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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.
Artwork by Sefira Ross, 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.
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Discussion (19)
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.
Chava
Yerushalayim, Israel
chabadberkeley.org
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.
Menachem Posner
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
Esther
Ship
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."
ג׳ורג ווייטהמאייר
קליפורניה
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.
Barbara Sofer
Jerusalem
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?
Sharon
Atlanta
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
racy
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.
Leah in New York
New York
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!
andy
hong komg
April 14, 2014
When lighting the candles, do we cover our eyes to welcome YOM TOV, Passover tonight, and Rosh Hashanah?
PJ
Florida, USA