Dear Rabbi, When lighting yom tov candles on the second day, why do we make the bracha after lighting the candles? As we are lighting from a pre existing flame, surely we could make the brahca and then proceed to light the candles?
Shalom, Thank you for your question. You have highlighted a wonderful halacha – allow me to explain. Generally we say a blessing before doing a mitzvah – we bless before we blow the shofar, before we shake the lulav, put on tefillin, and so on. However there are several notable exceptions – one being lighting Shabbat candles (the other is hand washing, but perhaps we can leave that for another time). The reason for this is that women generally accept Shabbat together with lighting the candles. If so, how could they say a blessing "to light the Shabbat candles" and then strike a match or light a candle! Once Shabbat has been accepted by reciting the blessing it is forbidden to light a flame. So, we are forced to light the candles first (before accepting Shabbat), and only then say the blessing that ushers in Shabbat. This though creates another problem – how can we say a blessing after we have finished lighting the candles? The law is that blessing must be said before doing the mitzvah. To cope with this problem, the woman lights the candles, then covers her eyes with her hands, so as not to benefit from the candles, then recites the blessing, after which she uncovers her eyes, and benefits from the light. The blessing has thus been recited, albeit after the act of lighting, but before the candles are benefited from, and thus the blessing was considered as before the mitzvah. (All this is the standard ruling for Ashkenazi Jews – many Serphardi Jews follow a different ruling). This brings us to lighting Yom Tov candles. On Yom Tov one is allowed transfer a flame. This being so, one is allowed to recite the blessing over the Yom Tov candles, then immediately transfer a flame from an existing candle, and light the candles (being careful not to put out the match used to transfer the flame – just put it down to burn itself out). In this way one follows the normal law of reciting the blessing before performing the mitzvah, and does not have to resort to any special procedures as one does on Shabbat. In fact, this ruling (which can be found in the Mishna Brurah 263, 27) is based on the teachings of the wife of the Drisha (Joshua ben Alexander HaCohen Falk (1555–1614)) who is quoted (proudly) by her son for pointing out this law, and the fact that many women mistakenly do not light in this way on Yom Tov. Based on this, not only on the second night of Yom Tov, but even on the first night (as long as Yom Tov does not fall on Shabbat when transferring flame is forbidden), one should light the match (by striking it if it is not yet Yom Tov, or touching it to an existing flame if it is already Yom Tov [such as on seond day, or directly after Shabbat]), say the blessing and then light the candles. The match should then be placed down to burn itself out. The eyes do not need to be covered as one does on Shabbat. There are those who do not follow this ruling, and light Yom Tov candles in the same way as Shabbat candles (i.e. first lighting the candles, covering the eyes, then reciting the blessing after which they uncover their eyes). This is based on the idea that one should follow a standard practice whenever lighting candles, be it Shabbat or Yom Tov (see the Mishna Brurah ibid). I hope this is of some help to you – Blessings.