Shabbat Candles: Some Women's Customs

What are the customs that shape this tradition?

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Symbolism

Indeed, once one lights a certain number as a norm, one should continue lighting that number and not light less. Lighting two candles has several meanings. The two candles represent the two versions of the biblical commandment, “to remember the Shabbat “and to “keep the Shabbat,” or, according to Kabbalah, the masculine and feminine aspects of God’s creation; some early sources suggested that one candle is to illuminate the home and the other to honor Shabbat.

Some women light more than two candles. Some mothers light one candle for every member of the family. Some light six to represent the days of the week leading up to Shabbat, and others light seven corresponding to all the days of the week. The ten wicks on the ceramic Libyan Sabbath lamp were said to represent the Ten Commandments; others light 12 lights representing the 12 tribes.

There is a practice that if one forgets to light candles on any Friday evening, one should increase the number of candles ever after. Yet, this practice seems to relate to the notion of candle lighting as a punishment or as a rectification--hardly to the joy and feeling of specialness that most women feel when lighting.

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