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Why Do Women Wave Their Hands over the Shabbat Candles?

Why Do Women Wave Their Hands over the Shabbat Candles?

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Question:

When lighting Shabbat candles, why do we wave our hands three times inwards before making the blessing? I saw my mother and grandmother do it, but no one can explain it to me, other than saying we are bringing in the Shabbat energy.

Answer:

Resting takes a lot of work. Many people are great at achieving, but find it hard to stop achieving. They know how to do, but don’t know how to just be. Shabbat is the day of rest, and to do it right, you need to know what resting means.

Resting is not doing nothing. If it was, there would be no reason to feel rejuvenated after a rest. Not-doing may not drain us, but why should it replenish us?

True rest is the ingathering of our soul energy.1 After expending our powers outward, we draw our energy back inward. During the workweek we are pulled in all directions, and our frantic activities drain our soul. The creativity and inventiveness that lies within has been exhausted, and so we need to draw our energy back to its source to be replenished and renewed.

Perhaps this is symbolized by the inward-waving motion at candle-lighting. We are beckoning our soul energy to come back to its source. For six days we were outward beings, investing ourselves in the world around us. On Shabbat we pull back, holding our energy in to regain focus and balance.

Our retreat from the externalities of life happens on three levels: action, speech and thought.2 On the level of action, we refrain from doing actual work on Shabbat. But on a deeper level, the level of speech, we refrain from even talking about work-related matters. We don’t make deals, and we don’t plan for the week ahead. We hold our soul energy close, using it only for enhancing our inner life—our connections with family, friends, community and G‑d.

And then there is an even deeper level of rest on Shabbat, the level of thought. When we reach this level, we feel as if our weekday life doesn’t even exist, and we don’t have a worry in the world.

So when you wave your hands three times, have in mind that you are about to enter a realm of inner rest, retreating from the superficial world and all its demands on three levels: You’ll stop working. You won’t talk about work. And you’ll even stop worrying about it.

When all those external layers are gone, what is left? Just you, your soul, and the relationships that really matter.

Editor's Note:

There appears to be no source for the hand-waving in classic rabbinic literature. Rather, it seems to be an outgrowth of an older custom to cover the candles until the blessing is made.

The candles are covered for the following reason:

Normally, the blessing is recited before the performance of a mitzvah, but here we light the candle and recite the blessing afterwards. (This is because once the blessing is recited, Shabbat has been ushered in, and lighting the candle would be forbidden.) So we postpone the completion of the mitzvah until after the blessing, by covering the candles as soon as we light them and we then cover our eyes while saying the blessing. Thus our first enjoyment of the Shabbat light–and the fulfillment of the mitzvah–occurs after the blessing.

See also Why do we cover our eyes when reciting the blessing on the Shabbat candles?

Footnotes
1.
Likkutei Torah, Shabbat Shuvah 63c.
2.
Likkutei Sichot, vol. 11, pp. 80–85.
Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
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.
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Chava Yerushalayim, Israel via chabadberkeley.org June 18, 2016

Normally, we say a bracha and then do the action related to it. For example, we say HaMotzi and then eat bread. On Yom Tov, we can say the bracha over the candles, and then light them. (Actually, we light the match before the bracha, and we don't extinguish the match after lighting, because on Yom Tov we can't light fire or extinguish it, but we're permitted to continue the fire.) But on Shabbat, once we say the bracha, we've brought in Shabbat, and we can't light the candles. So we light the candles first, then cover our eyes and say the bracha. After the bracha, we uncover our eyes and look at the candles. The explanation above for the three "wavings" is very beautiful and meaningful. Reply

Menachem Posner June 17, 2016

To Esther If you are in a place where it is impossible to light a real candle (the classic example is a hospital room), you may use battery-powered electric lights. Reply

Esther Ship June 16, 2016

Candle lighting Hi Rabbi

Please explain what I can do if I am not allowed to have an open flamed candle in my cabin on the ship that I work. What can I do to still perform the mitzvah of lighting Shabbat Candles. Are the electrical candles?

Yours sincerely

Esther Reply

ג׳ורג ווייטהמאייר קליפורניה June 16, 2016

Shabbat Candles The drawing of the hands from the candles toward the heart, has always seemed like a silent prayer, which says, "Spirit of Adonai, as this flame is the living spirit of the candle, come as the living Spirit of Adonai into our hearts. Teach us to honor You. Come into our lives. Rest our hearts with Your Shabbat Shalom. Amen v'amen." Reply

Barbara Sofer Jerusalem June 15, 2016

The Shechina Waving hands are often connected to the shechina, the feminine element of G-dliness. We draw that Heavenly source into us There's also a tradition of waving fingers after we look at the shadows of our nails in havdalah. Almost a waving goodbye. This goes beyond the technical reason which is the basis of covering our eyes, making candlelighting a moment of soul unity. Reply

Sharon Atlanta June 15, 2016

Is it correct that on chagim you do not circle with your hands and you only light the candles followed by the brachot? If so, why? Reply

racy June 15, 2016

What a wonderful explanation. I have been lighting candles for 40 years by immitating what my mother did before me and never thought of it in this manner. My mother told me when I was a young girl that this is how we bring the Shabbos into our home. Your explanation is very spiritual and enlightening. When I light candles next Friday night, I will think about it and smile. Thank you Reply

Leah in New York New York June 15, 2016

First you light. Of course you have to look at what you are doing. But this seeing is just practical, it isn't official. Then, you draw the holiness toward yourself personally, with your hands, three times. It's not general waving, it's scooping the holiness toward you,yourself. Then, you cover your eyes, because technically, you aren't allowed to officially see the candlelight yet, because you haven't thanked G-d for it. Once you have said the blessing with eyes covered, you should uncover your eyes and look with concentration at the flames, so as to really see them now. If you didn't do that, it might sort of become a blessing in vain. your real seeing is after the blessing. And they do look different from before the blessing.

Then you can cover your eyes again and send up any special personal prayers you have. You are always listened to, but this moment is especially powerful for prayer. Reply

andy hong komg June 15, 2016

I found this the most complicated answer since Einstein came up with the The Theory of Relativity .!

Why not just say e equals mc squared! Reply

PJ Florida, USA April 14, 2014

When lighting the candles, do we cover our eyes to welcome YOM TOV, Passover tonight, and Rosh Hashanah? Reply

Anonymous September 27, 2013

Who or what is the Shabbat Queen? Reply

Anonymous Brooklyn September 8, 2013

? Source? Reply

Sheila Jacobsohn Jerusalem, Israel June 5, 2012

waving hands over candles We had a discussion on Shabbat about the source of waving hands. Do you have a reference for the source? Reply

Arthur Rosen Mission Viejo, Ca. February 16, 2011

Shabbat Candle-lighting We say a woman should light the candles, wave her hands to gather in the light, then cover her eyes to block the light and then say the blessing.
There is a contradiction. She gathers her hands first gathering the light BEFORE she covers her eyes to BLOCK the light. Reply

Anonymous March 8, 2010

The reason why they cover their eyes... It is written in the Talmud why women cover their eyes:

In daily Jewish practices, you say a bracha/blessing before doing the action. When you eat an apple, for instance, you say a blessing before eating it.

However, on Shabbat, you cannot. If you say the blessing before the action of lighting, you welcome in the shabbat with this blessing and lighting a fire is prohibited on shabbat so you cannot light the candles after saying the blessing. Because of this, we light the candles first, but symbolically cover our eyes so that we do not benefit from the light. Then we say the blessing and then we see the light and benefit from it. So in the end, we satisfy both requirements: saying the blessing beforehand and also avoiding doing a prohibited act on shabbat. Reply

Malkie Janowski for Chabad.org March 7, 2010

The Shabbat candles allude to the three internal levels of the soul: the nefesh, ruach, and neshama. As we usher in the Shabbat by waving our hands, we allow the Shabbat spirit to permeate each of those three levels, deeper and deeper into ourselves. The entrance of Shabbat also rectifies any blemishes in three supernal worlds, the World of Creation, Formation, and Action, symbolized by the three waves of the hands. Reply

Jared Brudno austin , tx February 26, 2010

shabbat candles what is the significance of waving exactly three times over Shabbat candles? Reply

Anonymous Baltimore, MD February 18, 2010

Not sure this answers... Is there a source for this tradition? Is it observed by women from all branches of Orthodoxy? Reply

Bobbie Kirk Montgomery, TX October 19, 2009

Candle Llighting Who or What is the "Sabbat Queen"? 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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