The Unknown Mitzvah of Looking at Shabbos Candles


    NEW YORK (Rabbi Yair Hoffman

    For some reason, the Mitzvah or custom of looking at the Shabbos candles (See Ramah in Shulchan Aruch 271:10) is not so well known.

    There are three reasons that are cited for this custom.  The first reason discussed in the Maharil (Hilchos Shabbos 202) is that the Gematria of Ner is 250 – if we double that (for two candles), we get 500 and this is a cure for psi’ah gassah – taking large steps – indicative of excess haughtiness.  Psi’ah gassah, according to the Gemorah in Brachos (43b) removes 1/500th of a person’s sight.  The Ramah in his Darchei Moshe cites another sefer – Saichel Tov which brings an additional reason – the number 500 is equivalent to the total number of limbs of a man and a woman.  There is a third reason cited in Saichel Tov in the name of the Maharash.  Looking at the Shabbos candles allows him to concentrate better.

    The second reason seems to be a bit strange.  What difference does it make if the Gematria is equivalent to the total number of limbs of a man and woman?  Also, why does the Darchei Moshe only mention that the Saichel Tov brings another reason – but doesn’t state what the reason is?  Also, the Ramah in his Darchei Moshe points out that one should look at the cup of wine.  He answers that one can look at both, but still – doesn’t it disturb one’s concentration when one looks at two different items?  Shouldn’t a person just concentrate on one thing?

    I would like to suggest perhaps that all three reasons in the Saichel Tov are inter-connected with each other and that there is a profound message in his words.  But before we get to this idea, let’s ask two more questions:

    1. The Gemorah in Shabbos 23b states in the name of Rav Huna that one who is ragil – who is accustomed to Ner (Rashi – the Shabbos lamps) receives children who are Talmidei Chachomim. Why the word “accustomed?”  Wouldn’t the term “hazahir” – one who is careful – be more appropriate?    None other than the Maharsha himself poses this question.


    1. Also, why is it that his children become Talmidei Chachomim? Why not him?

    It is possible to resolve all five questions with one idea.  One of the greatest causes of marital discord on the husband’s side is a particular form of haughtiness called narcissism.  Looking at the Shabbos candles and contemplating the fact that the limbs of a husband and wife add up to 500 forces the man to consider the consequences of not addressing or controlling his psiya gasa – his step of haughtiness – his narcissism.

    Focusing on the idea of the man and the woman complete to form 500 – will enable him to focus on his growth – connecting to both Hashem with dveikus and connecting to his wife a la the verse, “v’davak b’ishto.  He needs to do this in addition to focusing on the Kiddush itself.

    When one has marital harmony – that is a recipe for well-adjusted children, who can now flower into Talmidei Chachomim.

    Why the term ragil – accustomed?  The answer is that the Hebrew word “zahir” means to be careful to do it, but we need more here.  We need the person to contemplate it on a regular basis – to be accustomed to focus on the need for marital harmony (the sum of the limbs of both man and wife) and the need to eliminate narcissism.  I is not merely a Mitzvah that is performed and forgotten about.  It is a constant and steady reminder of taking care of the garden that is our marriage.

    May the custom of looking at the Shabbos candles enable us all to live in shalom and to creat well-adjusted children. Amain.

    The author can be reached at [email protected]

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    1. “psi’ah gassah – taking large steps – indicative of excess haughtiness.”

      I was under the impression that the issue with פסיעה גסה was rushing, hastiness, a deficiency in being calm and measured.

      Interesting pshetl, but not sure it fits, as per above. Maybe much of it could still be salvaged if above is correct, with some adjustment.

    2. With all due respect, whn=en is this mitzvah? When we bentch licht? looking at the licht when one makes kiddush? at any p[oint after tzais hakochavim to be yotzay the mi
      tzvah of lighting candles?

    3. This author provides a refreshing breadth of wisdom to the discussion of a subject. Every article is well referenced, and permits the interested reader to research the subject by examining the sources. It is not aout using a public forum to pasken a shailoh.

      This approach is welcome in our community, and is too often bypassed for specific piskei halacha that are easily misapplied. I am personally grateful for these articles.


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