(Photo: Carole-Ann Gordon)
On Shabbat, we typically light two candles.
Why? Because in the Torah the Ten Commandments are repeated twice, the first time in Exodus 20 and the second time in Deuteronomy 5. The commandment about Shabbat differs slightly between these two repetitions. In Exodus 20:8 we are told to “remember” (zachor) the Sabbath day to keep it holy. In Deuteronomy 5:12, we are told to “observe” (shamor) the Sabbath day to keep it holy.
Thus the rabbis of old developed the ritual of lighting two candles on Shabbat, one to represent “remember” and one to represent “observe”. The act of “remembering” is passive, while the act of “observing” is active. Shabbat requires that we do both: we remember our history, while we do something physical do make Shabbat our own unique experience.
We light candles because the flame is a symbol of God’s divine presence. It is also symbolic of the spark of goodness in each of us. Light one candle in a dark room and the entire room is illuminated by the warmth and glow of that single flame.
Shabbat is a taste of that time to come when the world will be filled with the divine sparks within each of us and when each of us can see the divine sparks in the other. No more war, no more violence, no more bloodshed.
This week, we observe Shabbat during a time of terrible violence and unrest in Israel, as hundreds of missiles rained down daily from Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza onto all parts of Israel last week. For the first time in a long time, it was not only the residents of the south who had to be protected by the Iron Dome and other missile defense systems: the missiles came close to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other areas of Israel as well. It has been terrifying and harrowing. My friends in Israel wrote about going to sleep with their shoes and essentials by their bed so they could be ready to go into the shelters in the middle of the night if necessary. Thankfully a cease-fire began on Sunday evening. We pray that it holds.
We know that the light of the Shabbat candles reminds us that fire can either spark acts of goodness in others, or can ignite the flames of hatred or enmity. We pray that the flames will ignite passion for righteous deeds, acts of love, the pursuit of peace.
Amichai Lau-Lavie, The Founding Director of Storahtelling, Inc, shares the story of two special mothers, one Muslim and one Jewish, who developed a candle-lighting ritual for peace on Friday evening, a day that is filled with prayer and meaning for both Muslims and Jews (Friday is the Muslim Sabbath and Friday evening begins our Shabbat.) We pray for the day when this ritual is no longer needed, when peace becomes a lasting reality. (Below is the invocation for the ritual).
CANDLE FOR PEACE
Let us Light Candles for Peace
Two mothers, one plea:
Now, more than ever, during these days of so much crying, on the day that is sacred to both our religions, Friday, Sabbath Eve
Let us light a candle in every home – for peace:
A candle to illuminate our future, face to face,
A candle across borders, beyond fear.
From our family homes and houses of worship
Let us light each other up,
Let these candles be a lighthouse to our spirit
Until we all arrive at the sanctuary of peace.
Salaam. Shalom. Peace.
–Sheikha Ibtisam Mahameed and Rabba Tamar Elad-Appelbaum
Let the light of our Shabbat candles be a beacon of light and hope for all. Let us pray for an end to that ongoing violence, an end to the acts of terrorism, an end to the bloodshed. As we learn from Psalm 122:6
Rabbi Sharon L. Sobel
Senior Rabbi, Temple Beth Sholom