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Where Does the Torah Say to Light Shabbat Candles?

Where Does the Torah Say to Light Shabbat Candles?

Original artwork by Yoram Raanan
Original artwork by Yoram Raanan


I think this is a beautiful tradition, and I want to learn all I can about it. However, is it actually written in Torah to light a candle, or does it say only to observe the Sabbath and keep it holy?


The most precious things in life are said silently. Those who need to understand—those who are not strangers, those who hear the words from the inside—understand. Similarly with Shabbat: when G‑d gave it to us, He did not need to spell out its most precious customs.

Take a look: whenever the Torah mentions Shabbat, it always seems to be assuming that we know what it’s talking about. The Torah admonishes us to “keep the Shabbat” and “remember the Shabbat.” We are to rest on the seventh day from the work of the other six, and so are our servants and domesticated animals. Don’t make a fire.1 There’s a strong implication that we don’t build tabernacles on Shabbat.2 From all this we can figure out a lot of things that we are not supposed to do—such as anything that’s involved in building a tabernacle. But regarding what we are supposed to do, not a word. It seems that the Moses crowd just knew—perhaps by intuition, perhaps by tradition.

The prophet Isaiah, however, does elaborate a little on what Shabbat entails. His audience was, after all, a little more distant from the light of Sinai—and so needed things spelled out. He says, “If you restrain your foot because of the Sabbath, from performing your affairs on My holy day, and you will call the Sabbath ‘a delight’ and G‑d’s holy day ‘honored’ . . .”3

So, Shabbat is a day we are to honor and delight in. But how do you honor and delight in it? Apparently, Isaiah’s audience needed no further explanation. But in Talmudic times, things got to the point that it was necessary for the rabbis to spell out every word: you honor the Shabbat with clean clothes, and delight in it with fine food and drink.4

Now, here’s where the Shabbat candles come in:5 Have you ever sat down to a delicious meal in the dark? Not too much fun. Who knows what that fork may end up piercing? But, worst of all, even the finest cuisine becomes a drab affair when you can’t see the colors, textures and forms of those delicious morsels. We are visual creatures, and even our capacity to derive pleasure from our food is tied to our visual experience. “A blind person,” the rabbis say, “is never satisfied from his food.”6

And so, as long as Jews were interested in “calling the Shabbat a day of delight,” they must have had a lamp lit for the nighttime meal. It had to be lit beforehand, since—as we are told explicitly7—we cannot create a fire on Shabbat. And since it is the woman who generally takes the responsibilities of the home, presumably she took the responsibility for the lamp.

Yet it seems that later down the line, there were Jews who felt okay skimping on the visual experience. Maybe the cost of oil was escalating. True, you can’t eat a meal without light and enjoy it. But people said, “Let’s just eat it that way anyway, and say we did.” Now, if people don’t want to enjoy, it’s hard to tell them, “You must enjoy!” But sitting in a dark home all Shabbat creates other problems. Shabbat is meant to be a day of peace and harmony. A dark house, with people tripping over every unseen obstacle8 and falling all over each other is not conducive to peace and harmony.

So, at some unspecified point in history, for the sake of shalom bayit (family harmony),9 the spiritual leaders of the generation made a distinct requirement that every home must have a lamp lit before Shabbat in every room where people may walk and bump into things.10 They declared that anyone who would be careful with it would be blessed with children who would be Torah scholars, as the verse states, “For a mitzvah is a lamp, and the Torah is light.”11 They interpreted this to mean that through the mitzvah of the lamp would come the light of Torah.12

Nevertheless, the principal lamp is the one that shines over the Shabbat meal.13 The other lamps can be replaced today with electric lights, but the light by the meal should be a burning flame—unless that’s just not possible (e.g., in a hospital).

Now you can see that the Shabbat lamp, even though it is technically a rabbinic institution, has always been an integral part of the Shabbat. Our tradition is that Abraham and Sarah kept the entire Torah even though it was not yet given. They knew the Torah from their understanding of the inner mechanics of the universe. Sarah lit the Shabbat lamp, as did Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. It’s reasonable to believe that at no time in our history did a Friday night pass without that light. And with that light we will enter into the “day that is entirely Shabbat and rest for eternal life.” May that time come sooner than we can imagine.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman




Talmud, Shabbat 113a and 118b; Mishneh Torah, Hil. Shabbat 30:1; Tur and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 242 and 262.


Mishneh Torah (ibid. 5:1) describes ner Shabbat in terms of delight. In 30:5, however, it is described in terms of honoring Shabbat. The Rebbe (Likkutei Sichot, vol. 11, p. 295) resolves this: lighting before Shabbat honors the Shabbat by preparing for it. Once Shabbat has entered, the light provides delight. I focus here on the second aspect, since (see Shulchan Aruch ha-Rav, 263:11, end) the main mitzvah of ner Shabbat is not the lighting, but the enjoyment of the light on Shabbat (and for this reason, a woman who has not made the blessing at the time of lighting can make a blessing later on Shabbat, when she benefits from the light).


Yoma 74b.


Rashi to Shabbat 25b, s.v. hadlakat.


Shabbat 23b. Rambam appears to consider ner Shabbat to be principally for the sake of enjoying Shabbat. Shulchan Aruch ha-Rav, however, seems to consider shalom bayit the chief factor. See Likkutei Sichot, vol. 16, p. 374.


Mishneh Torah, ibid.; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 263:1.


Shabbat 23b and Rashi ad loc.


Ohr Zarua, Hilchot Erev Shabbat 11; Rema, Orach Chaim 263:10; Shulchan Aruch ha-Rav 263:1.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
Yoram Raanan takes inspiration from living in Israel, where he can fully explore and express his Jewish consciousness. The light, the air, the spirit of the people and the land energize and inspire him. His paintings include modern Jewish expressionism with a wide range of subjects ranging from abstract to landscape, biblical and Judaic.
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Discussion (59)
September 20, 2016
I also want to quickly add that now I know how the ancients did it
Olive oil burns for 24 hours, and earthen stoves, the only kind back then, also burn for 24 hours. Earthen stoves have heating 'pad' areas that merely stay warm, which is likely what they did vs the modern Blech (which is a metal tray people place on their stove tops to keep food warm through Shabbat) I think the biggest confusion started coming when there were no longer 24 hour stoves in everyday use (I believe that was around the 1700's) and candles were the only thing many people could obtain since olive oil was too expensive, and unless you use beeswax (which is also pretty expensive, even back then) a standard candle will not burn for 24 hrs. So people were in the cold and dark. If you can build an earthen stove in your home I highly recommend it (I'm already working on a cast iron heater for Shabbat which also burns for 24 hours straight without needing to be reloaded) it looks like a very rewarding process. For light: electricity, beeswax, and olive oil can all go 24 hrs straight
September 20, 2016
Thank you!
Thank you so much Rabbi! I appreciate it!
September 19, 2016
For Confused
The confusion comes just from misinformation.

There is no prohibition in the Torah against benefiting from fire. The only prohibition is to make or increase a fire.

On the second matter, the Torah itself tells the sages to make legislation so that the Torah rules won't be broken. For more on this, search our site for "rabbinic safeguards."
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Los Angeles
September 19, 2016
Rabbi Freeman, if you can please answer, I am confused by two statements here
The first is that someone told me that the Torah says that even the light, heat, or any 'benefit' from a fire, is not allowed to be enjoyed during Shabbat itself, and that no one could ever figure out why that was written, and because people were having a bad time in the dark, and falling over, rabbis just bypassed it in the name of us enjoying Shabbat. Is this true?

Second, if the Torah grows with the Jewish people, then why do only certain opinions count as more (like orthdox vs conservatives) if they both do the same thing; put in what they see as their opinions and grow with the jews' needs as they see fit them. And why do many people see it as a sin when something like flicking on a light or touching Muktze was done by accident, if it is only a rabbinic interpretation and decision of opinion, and people agree that it is. People see it as we sinned to the Creator, but in fact He knows all we did was accidentally by pass safeguards or opinions grown from and not His words directly.
June 11, 2016
what a great insight, yes today electrical bulbs replaced the candles, however eating under the lighting of the candles is natural & permanent act.
August 14, 2015
Good Shabbos!
sora devorah
July 8, 2015
Wow. Thank you so much for the insight.
Storm Stephens
June 25, 2015
To Sandra: Once a week romance
To Sandra: I love the way you compare Shabat to a weekly date with Hashem! :) Shabat Alegre, Havera!
Elisheba Flor
June 8, 2015
Chanukkah's lights
How about Chanukkah's lights in winter? lots of houses have them on! and it illuminates lots of streets too!
Boca Raron FL
June 8, 2015
Super helpful! Thanks for posting!