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Candle Lighting

 

When we first moved into the new apartment, back in May of 2013, I promised myself a set of candle sticks for Friday night candle lighting. Usually I’m at synagogue for Friday night services and they light Shabbat candles for us there, but I thought it would be a milestone to light my own candles again.

Traditional Shabbat Candles (not my picture)

Traditional Shabbat Candles (not my picture)

I looked in a few brick and mortar stores, while we were looking for other things we needed, like shelving and couches and tables and other little things like that. But I couldn’t find anything. The ensuing online search was extensive, but I eventually found a set of candlesticks that I liked very much. And then I found out that the online store that advertised the special candlesticks had gone out of business, just leaving the web page up to taunt me. When the special candlesticks disappeared, I lost my nerve.

Candlesticks with attitude. Eek!

Candlesticks with attitude. Eek!

I used to be clumsy, or distracted, and sometimes I still am. I have memories of dropping lit matches into full garbage cans, dropping lit candles onto counter tops, setting tablecloths on fire, etc. My fingers would get numb and shaky in the presence of fire, and not act the way I’d trained them to.

Don't worry, that's just my house burning down.

Don’t worry, that’s just my house burning down.

I used to light the Shabbat candles in our house growing up. I’m not sure why my mom didn’t want to light the candles, maybe it was her way of rebelling against my father’s obsession with becoming more and more religious. So it became my job, and I didn’t feel like I could say no.

The fat white Shabbat candles never sat still in their candle holders, so I had to melt the bottoms a bit to make them stick in place. Lighting the wooden matches always made me anxious. If the strip on the box had started to wear down, because we got those huge boxes instead of pocket sized, I’d have to light the candle from the stove, and then worry about doing something ritually wrong by turning off the flame on the stove after the official Shabbat candles were lit.

I hated that fear of doing it wrong. I hated feeling like someone was watching me, just waiting to yell “Gotcha!”

There’s something universal about candles, in all religions, despite electric light being ubiquitous. The flickering, temperamental quality of candle light, or the heat or temporariness of it, seems to add meaning. The Sabbath is a day of rest, a day to stop doing things the way you always do them and be more conscious and aware, of your family, of nature, of love and joy. It’s a time to remind yourself that there’s more to life than work. I wonder if the flame of the candles is, in part, a symbol of how dangerous that rest day maybe be, or may feel, when you stop rushing around and start to really experience your life. There are a lot of shadows hiding behind our busy lives, and the light of the candles may illuminate them in a way we are afraid to face.

If I could make this ritual work for me, I’d want to light four candles: one for me, one for Mom, and one for each of the dogs. But I keep seeing the dogs getting burned and the apartment going up in flames.

There’s a custom in orthodox Jewish homes, and maybe in more liberal Jewish homes now too, of blessing each child on Friday night as part of the ritual of the Sabbath. I knew a family with six kids who did this, and it was a lovely thing to see. Each child went up to their father, in age order, and he closed his eyes and put his hands over the child’s head and said a blessing, including a special wish for each child.

Maybe I could adapt this ritual for my dogs, instead of doing candle lighting, and come up with a prayer to say for them once a week. Just the act of resting hands on their heads would have a calming effect. I could wish them good sleep, good poops, and exciting things to sniff.

"Go ahead, Mommy. I dare you to bless me." (That would be Cricket.)

“Go ahead, Mommy. I dare you to bless me.” (That would be Cricket, on the right.)

And eventually, maybe, I’ll find another set of candle sticks that captures my imagination and help me over the hump. And maybe a fire retardant table cloth to put under them wouldn’t hurt.

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About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

57 responses »

  1. Rachel–this is so pretty. I never thought of the flame having any meaning, but I love thinking that it does. The blessing of the dogs–lovely. My church has a blessing of the animals around the feast day of St Francis, but I think a weekly blessing is even better than yearly. Yes, that would include Cricket. What a cutie. 🙂

    Reply
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  3. Yours is the first post I read after Shabbos- how perfect. So beautifully written. The candles I use start out as wax, but turn to oil- they are lovely to watch burn. Our dogs used to sit on either side of my husband patiently waiting through Kiddush Friday night for the Challah they knew was coming! Have a Shavua Tov- a Gute Voch-a good week! 🙂

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  4. I love the idea of wishing our dogs good sleep, good poop and good sniffing. I would add good eats and I think our dogs would be in paradise. 🙂

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    • Butterfly is convinced that the workmen next door left a piece of bread for her in the hedges, with the cigarette butts, and she spends every waking hour trying to get me to take her outside for a new search. So I’m holding off on the good food wishes, until we can agree on what we mean by “good.”

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  5. Beautiful story Rachel … and educational for me too 🙂 Thanks for sharing it … I loved it! I almost thought I wasn’t going to see your doggies in this post. Happy to see they showed up!

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  6. You’ve inspired me. Although I am not Jewish, I’m going to light a scented candle right now. I also realize that when I announce to Marcel, Marceau, & Marble “It’s Friday night!” each week I am blessing them in a way

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  7. love candle, I need to plan a similar ritual for my family at home with me: husband, Shi Tzu and Labradoodle. Thanks you have inspired me.

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    • I’ve actually seen candlesticks that come with one low and one high platform thingy, so that could be perfect for the two puppies. I was amazed by all the different temperaments in candlestick pairs to match all of the different people who need candles to light them home.

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  8. I love that tradition of blessings. Thanks for sharing.

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  9. What’s wrong with electric candles? If the dogs bump into them, they won’t start the house on fire. OK, the aesthetics aren’t there, but it’s safe for all and it’s the thought that counts.

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  10. That is such a sweet post! And I can so identify. I have been in a house that caught on fire, and it makes quite an impression. A few ideas for you:

    Instead of a “fireproof tablecloth” you can put the candles on a metal tray. That’s what I do, and since I use short candles in short holders, even if one fell over, there is nothing but metal to burn.

    Alternatively, you can put them on a nice piece of aluminum foil.

    Also, you can light using one of those gas gizmos they sell for lighting the fires in barbecue grills. Then there is no striking, no wandering around with matches, and all you do is pull a trigger to light the flames.

    But I love love love the idea of blessing the dogs!!!!! You have set my wheels to-turning! Thank you for ideas for at least a couple of blog posts!

    And “Shavua tov” – have a good week!

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    • Shavuah Tov! I love that there are practical answers to my fumbling fingers. What I’ve found from reading so many wonderful dog blogs is that the more we love and care for our dogs, the more likely we are to share that good stuff with the people we meet. Blessings grow geometrically!

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  11. I love your wishes for the girls, Rachel. How sweet and funny all at the same time. Also, I can’t use matches or lighters to save my life. I always burn my nails in the process (my nails are not even long!) and have long since given up. I can only use kitchen lighters since those have the long necks and my fingers are nowhere near the flame. 😀

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  12. I am not religious, but found your post charming. I light candles for our loved ones though.

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    • Thank you! I don’t think you have to be religious to have rituals, in fact, sometimes it helps to not be connected to any particular group, so you can find what’s really meaningful to you.

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  13. I love the thought of blessing the dogs. Bless you!

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  14. lovely story…dear Rachel …an overseas hint – try LED candles – …riskless 4 cats & dogs
    maybe 4 beloved moms too …:-)))

    have a good sunday + upcoming week…

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  15. Many thanks for such a great post. I think it’s a wonderful custom to bless every child on friday night. I think we will do it once a week too.

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    • I remember watching that ritual at my friends’ houses, with the kids lining up to get their blessings. It was a powerful thing to watch. Then, of course, everything went back to normal, with one kid beating up another and yelling and fighting and crying, but for that one moment, peace.

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  16. This is a beautiful offering. I am sorry you could not find those candles but I like the picture of them. Yes! I think especially Butterfly would be grateful for a blessing, that whether she does or not (and I hope she does) run flat-out again she will know you wish it for her. There is something sacred about a candle flame. I share your feeling about fire, though. Very healthy respect for it!

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  17. I light a flame too every night. Yes it universal… Some of us use incense sticks…. Beautiful piece…

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  18. greyzoned/angelsbark

    This is so beautiful Rachel! Outstanding! And these two lines: ” There are a lot of shadows hiding behind our busy lives, and the light of the candles may illuminate them in a way we are afraid to face.”:: BRILLIANT!!! Love, love, love. And yes, please DO the weekly blessings for your dogs. That’s a very special and sacred moment that you all could share and it will bring so much spirituality to your relationship with them. What a great idea!!! I love it. And best of luck finding your perfect candles. I know how frustrating it can be when you just can’t find what you want and how you want it. Life! 🙂

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  19. Rachel – You are not alone… Growing up we had a menorah that was so poorly designed we couldn’t leave it unattended for a minute, the candle meltdown was so rapid and so complete. One night during Hanukah, my parents were going out and forbid us (and the babysitter) from lighting candles while they were gone. Did we listen? Of course not. We lit the candles, scampered off, and a half hour later all smelled something burning: the buffet! Many lessons learned that night, though amazingly, we’ve still got that same menorah.

    A very sweet story. (And thanks for visiting my blog!)

    Janet Amateau

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    • Chanukah candles are too tempting to leave unlit, the parents should have known this. I mean, really, all those colors, and adding a new one every day, and the essential connection between a new candle and new presents…. Ridiculous parents!

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  20. For some people a silent mind is terrifying because of all the demons that crawl out of the shadows. I used to be like this, I used to fill my mind and my days to stay busy, to not think about the things that bothered me. I couldn’t even drive on my own, I was so scared of the silence.

    It takes a lot of work to be comfortable with oneself. Your metaphor of the Shabbat flame illuminating the demons that lurk beneath the surface was exquisite.

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  21. Another lovely post, rich in meaning. 🙂

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  22. I like the idea of blessing each pup – what a lovely thing to do!

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  23. I light tealights. They don’t fall… but then you still have the match. An aluminum plate or foil should take care of that – like someone already wrote earlier. Great idea to bless your dogs! Great blog!

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  24. Lighting candles is one of my favorite things to do!

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  25. Another wee look and reading to your sublime post ; I had commented on that,but my comments were received as spams and they were not posted,Sorry about that,it was not my fault.Now,Akismet has fixed it.Nothing can replace the warmth of the candle lighting …
    So symbolic and heartwarming !!! All the very best, Doda 🙂

    Reply

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