When I light Shabbat candles, I know that thousands of women are completing the exact same ritual, at the same time.
As did our mothers and grandmothers before us.
As millions of Jewish women have done for centuries, around the world.
One little match, two candles, focus, and intention make me expand beyond myself. For that moment, I am not just me – I am also each and every Jewish woman living in the present, past and future, doing exactly what I am.
This moment is sacred, a moment where a woman’s prayer is heard (not that women’s prayers are not heard at other times, here it is a matter of amplification and focus, different from prayers at different times).
The prayer said at the candle lighting includes a number of requests from God:
For a good and long life for herself, her husband, children, parents, relatives and all of the Nation of Israel. (Interestingly “good” comes before “long” – wording and syntax are significant in Jewish texts.)
That we may live in blessings, with peace between each other.
(This refers to the home, to relatives and the nation, not between the Nation of Israel and other nations).
She asks that she be granted the blessing of raising children and grandchildren that are smart and wise, that love God, love truth, embody holiness and light up the world with the light of the Torah, good deeds and all of God’s work.
(Because this is our purpose – to be a light on to the nations).
The prayer is said in the name of our ancestors, the four mothers of our people: Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.
(This is specifically about women, female power.)
The prayer concludes with an interestingly worded request that highlights the connection between Creator and individuals:
“Make the light of our spirit shine so that it can never be extinguished and shine the light of Your face.”
(As much as we strive to shine, it is done by the grace of God, one does not exist without the other. If God’s face is turned from us so that we do not see the light, we are doomed. Also, it is important to note that the request does not say “Make MY light shine” it says “Make OUR light shine”. More important than my individual light is that which I succeed in instilling in my family, that which my family brings to the world. One candle cannot drive away the darkness but many, together, can.)
In addition to this prayer, at the time of candle lighting, a woman can ask for additional or more specific blessings.
This week I found myself asking for healing for a man I have never met but know is a valiant warrior.
We all watched the video from the Yavneh grocery store camera as a terrorist coolly chose Niv as his victim and began stabbing him. In horror, we watched Niv battle alone. He fought for his life with all of his might, to live to the end of the day, to see his wife and children again. He survived, just barely. The doctors battled death as well, for hours, through the night and into the next day. Terribly, horribly wounded, it will take a long time and enormous effort for Niv to do what everyone else takes for granted – go home to his family, to live his normal life and do everyday things.
I found myself asking for healing for a woman battling cancer. I know her only through her writings online but the warmth of her personality, her friendly wittiness, shines through in a way that is impossible to ignore. If, just through her online communication she makes me feel brighter, what do those that are close to her, her friends and family feel? Sick in body, she is more vibrantly alive than most healthy people. I imagine her anguish as she feels her own condition and watches the worry in the eyes of her husband and children. I don’t know how it feels, can’t know, wish none of us knew… What I do know is that our Nation is better for people like her. Our light is stronger because of her light, love, and faith. I pray that it will shine bright, in healthiness and with no pain or suffering.
As I stood and watched the candles flickering I thought of Michal Salomon. May God grant her strength and comfort, she will surely need it. Now she is left to raise her children alone. Can she sleep at night or does she imagine what it was like for her husband to experience the knife of the terrorist plunging into his body over and over? Michal knows that Elad died so that she and their children could live. He held death in his arms, looked death in the eyes, while he was being murdered so that death could not reach her.
Christians of the world are inspired by the idea that their Savior died for them. What is it like to be in the same house while the love of your life is dying so that you may live?
After the terror attack in Halamish that took the life of Elad, his sister Chaya and his father Yosef, I felt plagued with the thought: Why do horrible things happen to good people?
No one can really answer this age-old question. The only thing I know for sure is that it is the good people who teach me the most. It is the contrast between the horror and their goodness that provides ultra-clear, unavoidable insights. It is the good people who, by their example, push me to be better.
Niv battled heroically to achieve what most people take for granted. All he wanted was to finish his day at work and go home to his family. He wanted to LIVE. As a Nation, watching, I think most people felt admiration for him and, at the same time, horror that he was in the battle alone. We have come to take for granted that there will always be someone to step in and help. We know that it is the right thing to do, have seen it time and time again. But it is not to be taken for granted. It is something that we need to make sure happens next time – because there will be a next time.
If a woman battling cancer can look for the positive, can express herself in a way that evokes empathy (not pity) and bring light and happiness into the world when she feels terrible (and at minimum must be terribly worried), who am I to complain about my “aches and pains”? Why can’t I turn my struggles into something positive that brings others, even strangers together? Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we were all more like her?
And the Salomon family? Elad, like other Israelis before him, sacrificed his light so that the light of those he loved could continue to shine. Growing up without a father is a terrible thing. At the same time, how many of us have such a powerful model for what love is? How would it change you as a human being, how would it shape your life, to know that your father died so that you could live? What does would this teach you about responsibility? About handling problems? About being a part of your family? Your community?
Can there be a more powerful lesson?
My Shabbat candles remind me to focus on light – my own, that of my family, my nation, the world. Am I doing everything I can to be a light for others?
Each of us is but a small flame but together, just maybe, we can light up the world.