In December 2003 I had the privilege of spending the summer holidays in Israel. The highlight of my trip was a Shabbos in Chevron in the home of the Chabad Shluchim, Rabbi Danny and Batsheva Cohen. I had learnt so much about the rich history of the city and was thus greatly anticipating spending a Shabbos there.
Moments before the sun began to set, we gathered together to light Shabbos candles. Standing amidst several women whispering prayers behind covered faces, I fell deep in thought. There I was, lighting candles directly beside our Matriachs, Sarah, Rivkah and Leah- the very women who introduced this ancient custom still observed thousands of years later.
Sarah’s candles miraculously shone from Friday night to Friday night, permeating her home with sanctity and holiness. Rivkah continued the legacy, ensuring it passed down from mother to daughter throughout the generations. My grandmother taught my mother, and my mother taught me. It was an empowering thought that one day, G-d willing, I too would pass the tradition on to a daughter of my own.
The power of the Shabbos Candles lies in the tranquility, love and harmony they infuse in the home. Way back, the candles served as the only source of light in the home after dark and it was strictly due to their light that families enjoyed the Friday night meal together. Today with the advancement of technology we no longer depend on candles to provide light; yet we continue to light them- for the atmosphere created by a flickering flame can never be simulated by an electric bulb.
The numerical value (Gematriya) of ner, the Hebrew word for candle, is 250. Two traditional candles total 500. Our Sages teach that the number 500 corresponds to the combination of the husband and wife’s limbs, 248 + 252 respectively. Thus the Shabbos candles unite husband and wife, together with the entire family, infusing their lives with spirituality, sanctity and serenity.
Jewish women throughout the ages have diligently upheld this ancient custom, often at great cost and personal sacrifice. The privilege of maintaining this precious tradition has never been easier in our current times of religious freedom. Let us grasp the opportunity and hold high this blazing torch that is the mark of the Jewish woman.
Rebbetzin Estee Stern
Mother of four and wife to Rabbi Yehuda Stern, Estee is one of the Rebbetzins at Sydenham Shul and assists her husband in catering for the Young Adults and Young Couples of the Shul. With her gentle and caring approach, she inspires those with whom she comes into contact.