Welcoming the Queen

Question

I have noticed the custom that when ladies light candles Friday afternoon they wave their hands in front of their eyes before they cover their eyes. What is the reason and source of this custom to wave before making the blessing? Thanking the Rabbi in advance.

, , 7 months

Answers

  1. This custom of a Jewish woman waving her hands in a welcoming gesture while lighting Shabbat candles is perhaps one of the most vivid scenes etched into the mind of any Jew who has witnessed this act. This is true whether one has seen candle lighting done by his mother, grandmother, wife or virtually anyone.

    Your question has two parts: 1) Covering the eyes after lighting; 2) Waving the hands in front of the eyes before reciting the blessing for lighting the candles.

    1) The basic idea for closing and covering the eyes is in order to show that you are not accepting Shabbat immediately when lighting the candles. What is desired is to light the candles before Shabbat, and then see the light of the candles only when it is already Shabbat. Therefore, if you cover your eyes after lighting, and accept Shabbat when making the proper blessing, you will benefit from the Shabbat candles only after lighting and saying the proper blessing — when you have already welcomed the arrival of Shabbat.

    2) Why wave your hands before saying the blessing? One reason I have seen for this custom is so that the hands will block the light from the candles from reaching the eyes in case they are open or slightly open (or if the person has thin eyelids!). The custom is to wave hands in a welcoming manner three times while saying the words “Bo’ee Kallah” — “Welcome Queen Shabbat” — three times, once with each welcoming wave. In fact, this is another reason for waving the hands while lighting candles, besides the reason of blocking the light until after saying the blessing. Waving one’s hands in this manner is an act of welcoming the Shabbat Queen.

    The time of candle lighting is a very personal and auspicious time, a time that is appropriate for expressing one’s innermost feelings. It’s a special time to recite individual and personal prayers.

    In addition, there is another custom that some have that I find quite beautiful: Many women put some charity coins into a household tzedakah box before lighting the Shabbat candles.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team