Contact Us

Why Light Two (or More) Shabbat Candles?

Why Light Two (or More) Shabbat Candles?

 Email

Question:

I’m wondering why we have a custom to light at least two Shabbat candles. And why do some people light more than that? How do I know how many candles I should light?

Answer:

Before getting into the explanation behind the custom, it should be noted that although the prevalent custom is to light at least two candles, strictly speaking you can fulfill the mitzvah of Shabbat candle-lighting with even one candle.1 That said, the custom is indeed to light multiple candles.

Two Mitzvahs

The basic reason why we light two candles for Shabbat is that they correspond to the two forms of the mitzvah of Shabbat. In Exodus we are told, “Remember (zachor) the day of Shabbat and make it holy.”2 This encompasses all of the positive commandments associated with sanctifying Shabbat. In Deuteronomywe are instructed, “Keep (shamor) the day of Shabbat and make it holy.”3 This encompasses all of the negative prohibitions associated with Shabbat. To represent our acceptance of both aspects of Shabbat observance, we light two candles.4

Husband and Wife

Our sages tell us that the the reason we light the Shabbat candles is to bring peace and tranquility into the home.5 According to some, this is one of the reasons for two candles—to represent husband and wife.6

To take this idea a step further:

The Hebrew word נר (ner), “candle,” has the numerical value of 250, and two candles have a combined numerical value of 500. According to the Talmud, there are 248 limbs and organs in a man’s body and 252 in a woman’s body, giving us a total of 500. Thus, the lighting of two candles alludes to the togetherness of husband and wife, which is the fundamental reason behind the mitzvah of the Shabbat candles.7

Two Souls

Some explain that the reason for lighting at least two candles is based on the Talmudic teaching that on Shabbat we receive an additional soul, which imbues us with an extra sense of holiness and spirituality throughout the day.8 The additional candle corresponds to the second soul.9

Lighting Additional Candles

While the widespread custom is to light at least two candles for Shabbat, many have the custom to light more.

The Talmud states that one who regularly kindles Shabbat lights is rewarded with children who are Torah scholars. For a soul is compared to a candle, as it says, “The candle of G‑d is the soul of man.”10 Likewise, “a candle is a mitzvah and the Torah is light”11—so through the mitzvah of lighting Shabbat candles, one will merit the light of Torah.12

Based on this soul-candle comparison, the most common custom is that in addition to the two basic candles, an additional candle is lit for every child that is born (e.g., if there are three children, five candles are lit).13

There are many other customs as to how many candles to light: four, seven, ten, thirteen, thirty-six, etc. Others just stick with lighting two candles.

When Traveling

The custom is that even one who usually lights more than two candles need light only two candles when traveling. Some people do try to light their customary number of candles while traveling.14

The Husband

In a married couple, it is usually the woman who lights the Shabbat candles for the home. However, the obligation of lighting Shabbat candles applies to both men and women, so if the woman is not home or can’t light the candles, her husband should light them. In such a situation, the custom is that he lights just two candles, even if his wife usually lights more than that.15

Before Marriage

In many communities, including Chabad, the custom is that unmarried girls (starting from around the age of three) light their own Shabbat candles.

Indeed, the Lubavitcher Rebbe encouraged all young girls to light their own Shabbat and holiday candles with the consent of their parents (for more on that, click here). At the same time, he instructed that before marriage, girls should light only one candle (fulfilling the basic mitzvah) out of respect for their mothers, who are responsible for the main mitzvah of lighting Shabbat candles in the home.16

The importance of lighting Shabbat candles cannot be overstated. As mentioned above, the basic purpose of the Shabbat candles is to bring increased peace into our homes. But it goes deeper than that. The Midrash tells us that G‑d says, “If you kindle the Shabbat lights, I will show you the marvelous radiance that will shine upon Jerusalem at the final redemption.”17 In other words, the lighting of the Shabbat candles hastens the final redemption, when there will be peace in the entire world. May we merit this speedily in our days!

Footnotes
1.
See Shulchan Aruch ha-Rav 263, Kuntres Acharon 5; Mishnah Berurah 263:6.
4.
Tur and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 263:1.
5.
Talmud, Shabbat 23b.
6.
Eliyah Rabbah 263:2; Likkutei Sichot, vol. 11, p. 289. See also Zohar Chadash, Tikkunim 120a.
7.
Eliyah Rabbah ibid.
8.
Talmud, Taanit 27b. For more on this, see Two Additional Shabbat Souls.
9.
Eliyah Rabbah ibid.
11.
Ibid. 6:23.
12.
Talmud, Shabbat 23b.
13.
See Pit’chei Teshuvah 263:2. See also Likkutei Sichot, vol. 11, p. 289.
14.
See She’arim ha-Metzuyanim ba-Halachah 75:13; Shemirat Shabbat ke-Hilchatah 43:3; Pit’chei Teshuvah 263:2.
15.
Pit’chei Teshuvah ibid.
16.
See Likkutei Sichot, vol. 11, p. 289. The Rebbe further explains there that an additional reason for his advocating that single girls light only one candle is because one of the reasons for lighting two candles is, as in the text above, the correspondence to husband and wife.
17.
Yalkut Shimoni, Behaalotecha 719.
Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
 Email
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
11 Comments
1000 characters remaining
CB via chabadone.org November 16, 2015

To Brian Good question, check out Where Does the Torah Say to Light Shabbat Candles? for a response Reply

alice jena richmond hill November 5, 2015

shabbat candles But my husband left me & divorce happened. I still light two candles. Maybe someday, Hashem will send him back to me and away from the evil cult of Scientology that does no believe in any higher power, but money Reply

Brian Michael Portland November 3, 2015

Why do we say, blessed are you H who commanded us to light Shabbat candles if it's not commanded in Torah? Reply

Heimann New York December 6, 2017
in response to Brian Michael:

Sages of the Oral Torah tell us to light the Shabbat candles. Reply

Alex October 10, 2013

How many candles????? I am very confused as I am a single woman with no children, often doing Shabbat alone in my home.... I've read that I am to light one candle until I've married; however everything else insists on the two! What should I really be doing when I'm alone? Reply

Shlomo Goldstein February 4, 2013

To Dovid What I have observed is that one of them should light the whole batch and the other lights just two. So if she will be unable to light them all wherever she is, he lights them all. Reply

dovid December 14, 2012

Man with wife away Does a man who's wife is away light one, two or more for his children as well as per his wife's regular custom? Reply

Svetlana Vintman Brooklyn, USA March 16, 2012

What is the order of kindling/ I have to light two candles. What is the right order, from right to left or from left to right? Please relieve my doubt because different people say different things. One even suggested kindling one candle from the other, not from a match. Please, answer before the sunset.
THank you very much for your promptness. Reply

Menachem Posner for Chabad.org March 3, 2009

Holiday candles Two candles are generally lit in honor of the holidays--just like Shabbat. My internet research (which I was unable to independently verify) reveals that the two candles represent the joy of the holiday and the honor which we accord it. Reply

Don Werner Northfiled, MN March 2, 2009

That answered the questiom about the Sabbath candles, but what about the Passover Candles?
How many? Is there a reason for that many? Reply

M. Meyers CT/ usa February 13, 2009

shabat candles Beautifully done. Thank you for the effort, it is deeply appreciated and helpful to all. 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 . . .
Related Topics
This page in other languages