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?


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!