On January 1, 2000, the New York Times published a special Millennium Edition. This unique issue featured three distinctive front pages, each offering a fascinating glimpse into a different millennium. The first front page transported readers back to January 1, 1900. The second front page captured the actual news of the day, January 1, 2000, a momentous occasion in its own right. However, what truly captured the imagination was the third front page, a projection into the envisioned future of January 1, 2100. Amidst all the thought-provoking articles and imaginative storytelling on this page, such as whether or not robots should be allowed to vote, there was one remarkable detail that stood out—the Sabbath candle-lighting time in New York for January 1, 2100. When asked about this unusual inclusion, the New York Times’ production manager, an Irish Catholic, offered an insightful response that resonates with the enduring nature of Jewish tradition. He stated, “We don’t know what will happen in the year 2100. It is impossible to predict the future. But of one thing you can be certain—that in the year 2100 Jewish women will be lighting Shabbat candles.”
Every Friday evening, as the sun is about to set, Jewish women all over the world light candles. Why do we light candles as we welcome the Sabbath? What significance does this age-old tradition hold?
Shabbat, at its core, is a celebration of creation and of God as the Creator, as it says in Exodus 20:11
For in six days Hashem made heaven and earth and sea—and all that is in them—and then rested on the seventh day; therefore Hashem blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.
Shabbat serves as a reminder that God alone is the ultimate architect of the universe, and therefore He is the one and only true God.
Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar, a biblical commentator known as the Ohr Hachayim, explains that lighting the candles is the very first commandment fulfilled each Sabbath, because the very first thing that God created was light. The act of kindling Shabbat candles, therefore, symbolizes the rekindling of this primordial light.
Rashi, the renowned Torah commentator, explains that the reason for the command to light the Sabbath candles is that it promotes peace within our households. Without light, there can be no peace, as people would constantly stumble and struggle to navigate in the darkness. Thus, the act of lighting candles not only brings physical light into our homes but also fosters an environment of peace and harmony.
In our troubled times, marked by conflicts and strife, the act of lighting Shabbat candles takes on added significance. It reminds us that the light we kindle within our homes, and the peace and harmony we create, can radiate outward, touching the hearts of those far beyond our walls.
In the face of the ongoing war and uncertainty, may the merit of our Shabbat candles spread light and peace to the world. May it remind all of mankind that the Lord is the Creator and the one true God, unifying humanity and illuminating the path to a more peaceful and harmonious world.