Shabbos candles, Chanukah flames, and the light of a Jewish woman


Mimi David

In Hebrew there is a saying that “M’at min ha’ohr docheh harbay min ha’choshech,” a small bit of light dispels a great deal of darkness.  Anyone who has experienced a blackout in the middle of night knows this is true:  The light of one small candle makes a big difference when it is completely dark.  On an emotional level this idea is true is well.  A little bit of light, a flash of brightness, can bring a great deal of clarity in the darkest of times.

Every Friday, 52 weeks a year, women around the world welcome in the Shabbat with a little bit of light.  A flame is kindled, candles are lit, a blessing and prayer are whispered, and suddenly it is no longer Friday.  It is now Shabbat, a day of connecting with oneself, with family, and with G-d. Using light to welcome in the Shabbat actually makes a whole lot of sense.  All week we are busy running and doing.  We spend so much time taking care of physical needs.  Shabbat’s job is to remind us why we are here.  What is the purpose of all this busyness?  What is the purpose of my existence?  All week we are human doings; on Shabbat we can be human beings.  Shabbat is welcomed with light because Shabbat is the day that gives clarity to the rest of our week.  The flames of Shabbat illuminate our neshamas, souls, and remind us of the purpose of it all.

Chanukah is also welcomed in with light.  For 8 nights we celebrate by lighting the menorah, adding more light each additional night.  Just like Shabbat candles, the light of the menorah also brings clarity.  The times of the Chanukah miracle were very dark for Jews.  Basic mitzvah observance was outlawed and there was a pervasive spiritual low.  When the miracle of the menorah occurred in the Temple the Jews were filled with clarity that things would turn around and be okay again.  To this day we celebrate that clarity on Chanukah with light, recognizing that although Jews are spread all over the world, and we are missing the connection and spirituality we had as a unified nation, no matter what a Jew is still connected to the light of the Torah and of G-d.

Mimi David

We all know how women are connected to Shabbat candles.  The custom for thousands of years has been for the woman of the home to light the flames that bring in Shabbat.  What is less known is the connection that women have to the lights of the menorah.  The Torah tells us that for the first half hour that the menorah is lit, women should not do work.  Sit down on the couch, play a game of dreidel, relax and let someone else serve dinner.  Enjoy the light of the menorah for a few minutes.  And here’s my favorite part:  after telling women not to work for the first half hour, the next words in the Torah are, “v’ein l’hakel” – take this seriously!  Don’t pretend you’re too busy!  This is your time!


Clearly, Shabbat and Chanukah have some kind of “girl power” related theme.  There must be a connection between the two that makes them both special moments for a woman.  Here’s my take on it:  both occasions are celebrating finding light in the darkness.  Shabbat and Chanukah both represent illuminating the dark times.  I believe that women are exceptionally good at doing this.  We are wired in our DNA from thousands of years ago to naturally uncover the glow underneath the mundane.  We are clarity experts, finding the rays of sunshine that are getting stuck behind the clouds of confusion.

This Chanukah is a chance for Jewish women all over to light up the world with candles and with clarity.  It is an opportunity to connect with each other and with millennia of feminine Jewish energy that illuminated the world in dark times. Grab that moment!  “V’ein l’hakel!”  Take this seriously!  This is your time!

Mimi David is Director of Women’s Education at Aish St. Louis and she has been a longtime teacher at Esther Miller Bais Yaakov of St. Louis.