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Kabbalah explains the mystical connection between Shabbat and femininity.

Of Candles and Creation

Of Candles and Creation

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Of Candles and Creation
Kabbalah explains the mystical connection between Shabbat and femininity.

She stands silently for only a moment, stares at the glistening silver candlesticks and then at the cups of clear yellow oil and cotton wicks. She takes a deep breath. Sparks fly into the air as she strikes a match. Her hand first reaches out to the candlestick on the right, as she lights her candles one by one. The room around her is tranquil and still, with her children standing behind her with big, glowing eyes. Even the baby knows not to utter a word.

May these be the candles of everlasting peace; may these be the candles of abundance; may these be the candles of rectified Light. Master of the Universe, may these be the candles that burn forever and ever. One, two, three times, she invites the Shabbat angels into her home for blessings of peace . . .

With this silent prayer meditation, she stretches her arms wide to hover some distance around the flames, and then draws them in to carry the light and warmth into the universe. One, two, three times, she invites the Shabbat angels into her home for blessings of peace. Then, she tilts her head downwards, lowers her eyelids, and buries her face inside her hands. A small, whispered muffle can be heard under her hands as she recites the blessing. With this, the moment transcends into an awesome divine space of higher consciousness. She is now face to face with her Creator. My heart is open, please hear my cries, wipe away my tears, restore my true faith in You.


The spiritual nature of the holy day of Shabbat is one that has a transcendental quality. The Shabbat, referred to as “the Beloved,” “the Queen” and “the Bride,” is a day on which the fundamental nature and essence of Creation take a completely different form. The Kabbalah teaches us that all of Creation, from the lowest levels of physical reality to the highest spiritual beings, return to their Source—the Source of good, the higher purpose. The Talmud states that Shabbat is also a taste (in fact, exactly one-sixtieth) of the World to Come. But, essentially, in spiritual terms, there is no comparison to the significance of Shabbat, for her holiness is completely immeasurable.

What can be understood about the magnificence of this day, and its distinctive candle-lighting inauguration? What is the significance of the fact that it is the woman or women of the house that are chosen to perform this powerful and unique mitzvah? The Shabbat is intrinsically female, as it receives as well . . .

On a Kabbalistic level, the Shabbat refers to the sefirah of malchut, the divine attribute of kingship, the receptacle of divine sustenance which flows from the higher sefirot into the physical or lower worlds. Malchut also becomes a place for the rectification of the universe, by reclaiming G‑d’s true glory and kingship in the world. A woman can relate to this concept, because of her inherent physical nature that receives first, and then forms and develops, the embryo. Also, the Shabbat is intrinsically female, as it receives as well, in contrast to the giving nature of the previous six days of the week. But what does this “receiving” or “female” nature mean on a divine level?

One way to understand the nature of Shabbat is to look back to the first week of Creation. The holy Ari, the master Kabbalist of Safed, taught that Creation began with the first tzimtzum, the initial contraction of G‑dly light, to allow the creation of physicality or non-infinite existence. On the seventh day, He rested. G‑d did not create. He did not retract His light. He simply allowed the flow of divine light to penetrate the universe.

The Shabbat was, and is, the day where the constricted nature of G‑dly light converted into the emergence of divine flow . . .

The Shabbat was, and is, the day where the constricted nature of G‑dly light converted into the emergence of divine flow. She, the Shabbat, in her purest form, is the ultimate receptacle for such a transformative occurrence. And, amazingly, this is a recurring state that takes place every week.

Due to the receiving nature of the Shabbat and the biological receiving nature of women (as during conception), the Shabbat corresponds to the spiritual disposition of women in general. This is to say that Shabbat is the receiving female in relation to the six days of the week, which correspond to the giving male. This sheds light on one reason that it is she, the woman of the house, who initiates this remarkable event.

Eve unwittingly expelled much of the divine light from this world . . .

In addition, the Zohar reveals to us another important factor as to why the woman is chosen for the specific task of lighting the Shabbat candles. Eve, through her sin in the Garden of Eden, unwittingly expelled much of the divine light from this world (Zohar I:48b). It is therefore her duty to light the Shabbat candles, also as an attempt to restore what was lost.

One could see this as unjust, or perhaps an exaggerated response to the sin; but on a mystical level, the perspective differs. Although the act of sinning partially severs our relationship with our Creator, Kabbalah and Chassidut teach us that, in fact, it can give us the opportunity to achieve rectification for that sin, and thus reach an even higher level of closeness to G‑d. We see here that although it may be true that the light of the world was lost on account of the actions of Eve (who can be seen as the spiritual root of all female souls in existence), it is also womankind’s greatest honor to effect such a lofty rectification. As we know, the greater the sin, the more difficult the task of rectification likewise becomes; and yet, for that very reason, is all the more rewarding in the long run.

Perhaps, with one true prayer, said with utmost joy, we can truly save the world . . .

Also, our communion with the Creator at this very moment, when we lock our eyes on the tiny flames and open our hearts to pray, is as if we are standing face to face with our Creator. This is very deep. The blessing we recite begins, “Blessed are You . . . who has sanctified us [in Hebrew, kideshanu] with His commandments . . .” The word kideshanu literally means “sanctified,” but even deeper, it comes from the word kiddushin, related to marriage. We are literally binding ourselves to our Creator like a wife and her husband. Realize how precious this moment really is. The space between us and G‑d is extremely intimate. Perhaps, with one true prayer, said with utmost joy, we can truly save the world.

The Shabbat is sanctified through both physicality and spirituality. We turn our hearts to pray with fervor and joy, and we indulge ourselves in fine foods and delicacies. But how can we really tap into the true spiritual significance of this awesome holy day? As Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz wrote in the famous hymn “Lecha Dodi,” Sof maaseh bemachshavah techilah—“The end deed emerges from the first thought.” Our first thought is the meditative prayer (i.e., the purely spiritual element) that follows our lighting of the Shabbat candles; the degree to which our physical enjoyment during the rest of Shabbat is sanctified goes hand in hand with our spiritual concentration, especially at the commencement of the Day of Rest. May we truly merit to purify and elevate this lofty moment! Shabbat Shalom!


Copyright 2003 by KabbalaOnline.org. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work or portions thereof, in any form, unless with permission, in writing, from Kabbala Online.

T. Kramer, a former member of the Kabbalah Online staff, resides in Safed with her growing family. She teaches weekly classes in Kabbalah and Chassidut as well.
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Avigayil Chana Boston January 1, 2014

He just let it shine Really appreciate learning that when He ceased from work and rested, Shabbos became the first union of His limited, constricted creation and His infinite Light flowing forth. Shabbat grows more and more amazing. And to think, I bring that into my home and to my family with my candles. Reply

Eliana Valley View, TX November 16, 2011

What a beautiful article! Dear Dale, if I may reply to you, the focus may seem negative at first. A reminder of a past wrong is not a condemnation. Rather, it announces an opportunity for us to make things right. To me, this mitzvah is G_d's way of saying to each of us, " Don't think I blame you because Chava messed up. I love you and I have chosen you to receive My light, to reconnect the chain that was broken long ago. "
My children are adults now, but I learned long ago that loving them included being aware of their faults. How much more are we fallible beings loved by G_d!
Let's use the lesson of Chava to praise G_d for loving us and trusting us to continually repair the relationship. May all our lights burn forever.
Reply

Julie Durham, UK November 15, 2011

Time? It seems to me that Shabat has something to do with time. It is a day when the world to come is given some expression and it is a rectification of sin - the first sin, all sin?, the last sin? - It feels to me like a veil torn aside from the whole story of time and a channel directly to the time before creation. It says - all is in fact illusion and Truth , real Truth is HaShem. All else is a dream. For one day this truth rules - who but woman could make that leap? Reply

Mia Sherwood Landau Sherman, Texas November 15, 2011

Such a Gift Shabbat is the gift we can give to ourselves, to our families and to the whole world each week. It is priceless and the more we stop our own efforts and observe the Sabbath Day the more Light we are able to bring into the world. This is what our candles represent to ourselves and to others. Reply

Shoshana Yerushalayim, Israel November 1, 2010

Shabbat I have two questions on the above article:
1-I learned that the reason a woman spreads her hands out above the candles is not to welcome the Shabbat or draw in the warmth, but rather it started when more than one woman would light their candles on the same tray, and she indicated to herself"these are my candles and I am saying the blessing on these".
2- You said that Shabbat is referred to as the "kallah". I learned that "kallah" refers to Am Yisrael, the Jewish people. We are the "kallah", because Shabbot is the wedding of H-shem and the Jewish People.
I would really appreciate an answer to these two questions.
Thank you. Reply

Goldy F. October 30, 2010

WoW! You've changed my perspective! I've been lighting candles for as long as I can remember-(since age 3 or so)-
and I never realized how great the significance of this act really was!
Looking forward to next Friday! Reply

Dale Rockville, MD October 28, 2010

Love the article, but .... .... what's this idea about women being responsible for original sin? Isn't original sin a Christian idea and not Jewish? And, why is the focus on women committing the sin? The honor of being designated to light the Shabbat candles hardly seems a suitable consolation for being blamed for the "original sin" Reply

Mrs Shulamit Tilles via mychabad.org July 27, 2010

how many Shabbat candles One if she is unmarried, two (or more) if she is married. And many married women add a candle for each child that is born. Reply

ao new york, n.y. July 22, 2010

shabbat candles how MANY shabbat candls a woman should light? Reply

Sarah via kabbalaonline.org November 11, 2009

Thanks for a beautiful article! "The word "kideshanu", literally means "sanctified", but even deeper, it comes from the word "kidushin", related to marriage. We are literally binding ourselves to our Creator like a wife and her husband"

I found this idea to be very uplifting. It adds a new spiritual dimension to Shabat candle lighting! Reply

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