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A Trick of the Eye

A Trick of the Eye


There is a phenomenon that I know children are well aware of. It goes like this: If you close your eyes just the right amount and tilt your head at a certain angle, sort of looking at things through your eyelashes, everything looks a little fuzzy and gray in a very unusual way. I remember doing this as a child. I remember things looking the same as when I had a high fever and even the most innocuous pile of clothes on my bedroom chair seemed to have the features of some grotesque witch face. At that moment, I was fascinated and frightened simultaneously.

I overheard a group of children referring to this phenomenon in my second grade classroom, just a few short months ago, and so I now know that it was not unique to me, and that all children seem to be fascinated by altered images, that they can, at will, create.

Having prefaced my account with this anecdotal memory, I must confess, that I did this eye thing (by accident) with my Shabbat candles. There is a tradition to light, in addition to the standard two candles for Shamor (guard) and Zachor (remember), an additional candle for each child. In this way, many women are blessed with a tray full of beautiful, individual, shining pillars of light every Shabbat. Additionally, we have a custom whereby each girl over the age of three also lights her own, single, Shabbat candle. Needless to say, the candles individually and together emit an abundant amount of light from which I derive significant pleasure each week.

There is another tradition of the Shabbat candles that involves asking G‑d for anything in your heart immediately following the lighting of the candles. The time period between the beginning and end of sunset is of a special relevance. It is an extremely powerful and mystical time, like the time between the sun beginning to rise each day, and when it can actually be seen in its full- fledged fiery glory, suspended in the sky. Children learn early on that when their mother lights, this is not the time to complain to Mommy about being thirsty, bored, or not having the right socks to wear. This is Mommy’s most special time to commune with her Maker.

Well, on one particular Shabbat, I had just completed surveying my newly polished candelabra, finally free of waxy chunks clinging to the arms, and began the process of carefully lighting the candles. As I lit I concentrated for a moment on each of my children as I lit the candle that had been added in their honor, ending with Shamor and Zachor.

Then I closed my eyes and recited the blessing while remaining with my hands covering my eyes. As I ended some very heartfelt prayers, I suddenly experienced this phenomenon that happens with your eyes.

Perhaps mine were not shut as tightly as usual. Perhaps my hands were not completely covering my eyes. Perhaps the vision that greeted me was the answer that I was supposed to receive, for suddenly I saw a kaleidoscope-like view of all the individual candles, but they were no longer individuals. Each flame had burst into a circle of light, glowing within itself while extending outward, and overlapping the next ring of radiance, which in turn overlapped others, so that the entire image presented itself as an integrated series of luminaries, each with an individual core.

I stood and stared for several minutes, afraid of moving lest the image disappear. Slowly, it dawned on me, that while the image may not be fixed, the message I had received would remain. While each of my children are, and will always remain individuals in their core, their inner light can, and will glow, until they are completely encompassing one another, blending with the beauty of Shabbat. I can only hope to imagine, that if I were to be blessed with the opportunity to add to my trayful of glowing lights, the luminous image would continue to grow. And clearly this paradigm can be magnified a million fold, to include all of the candles of all the Jewish people. Now that I have viewed the meaning of my candles this way, I wonder if I will still need to do that funny trick with my eyes, or if the image will just present itself? Perhaps it is not a funny ‘trick’ after all. Perhaps it is what we really look like when we open our eyes a different way.

Tzvia has a M.A. in Special Ed. and has been teaching general studies in a local Jewish day school for several years. She is the mother of 5 children from whom she has the privilege to learn and gain new insights.
About the artist: Sheva Chaya created the art for homepage. An art graduate from Princeton University, Sheva Chaya works in watercolor and glass, vibrantly exploring Jewish and women's themes. Her work can be seen in her studio in Tsfat, Israel and on her website.
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Anonymous Toronto, Canada July 27, 2006

HOW IT IS . I do like this it is very well written and I truly think you have a great deal of talent. Yasher koach

Anonymous July 19, 2006

You have enlightened me once again. Well written!!! Thank you for teaching me a thing or two. May your " brilliance" continue to inspire others. And may the glow of all our shabbat candles and quiet prayerful moments only lead to bringing Moshiach Now! Reply

Welcome to our candle-lighting section, where you will find the details and practicalities of lighting Shabbat candles, along with the meaning, spirituality and power of doing so . . .
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