By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
If a woman is lighting more than one light for Shabbos, why does she recite “L’hadlik ner shel Shabbos”? Ner is the singular form. Shouldn’t the correct text be l’hadlik neiros? The Pri Megadim says that it is proper that no matter how many neiros a woman lights, she should always recite “ner shel Shabbos.” This is because the mitzvah of Shabbos lights is fulfilled by lighting just one. Indeed, the Mishnah Berurah writes that one who has very limited funds should light only one, and spend the rest of the money on appropriate Shabbos food.
Why is it universally accepted to light more than one light for Shabbos?
Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai and his son hid in a cave for many years to escape the death penalty decreed by the Roman government. Upon exiting (the second time) they witnessed an elderly man carrying two bundles of myrtles. They inquired of him as to the purpose of the twigs. The man replied that they were to be used as smelling spices on Shabbos. Whereupon Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai and his son asked, “Wouldn’t one bundle of myrtles suffice?”
The man responded, “One corresponds to ‘zachor’ and one corresponds to ‘shamor.’” The Aseres HaDibros in Sh’mos have the fifth commandment recorded as “Zachor es Yom HaShabbos.” In Devarim the text is “Shamor es Yom HaShabbos.” Indeed, our sages tell us that the words zachor and shamor were said simultaneously. After hearing the man’s explanation, Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai exclaimed, “See how precious the mitzvos are to the Jewish people!”
The sefer Lishmoa Bilimudim explains that one could have assumed that the elderly man’s intention in preparing spices was solely to fulfill his own desires of smelling pleasant aromas. However, the two bundles proved that his intention was to honor Shabbos. To fulfill his own desires, one bundle would have sufficed. That is why Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai exclaimed, “See how precious the mitzvos are to the Jewish people!” only after hearing the man’s explanation for the two bundles. The Ravyah explains that the same idea applies to Shabbos neiros. Although one ner alone would suffice to provide illumination, we light more to demonstrate that our intentions are to honor Shabbos. Moreover, lighting two represents ‘zachor’ and ‘shamor.’
The Shulchan Aruch writes that some are particular to light exactly two neiros, one for ‘shamor’ and one for ‘zachor.’ The Rema writes that one can light more than two neiros and still not lose the symbolism of the number two. He says that, as a rule, one can always add to a number of items that correspond to a significant number. If one lights five neiros, she has really lit two plus three. If one wanted to give $18 to tzedakah corresponding to chai, he can give $20 to achieve this symbolism, as 20 is 18 plus 2.
Still, there are those that are particular that the two neiros lit for ‘zachor’ and ‘shamor’ be placed separately, to visibly demonstrate the symbolism. Although perhaps unintentionally, women who received two large silver candlesticks as a wedding gift often light two Shabbos candles higher than the additional ones. There is a custom among some Belze chassidim that while the woman of the house lights whatever number of Shabbos neiros she wants, the man additionally lights two neiros representing ‘zachor’ and ‘shamor.’
There are a myriad of customs as to the total number of Shabbos neiros one should light. Some people always light just two neiros. Some light seven, corresponding to the days of the week and the number of branches on the Menorah from the Beis HaMikdash. Some light ten, corresponding to the Ten Commandments. The Mishnas Yosef writes that as a segulah for children, one should light 26 neiros. Twenty-six is the numerical value of Hashem’s name. The Bnei Yissachar writes that Adam HaRishon enjoyed the primordial light of creation for 36 hours. Therefore, one should light 36 neiros for Shabbos. This is also the total number of neiros we light on Chanukah (not including the shamash). The symbolism is the same. My friend at the silver store believes that everyone should adopt the custom of lighting 36 neiros!
Rav Huna stated that whoever is careful about lighting Shabbos neiros will merit to have children that are talmidei chachamim. It is therefore appropriate that after lighting neiros, a woman should pray for the spiritual welfare of her children. The Gemara records that Rav Huna passed by the house of Rebbe Avin the carpenter and noticed that many neiros were lit in honor of Shabbos. He therefore exclaimed, “Two great sages will come from this house.” Rav Idi bar Avin and Rav Chiya bar Avin were two great sages raised in that home. Based on this Gemara, the Likutei Mahrich says that some women have the custom of lighting an additional ner for every child that is born. The idea is that the additional ner should be a source of merit that the child should be righteous.
A friend of mine became engaged to a girl whose mother started her marriage lighting seven neiros and then added one for each child born. He deemed this a bit excessive. My friend’s family had the more traditional custom of starting with two and lighting one additional ner per child. My friend asked my rosh yeshiva, zt’l, if his kallah could follow his custom. The rosh yeshiva said that she may follow his custom. The Shevet HaLevi wrote that if the variances in custom are a source of strife, then certainly the husband should allow his wife to follow her minhag. This is especially true since the Gemara states that the reason behind Shabbos neiros is to promote shalom bayis. It certainly should not be a source of marital discord!
If there is no discord and the kallah is happy to light Shabbos neiros following either her chasan’s minhag or her own, which should she follow? We say regarding most customs that a wife should adopt her husband’s minhagim. However, perhaps this is different because lighting ner Shabbos is usually performed exclusively by the wife. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt pointed out that Rebbe Moshe Feinstein, zt’l, made a similar point regarding hair coverings. Some circles do not allow married women to use a human-hair wig as a hair covering. However, a woman does not have to adopt her husband’s position in this regard, since it is her mitzvah. Moreover, Rabbi Neustadt pointed out that Rebbe Yaakov Emden allowed his wife to follow some questionable practices regarding yom tov lights, since it was her family’s custom. It seems that most women generally follow their mother’s custom.
May the merit of this week’s Shabbos neiros illuminate our community in these difficult times.
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead and offers a program to help children with ADD increase focus and concentration. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.