Ask the Rabbi

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • Havdalah

Holding up hands/finger nails to candle


Rabbi David Sperling

Nisan 13, 5775
Dear Rabbi, Can you explain the proper procedure of what one when should do when showing finger nails to the candle? Is it sufficent to just point hands towards the candle?
Shalom, Thank you for your question. The custom, on saying the blessing over the light, is to make use of it by looking at the palm and finger nails of one's hands – and some people look only at the right hand, while holding the havdalah cup in the left. Some bend the fingers over into the hand, so that they see the finger nails and the palm at the same time. One should not stretch out the fingers and look at their palm side, but should specifically look at their backs, where the finger nails are. Some have the custom of bending the fingers over into the hand and then straightening them and looking at their backs. The reason for all of this is that the blessing over the light must be made on a candle that is bright enough to distinguish coins by. In order to check this we look at the fingernails and see if the light is bright enough to see the difference between the nail and the flesh. The nails are also a symbol of blessing, in that they constantly grow. Also the lines on the palm of the hand are also a sign of blessing. Many people do all of this after the blessing (and that is the opinion of Rav Moshe Feinstein zt"l). However, my Rabbi and teacher, Rav Y.H. Henkin shlitah rules that one should first use the light by looking at their fingernails, and only afterwards say the blessing. Failure to comply with any of these customs does not invalidate the blessing and, so long as one enjoys the benefit of the light, one may recite the blessing over it. (Based largely on Shmirat Shabbat 61,35, see also the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Haim, 298,3 and the Mishna Brurah there). May you be blessed with much light and holiness.
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