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Why Do We Make a Blessing on Fire on Saturday Night?

Why Do We Make a Blessing on Fire on Saturday Night?

The story of the havdalah candle goes back to the very first Shabbat in history

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Question:

I have always been fascinated by the havdalah ceremony, which marks the transition from Shabbat to the weekday. I know that we make a blessing on a special havdalah candle, but I never had the courage to ask why. What’s up with the flame?

Reply:

The Midrashic Explanation

Before the creation of the sun and moon, G‑d created a great light, a light so bright that “one could gaze from one end of the earth to the other” with it.

It was very late Friday afternoon on the sixth day of creation, and Adam and Eve had just sinned by eating from the forbidden fruit. As a consequence, G‑d wished to hide this bright primordial light and expel Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. However, due to the sanctity of Shabbat, G‑d postponed His actions and left the light to shine until the end of the sacred day.

When the sun began to set at the termination of Shabbat, darkness set in for the first time, terrifying Adam, who thought that the darkness would engulf him. G‑d then inspired Adam, who took two stones and struck them against each other, and fire burst forth. At that moment, Adam praised G‑d and said the blessing “Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d . . . who creates the lights of fire,”1 the very same blessing we say as part of havdalah, while gazing at the flickering flames.

A Unique Creation

Fire is unique, for unlike all the other creations, we make a special blessing commemorating the time it was created. The reason for this is that since the use of fire is prohibited throughout Shabbat, and it becomes permitted only on Saturday night, it is as if fire is created anew each week with the departure of Shabbat.2

The Practical Lesson

As the holiness of Shabbat departs, and we are about to go back to our daily life, we may feel that we are no match for the raging tempests coming our way. The havdalah candle reminds us that just as Adam was able to create a flame—from stone!—that combated the swirling darkness, we too can bring light and clarity to the darkest of circumstances from the most unexpected sources.

Footnotes
1.

See Talmud, Pesachim 54a, and Bereishit Rabbah 11:2.

2.

Magen Avraham on Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 298:1; Shulchan Aruch ha-Rav 298:1.


Some additional reasons given for this blessing:


(a) Just as we thank G‑d for the things He created as we begin to enjoy them every morning, so too we thank G‑d for creating fire when we begin its use anew after Shabbat. (Ramban, Berachot ch. 5)


(b) The blessing over fire can be compared to the blessings said before partaking of food, drink, etc. (Glosses of Rabbeinu Peretz on Semak, Mitzvah 283; Tur, Orach Chaim 556, citing BeHaG; Kol Bo 43).

Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
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Yehuda Shurpin (author) April 30, 2015

Re: Why do we look at nail at Havdalah See Why do we gaze at our fingernails in the light of the havdallah candle? for why we look at our nails. Reply

fana spielberg los angeles April 29, 2015

I am excited and look forward to deepening my understanding, of, somehow, coming closer to HaShem. Reply

Jonathan April 28, 2015

Why then... Thank you for the explanation. But why do we look at the light reflected in our finger nails when we make the blessing? Reply

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