Blessing are You, King of the Universe, who has created the lights of the fire.

The lighting of fire, a forbidden act on Shabbat, is a natural way to mark the ending of the day of rest. A more spiritual explanation is offered in the Talmud, one which associates light with the new week which is about to begin, as light was created on the first day. Jose, the pupil of Rabbi Akiba relates: "Fire was one of the things God had left uncreated when Sabbath set in; but after the close of the Sabbath, God endowed man with divine wisdom. Man then took two stones, and by grinding them together produced fire; after which he recited the benediction: 'Blessed be He who creates the lights of the fire'" [1] When the Sabbath ends, man celebrates the renewal of creation, which began on the first day by emulating God's acting of creating light.

Other sources introduce an element of fear as the catalyst for Adam's creation of fire and for the resultant benediction:

"The light which God created on the first day lit up the world for man from the time he was created until the sunset of the following day, when the darkness surrounding him filled him with dread and the fear that the tempting serpent would altogether overpower him. Then God furnished him with two bricks, which he rubbed together until fire was produced; whereupon he recited a benediction over the fire: "Blessed are You, O God, who created the lights of the fire." [2]

This midrash is also linked to a discussion among the Rabbis whether it was preferable to recite the benediction over a light produced by friction between pieces of wood or stone, or over a light that had been burning before; there were those who found a blazing, torch-like light most appropriate. [3]

In a parallel midrash, God sent Adam a pillar of fire to illuminate and protect him. Rejoicing, Adam put forth his hands to the lights of the fire and recited, "Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who creates the lights of the fire." After removing his hands he recited the Havdalah benediction blessing the separation of the holy day from the weekday. [4]

When pronouncing the blessing over the lights during the Havdalah ceremony, it is customary to look at one's fingernails or at the lines on one's palms. The most practical explanation is the Rabbinic tradition that one does not recite a benediction over lights unless one derives some advantage from them: En mevarkhin 'al ha-ner 'ad she-ye'otu le-oro. [5] The above midrash, however, has become a common and beautiful explanation for this custom.

The blessing refers to the lights in plural: borei me'orei ha-esh (He who creates the lights of fire. For this reason, a special braided candle is used with at least two wicks, giving two or more lights. Many use candles with six wicks, symbolic of the six days of the week. At the conclusion of a festival that does not fall on the Sabbath, the spices and flame are omitted.



[1] Pes. 53b; 54a
[2] Pesahim 54; Genesis Rabbah xi
[3] Ber. 52b; Pes. 54a; Pes. 8a).
[4] Pirkei R. Eliezer xx
[5] Ber. 53b

Topic of the Month: FIRE



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