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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Chayei Sara

Parshat Chayei Sarah

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A candle burning from Shabbat to Shabbat

Towards the end of the Parsha, Isaac brings Rebecca to Sarah’s tent (Genesis 24:67):

And Isaac brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother; he married Rebecca, she became his wife, and he loved her; and thus was Isaac consoled after his mother.

Rashi explains:

"Into the tent of Sarah his mother" – he brought her into the tent and she was Sarah his mother, in other words, she became the image of Sarah his mother. As long as Sarah was alive the candle would burn from erev Shabbat to erev Shabbat, and blessing was found in the dough, and a cloud hovered over the tent. Upon Sarah’s passing, this stopped, but was resumed when Rebecca came into the tent.

By Sarah the candle burned from Shabbat to Shabbat. What is the significance? The Meor Veshemesh (Deutoronomy, remazim of second day of Succoth) explains it nicely:

"And it was seen": To indicate that it is known that G-d gave us the Shabbat for resting and festivals for rejoicing, to remind the Nation of Israel of G-d, and in order for the Jewish people to have free time and thereby extend the light of holiness during the weekdays, and to prepare themselves from one Shabbat to the next…

This is the explanation of our Sages’ statement, as explained by Rashi, that as long as Sarah was alive the candle would burn from erev Shabbat to the next. This would indicate that she extended the light of holiness from one Shabbat to the next Shabbat.

The essence of Shabbat is to connect between the holy and the secular. The candle which burns from Shabbat to Shabbat – symbolizes the connection between Shabbat and Shabbat, and the connection of all the weekdays in between. Sarah performed an act on erev Shabbat, which extended into the weekdays.

By us, the light goes out after Shabbat, however, the act of lighting the candle is done before Shabbat. By us too, in the candle lighting, which is done close to Shabbat, there is the initial connection between the secular and the holy. This is strongly expressed through the custom that many Jewish women have of covering the eyes, saying the blessing and opening the eyes. The lighting – is done on weekday (for the holy), and that same light – immediately becomes holy through the blessing. Suddenly, we open our eyes – and that same light that was a secular light, becomes a holy light!

However, there is another element. By Sarah, and later by Rebecca, the candle burned from Shabbat to Shabbat. What does this remind us of? This reminds us of the Temple, the Ner Tamid (Eternal light) which would miraculously burn the whole night and the whole day until the evening (see Nachmanides Exodus 27:20; Ritva Shabbat 22a; as opposed to Rashi in Exodus ibid.). This was the special miracle of the Temple light (and the showbread – from Shabbat to Shabbat – see Mishna Manchot 11:7) and this was the special miracle performed by Sarah – the candle burning from Shabbat to Shabbat.

From here we learn that the Shabbat candles are, in a way, representative of the Temple candles. This parallel can be seen in the Gemarra in Shabbat 21a:

Rami bar Chama taught: The wicks and oils which our Sages said we do not use for Shabbat lights – we also do not use for the Temple lights, since it says to kindle a lamp continually. He taught and he explained: the flame must ascend of itself and not through another means.

The Shabbat candles parallel the Temple candles[i]. The essence of the candle is to carry G-d’s light to the world. Therefore we need to use a good wick, and we need to hold the kindling candle until the fire catches the flame and the flame ascends on its own accord, without needing to be fixed or adjusted later (Rashi, Shabbat 21a). So too must the light of Shabbat enter our souls, to be natural and shine on its own, "that the flame ascends on its own".

There is a wonderful connection here between a secular world and a holy world, between a world of sanctifying time (Shabbat) and a world of sanctifying location (the Temple).

All of these, the women merit to do, thereby making her house on Shabbat into a miniature Temple. And so it is written in the Tikkunei Hazohar (Tikkun 24):

A woman should prepare the candle for Shabbat night to the right, and it will be considered as if she prepared the Menorah in the South [in the Temple] and the showbread Table in the North…the angels who come down with the Divine Presence say: this is not a lowly place, rather this is a place which finds favor before G-d.

Women merit making their house on Shabbat into a dwelling place for G-d; to bring the Divine light into their house! This we have learned from Sarah and Rebecca, and Jewish women merit doing this every Shabbat – to bring the Divine Presence into our homes, to make the secular world in which we were dwelling heretofore into a holy world!

[i]The Shela (Shabbat, Torah Ohr 29) even wrote that there are those who have the custom of lighting seven candles to represent the seven candles in the Menorah (and there are those who have this custom to symbolize the seven days of the week according to the Ari).
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