We welcome Shabbat into our homes through the act of lighting candles. When we walk into a dark room and switch on the light, we have not changed anything in the room, but we have changed our capacity to see what was already there. Shabbat is a day in which we look at the world in a different light. Shabbat is a day to stop and marvel at the wonder of God’s magnificent creations and to focus on the depth and goodness of others. By lighting candles we therefore make a symbolic and physical differentiation between an ordinary day and Shabbat as well as a making powerful statement about what Shabbat is.
Candle-lighting has a particular historical resonance too. Candle lighting was first legislated by the Rabbis of the Mishnaic period in the Land of Israel, around 1,900 years ago. Providing light at night was difficult and relatively rare, so most nights were spent in darkness. Having Shabbat lights truly made Shabbat stand out from the rest of the week.
Another aim of lighting Shabbat candles is to cultivate shalom bayit (peace in the home), through light. For thousands of years the Shabbat candles brought warmth and light. They offered a chance to see things anew, both literally and figuratively. To this day they usher in the peace, warmth, love and light of the precious day that is Shabbat.
This video demonstrates the beauty of Shabbat candles being lit across the Jewish world.