This piece provides a mystical explanation of the Shabbat candle lighting ritual, applying ancient Kabbalistic concepts in a way that is relevant for modern Jews. Written by Rabbi Goldie Milgram, a self-described “postdenominational, or reconformadox” rabbi and teacher, this excerpt comes from her book, “Reclaiming Judaism as a Spiritual Practice: Holy Days and Shabbat,” a guide to Jewish holidays and Shabbat, designed to restore the soul of the tradition through a variety of Jewish practices.
The Mystical Meaning within the Candles
Inspired by the creation, the Kabbalists sought to live the first six days of the week, as active participants in the world and creation’s unfolding.
But on the seventh day, they would refrain from their normal activities, seeking to become full participants of that day’s “Cosmic Wedding” – the union of Hashem and creation.
As 21st century Jews, we can find a meaningful connection to this concept. Let us take a closer look.
The Shabbat candles are lit eighteen minutes before sundown on Friday night, and there is a spiritual meaning to this as well. As every Hebrew letter has a numerical equivalent, in our search for meaning let’s look at the numbers.
The Hebrew letters yud and chet together, stand for the number eighteen – as numbers in Hebrew are represented by letters, each of which has been assigned a numerical value.
These letters yud and chet, often have their order switched, when appearing together as standing for a number, and appear as chai.Chai itself has dual meaning, as chai in Hebrew also means “life”.
Because Shabbat is a time for the renewal of the soul – a giving of new life – we are given an additional eighteen minutes to accomplish this transformation.
Shabbat begins with the lighting and blessing of two candles. According to spiritual tradition, each candle represents a different state of consciousness.
The first candle represents what is known by the Kabbalists as Shechinah consciousness – the nurturing quality which fills the activities of daily life with compassion and connection.
Unfortunately, this “Shechinah consciousness” is subject to six days of wear and tear.
The second candle represents Kodesh Boruch Hu consciousness – remembrance that you are a part of the great eternal flow of Being that is the cosmos. The Kabbalists referred to this as Melech – “King.”
A sacred phrase is recited before the lighting of the Shabbat candles, l’shem yihud Kudsheh Brikh Hu u’Shehinteh, which means “for the sake of the unification of the Holy One Blessed be He – referring to the King – and His Shechinah.”
This phrase is recited because on Shabbat we seek to experience this union, as seen in the two candles, when together on Shabbat, have their healing effects in the world and on the heart and soul.
By looking at Shabbat as a “Cosmic Wedding,” like the Kabbalists, we are able to see Shabbat as a time filled with spiritual meaning, and our celebration of Shabbat as a spiritual practice.
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