Flame Extinguisher

Question

I would like to ask the rabbi a question. I was at a birthday party recently and the hostess insisted that the birthday boy not blow out the candles. Rather, she put them out by hand. Is there any basis to this practice? And, if so, what’s the difference between blowing out a candle and extinguishing it by hand? Thanks!

, , 3 weeks

Answers

  1. I have heard three reasons not to extinguish a flame by blowing it out. One is a basic, common sense reason. A second reason is a symbolic one, and a third is based on Kabbalah.

    The “common sense” reason is one I heard from a medical doctor. He said that perhaps the most common reason is to avoid germs when blowing out the flame. This is especially true for a birthday child’s candles, when blowing out the candles might likely spread infection by blowing on the cake! More often than not there is more saliva than air expended in the act of blowing out a candle!

    Another explanation that is profoundly symbolic: The Torah depicts man’s soul as being a “breath” from God. The Torah also compares the soul to a flame. Therefore, using your breath to blow out a candle is an ironic gesture, using one “soul” to extinguish another.

    A Kabbalistic reason for not extinguishing flames by blowing has been said in the name of Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky, famously know as the Steipler: There’s an angel whose name is the same as the sound produced when you blow out with force. According to Kabbalistic tradition, it’s improper to make use of the names of holy angels. Many people, therefore, extinguish candles by hand in order not to pronounce the name of this angel.

    So how should a candle’s flame be extinguished? The custom for putting out the havdala candle that’s used after Shabbat is to dip it into a small amount of wine from the Havdala service. In general, a flame can be put out by hand if one is very careful.

    I know a rabbi who puts out candles by saying the word “Purim” forcefully, emphasizing the letter P. And a friend of mine saw his Kung Fu instructor put out a candle by punching it! Readers are invited to share with us their own suggestions.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team