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A Missed Opportunity

A Missed Opportunity

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There was really no excuse. I mean, I can come up with some. But they don’t matter. They don’t make a difference. It doesn’t change the fact.

The fact is that I missed lighting Shabbat candles. Plain and simple. Didn’t do it. I had wanted to, I had meant to, but it was just too late. No matter how many clocks I looked at, the 18 minutes from lighting time until Shabbat had passed. It was now Shabbat.

I am usually running late on Fridays. OK, I am always running late on Fridays. Somehow I think I have more time then I do. I miscalculate. This particular Friday I glanced at the wrong week of the calendar. Thought I had ten more precious minutes more than I actually did. How ten minutes can make such a difference. How one minute can make all the difference.

One minute can make all the difference

My kids were all ready and dressed in their fancy Shabbat clothes. My two older daughters, who light candles as well, were set to light. But we couldn’t. They didn’t understand. What possibly changed from one minute to the next, that meant that suddenly they couldn’t light their Shabbos candles? But everything had changed. What was holy and productive one minute, was negative and destructive the next. It is not just about the action, it is about the timing.

The craziest part is that I actually considered lighting the candles anyway. For a brief moment I rationalized that my clocks were probably a few minutes fast, that I probably still had enough time. But I knew I didn’t. I just didn’t want to accept what that meant.

Shabbat was going to happen with or without me. It wasn’t going to wait for me and it wasn’t going to be postponed for me. Yet I had an opportunity. I had the opportunity to bring in Shabbat, to usher it in, to illuminate my house and my surroundings by lighting my candles. If anything, I had the opportunity to create that reality even before its time. I could have made it happen even earlier. I could have had the precious holiness of Shabbat in my home even before it would have come by itself.

But I didn’t. I didn’t take that opportunity, I didn’t participate in the way that I could have.

And I wanted to. I really didn’t want it happening without me. I wanted to light and say my blessing and do what I do, week after week. And when the clocks told me that Shabbat had arrived, I felt cheated, left out, even though I knew I had no one to blame but myself.

It was not just that I had missed Shabbat that struck me, but the power of wanting to do the right thing, even at the wrong time. Missing lighting made me look at my entire relationship to my Creator in a totally new way. Why do I do the things I do? Do I do them because they make me feel better? Because I like them? Because I benefit from them? Or do I do them because that is what is desired of me. For a higher purpose. Because it is a gift I was given when used properly.

I had been so consumed in what lighting candles did for me, that I almost wanted to do something that would have been extremely problematic. Missing lighting time meant something. It meant that there was no longer the place for me to do this act. That it was no longer desired. It was no longer helpful. And even if I wanted to, it was not what was wanted from me.

I think that often we make this mistake in our relationships. Not just with our relationship to our Creator, but in our microcosmic worlds, in our relationships with one another. We do something positive, we do something good, we do something for the other. And we enjoy it. We gain from it. Not only are we givers, but we truly become receivers.

Sometimes we get so caught up in the doing that we don’t recognize when it is no longer helpful, when it is no longer wanted. And we keep going. But it is no longer for the other. Now it is for ourselves. We have found so much pleasure in something that was asked of us, that we want to keep going even when the one who had asked is no longer asking.

It is not just about the action, it is about the timingDoing the right thing at the wrong time is easy to see when it is in a physical sense. We know that eating matzah on Passover is a positive and constructive thing. Whereas eating matzah on Yom Kippur is not. Just as eating challah on Shabbat is a commandment, but challah on Passover is absolutely forbidden. These are clear. These are easy.

But how often do we make such mistakes in our emotional, psychological and spiritual worlds. How often do we say the right thing at the wrong time? Do the right favor when it is no longer needed? Offer necessary advice after the fact? Be there for someone a little too late?

When I missed lighting candles, I realized that lighting candles is not about me. As much as I may enjoy it, as much as there may be incredible benefits, it is something I do for Another. It is something I do because my Creator gave me this incredible opportunity to do it, to help bring light into the world, to help Him usher in the holiness of Shabbat. But Shabbat starts at that time listed on my calendar whether or not I light my candles. And to light them past their time not only accomplishes nothing, it shows I have no respect for why I was supposed to be doing it in the first place. What I am trying to usher in when it is already there? It is like offering to lend a hand after the job is done. And then wanting so badly at that point to help that you undo the hard work and effort that took place, just to try and show that you can be of help. But you can’t be. It is too late. You can only learn from your mistake.

This is why, when a woman misses lighting, from that Shabbat on she adds another candle when she lights. It is a reminder to her of the powerful lesson she learned. But it is not a punishment. It is not meant to make you feel terrible, but to show you what you are capable of. A punishment would mean that from that point on you light one less. That you bring that much less light into your home and the world. But that is not what is done. Even though the particular week has passed and was missed and can never be made up, from this point on, every coming week, you add even more light. You illuminate even more. You have one more flame that is always reaching upwards and striving for more. From learning from your mistake, you have the ability and responsibility to accomplish that much more.

I did not intend to light an extra candle. I did not intend to miss lighting candles. But now that it has happened, it is a lesson that will stick with me and inspires me. Every week, when I see that extra candle, I am reminded of the power that I have as a woman. It is simply up to me if I am going to use it.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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Anonymous Reno July 10, 2015

Third candle So you light a third candle for the rest of your life? That actually seems like a reward, seeing as how you enjoy lighting the candles. So will you "forget" again? I'm just curious. Reply

Miriam Szokovski September 18, 2014

To Lynn Lynn - you can find out what time to light candles here: Chabad.org/candlelighting

Just enter your location and it will give you the time. Reply

Lynn Gabriola Island, Canada February 10, 2011

candle lighting I have neither a Jewish Calandar or anyway of telling when it is 18 minutes before sundown on Sundays when I celebrate the Sabbath. I live in BC Canada. Can anyone help me, a prospective Jewish woman. The nearest synagogue is 3 1/2 hours away. Thank you very much if you are able to aid me. Reply

Tali Hollywood, FL February 8, 2011

Thank you! I love this article. It speaks to me with regard to many different areas of my life, in addition to Jewish practice. Sometimes too much multi-tasking (which seems to be second nature once we become mothers) is not a good thing, and we need to focus on what is truly important in the moment. Reply

Rivka Cleveland, Oh February 7, 2011

extra candle I was meant to see this post, because I missed lighting two weeks ago when my son called me for a ride home when it was already candle lighting time; he had messed up on the schedule. I was upset, but I didn't realize that I was supposed to add another candle. What is the source for that? Reply

Celine Bennett Elliot Lake, Canada, Ontario June 3, 2009

Encouraging It's one thing to do the right thing at the wrong time, handling the terrible feeling afterward is awkward. I appreciate how you reconciled everything, it's beautiful, very refreshing. I'll be sharing that one with my daughters.
Thank you! Reply

Anonymous Honolulu, Hi via dlchs.com August 7, 2008

Thanks Mahalo and aloha ... let there be light. Reply

Jacqueline Hanna Nassau, Bahamas April 19, 2008

candle I am not a Jew, though highly interested in names, birthdays, Shabbot,and passover events. In my country there are no Rabbi's but I come to the Web sites as often as possible to try and connect. Lastly, I pray every day for the peace of Jerusalem. May G-d bless you. Amen Reply

Rena February 26, 2007

absolutely beautiful you managed to transform a seemingly big mistake into something so uplifting! It is said that even our mistakes are pre-ordained - you utilized this one well. wonderful yerida l'tzorech aliya (descent for the sake of an ascent). Reply

Anonymous Houston, TX December 16, 2006

Thank you I never had a mother to advise me, today I had a gentle lesson from another's mother to guide me through a life that is everytime less lonely. The right light at the time in which I most needed it. G-d answers prayers, thank you so much. Reply

Anonymous December 15, 2006

its my first time on this site, and i just cant believe that i have never been on it before. your outlook on life and its daily ecounters is much to be desired. you are an extraordinary woman-May we all be zoche to think like that and see the real 'light' behind every simple action we take or dont take. Reply

Anonymous via chabadkc.org December 13, 2006

Thank you for bringing out such a positive lesson in what can be such a sour experience. Instead of letting that "ruin the shabbos atmoshpere" you have shown how to us it as a continually strengthening lesson! Reply

Nechama London, UK December 12, 2006

wanting to keep giving Thank you so much!! I am just in that situation now. I have been helping a friend out and thank G-d she doesnt need my help anymore, but amazingly I was left with this awful feeling.(of not being needed)..... I realized that I was gaining more than I was giving, and I have to step back and say this is not about me giving but about what needs to be done for the other! Reply

Janet Rudman Montevideo, Uruguay December 11, 2006

Genial as ever, Esther...

It is so clear what lighting the candles gives to the jewish woman in your article...

The important meaning of time... that is very clearly expained there.

Go ahead and continue giving us (the surfers of this wonderful web page) your inspiring articles Reply

Anonymous December 10, 2006

Beautiful I enjoyed reading your article so much! The same thing has happened in our household, but you expressed it in such a nice way and brought out such a great message from it about our relationship with Hashem and others around us. Keep on writing! Reply

chaya Australia December 10, 2006

Wow, what an amazing way to look at such an encounter. Such a positive attitude. We can all learn from you. Good shabbos;) Reply

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