future?”
It would seem that it depends on what she meant by “circumstances beyond my control.” If she needed to be with one of her children in the emergency room at the time that Shabbos began and no one else in the house kindled lights, I would consider that a situation in which she is not required to light an additional lamp. On the other hand, if she ran out of time and suddenly realized that it is too late to light, this is clearly negligence and she is required to kindle an extra light in the future. Specific shaylos should be addressed to one’s rav or posek.
At this point, we can address one of our opening questions: “My mother lights only two candles, all the time, but I have been lighting three. One week, I missed lighting; do I need to light an additional one, for a total of four, even though I already light more than my mother does?”
The answer is that you are required to add one because of the custom quoted by the Maharil, in addition to the three that you already light (Elyah Rabbah 263:9).
It should be noted that all four reasons mentioned above for lighting Shabbos lights would be fulfilled if someone turned on electric lights. Notwithstanding that universal practice is to kindle oil or candles for Shabbos lights, most authorities contend that one fulfills the mitzvah of kindling Shabbos lights with electric lights (Shu’t Beis Yitzchok, Yoreh Deah 1:120; Shu’t Melamed Leho’il, Orach Chayim #46, 47; Edus Le’yisrael, pg. 122). There are some authorities who disagree, because they feel that the mitzvah requires kindling with a wick and a fuel source that is in front of you, both requirements that preclude using electric lights to fulfill the mitzvah (Shu’t Maharshag 2:107). The consensus of most authorities is that, in an extenuating circumstance, one may fulfill the mitzvah with electric lights (Shu’t Yechaveh Daas 5:24; Shu’t Kochavei Yitzchak 1:2). It is common practice that women who are hospitalized, or in similar circumstances where safety does not permit kindling an open flame, may rely on the electric lights for Shabbos lamps. When one needs to rely on this heter, at candle-lighting time, she should turn off the electric light she will be using for Shabbos, and then turn it on for use as her Shabbos light.
Lighting in an illuminated room
The contemporary availability of electric lighting adds another interesting dimension to the mitzvah of lighting Shabbos lamps, which requires a brief introduction. The rishonim discuss whether one is allowed to recite a bracha over Shabbos lights in a room that is already illuminated, when the reasons for the mitzvah are accomplished already. Some maintain that, indeed, you cannot recite a bracha on the Shabbos lamps when they are basically unnecessary, whereas others rule that the extra light enhances the joyous Shabbos atmosphere and one is therefore allowed to recite a bracha on the candles (see Beis Yosef 263). After quoting both opinions, the Shulchan Aruch (263:8) rules that one should not recite a bracha in this situation because of “safeik brachos lehakeil,” whereas the Rema explains that minhag Ashkenaz allows reciting a bracha.
One of the practical halachic ramifications of this disagreement is whether one may recite a bracha over the Shabbos candles in a room that has electric lights. It would seem that, according to the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch, one should not, while the Rema would permit it. Contemporary poskim suggest avoiding the question by having the lady of the house turn on the electric lights in the dining room in honor of Shabbos immediately before lighting the Shabbos candles and recite the bracha, having in mind to include the electric lights (Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah 43:34). (The Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah suggests other options that accomplish the same thing.)
At this point, we can address the fourth of our opening questions: “I did not light my Shabbos candles, but there was plenty of electric light in the whole house. Must I add an additional light in the future?”
The question germane to our subtopic is: what is the halacha if a woman forgot to light Shabbos lights, but there were electric lights that were left burning anyway; does the penalty of the Maharil apply in this instance? I discovered a dispute in this matter among late halachic authorities, in which Rav Shmuel Vozner ruled that she is required to kindle another lamp in the future (Shu’t Sheivet Halevi 5:33), whereas Rav Ovadyah Yosef ruled that she is not (Yalkut Yosef 263:43; see also Shu’t Melamed Le’ho’il, Orach Chayim #46; Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 3:14:6; Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah Chapter 43, footnote 30; Shu’t Avnei Yoshfeih, Orach Chayim 1:55:6.)
The Gemara states that one who is careful to use beautiful “neiros” for Shabbos will merit having children who are talmidei chachomim (Shabbos 23b). Let us hope and pray that in the merit of observing these halachos correctly, we will have children and grandchildren who light up the world with their Torah!