By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow

There is a controversy that has been around for some time, and a passage from our daf may ameliorate it somewhat.

There is a mitzvah of hadlakas neiros every Friday before the onset of Shabbos. There is no question that before the advent of electric lights, the Shabbos candles would provide vital illumination for the house.

The Shulchan Aruch discusses a situation where several families are eating together and all of them want to light Shabbos candles in the same place. The Shulchan Aruch says that there is a dispute whether more than one person may recite a blessing over the Shabbos candles lit in the same location. After all, once the first person lights his Shabbos candles there is already sufficient light; additional candles are unnecessary. However, the dissenting opinion reasons that additional candles provide additional light. The additional candles are not crucial, but they still provide some added light.

The Shulchan Aruch concludes that in such a situation it is better if only one person recites the blessing and the rest of them light candles without reciting a blessing. The Rema writes that the common custom is that everyone who lights candles in the same spot recites a blessing. Still, Rav Nissim Karelitz advises that it is preferable if one person recites the blessing aloud and everyone else has in mind to be yotzei with that blessing.

The dissenting opinion followed by the Rema reasons that a blessing may be recited since the additional light will help further illuminate dark corners (MB 263:35). Nowadays, as our houses are lit by electric lights, the Shabbos candles do not appreciably add any needed light. If there are dark corners not illuminated by the electric lights, it is doubtful the Shabbos candles will help. How then do people recite a blessing nowadays on Shabbos candles when they are seemingly unnecessary?

The sefer Minchas Asher offers a rationalization based on a Gemara in Sanhedrin (32b). The Gemara says that when there was an evil decree targeting Jewish weddings and b’ris milah, the Jews had a covert system to let people know when there was a celebratory meal taking place. According to Rashi, the loud noise of a millstone in a residential area let people know that a b’ris was taking place. Displaying lit candles during the day let everyone know that a wedding was taking place. Other commentators say it was in fact the opposite–the grinding noise was for a wedding and the candles were for a b’ris. Tosfos comments that even in his day there was a custom to light candles at a b’ris milah, saying the source is from this Gemara.

The Minchas Asher concludes from that fact that they chose candle lighting as a sign for a simcha that it is evident that lighting candles even during the day is considered celebratory. Therefore, perhaps even when there is no need for the light we may still make a berachah on Shabbos candles for the simcha it provides.

The Be’er Moshe disagrees with the proof. It could very well be that lighting unnecessary candles does not provide any additional simcha. The Gemara is meant to be understood simply–that Bnei Yisrael devised a system to let everyone know a simcha was taking place. They chose lighting candles during the daytime. It was chosen because it is an oddity, not because it actually adds any simcha!

The Aliba D’Hilchasa points out that Tosfos quotes a pasuk in Yirmiyahu (25:10): “And I will cause to cease from them a voice of mirth and a voice of joy, the sound of a bridegroom and the sound of a bride, the sound of a mill and the light of a candle.” Hashem is warning the Bnei Yisrael about the consequences if they do not do teshuvah. Hashem will quiet the sound of the mill and darken the light of the candle. Tosfos says that the reference in the pasuk is to the very practice mentioned in the Gemara. Apparently, even when the Bnei Yisrael were not subject to evil decrees, they would sound the mill and light unnecessary candles for celebratory reasons. Indeed, the Shibolei HaLeket offers two reasons for the custom in his days to light candles at a daytime b’ris milah. The first is that unnecessary candles are celebratory. The second is to recall the time when b’ris milah was outlawed and the Bnei Yisrael were forced to use candles as a discreet sign that a b’ris was taking place.

Rav Shlomo Zalman, zt’l, concludes that since our sages decreed that candles should be lit l’kavod Shabbos, by their very nature Shabbos candles bring joy and honor to Shabbos. Therefore, even in the presence of electric light, one may still recite a blessing over Shabbos candles.

However, many scrupulous individuals turn off the electric lights before lighting Shabbos candles. They then turn on the electric lights, having in mind that they are turning them on to honor Shabbos. They then proceed to light Shabbos candles. When they recite the blessing over the Shabbos candles they have in mind that the blessing should go on both the electric lights and the old-fashioned candles. Rabbi Simcha Bunim Cohen says he heard from Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l, that the woman lighting Shabbos candles should turn off and on the electric lights herself, and then proceed to light. (The Radiance of Shabbos; chapter 5, footnote 17.)

Whether one may initially recite a blessing solely on electric lights lit in honor of Shabbos is subject to debate among the poskim. Rav Shlomo Zalman, zt’l, ruled that one may make a berachah on a flashlight. Rav Elyashiv, zt’l, reportedly held that one may even recite a blessing over fluorescent lights. He reasoned that the mitzvah of Shabbos candles is to illuminate the home for Shabbos. One does not necessarily have to use a fire. If one cannot light Shabbos candles, the best option would be to light a flashlight with incandescent lightbulbs and then, according to Rav Simcha Bunim Cohen, one may even recite a blessing (The Radiance of Shabbos; page 25).

Rabbi Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.

 

 

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