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Parshas Eikev (5776)

Dining in the Dark

“He afflicted you and let you hunger, and He fed you the manna…” (Deuteronomy 8:3).

Rabbi Chaim Yosef Dovid Azulai (1724-1806), commonly known as the Chid”a (by the acronym of his name), cites a Midrash Pliah which states that “this verse alludes to the mitzvah of lighting Shabbos candles”. The Chid”a explains the connection as follows:

The Talmud in Yoma 74b expounds the verse: “Who feeds you manna in the wilderness … in order to afflict you …” (Deuteronomy 8:16). [What kind of affliction was eating the good-tasting manna?] …[One explanation offered is as follows:] You cannot compare a person who sees what he is eating to a person who does not see what he is eating. [The manna tasted like whatever a person wished, but he could not see the dish he was tasting; he only saw manna, and that was the ‘affliction’.]

Now, while unbeknownst to many, one of the main reasons why the Sages ordained the mitzvah of lighting Shabbos candles every Friday afternoon before sunset is because we are commanded to have Oneg Shabbos (“Joy on Shabbos”), and lighting candles enhances the pleasure and enjoyment of the Shabbos meal, since a meal cannot be properly enjoyed in the dark, where the food cannot be seen.

[FYI, there are two additional reasons mentioned in the Talmud and the Rabbinic writings for the mitzvah of lighting Shabbos candles (with Halachic ramifications for each reason):

~ Kevod Shabbos (“Honor of Shabbos”) – The Sages ordained that candles be lit before Shabbos to show honor to the coming “Shabbos Queen” and to lend an air of dignity to the Shabbos meal, which marks this special time.

~ Shalom Bayis (“A Peaceful Home”) – To create an atmosphere of domestic tranquility and harmony in the home and dispel the tension that prevails in a dark unlit house, the Sages ordained that the home be illuminated for Shabbos, enabling the members of the household to be joyful and delight in the Shabbos.

Based on these three reasons for lighting Shabbos candles, in modern times when most homes are already brightly illuminated by electric lights during the Shabbos meal, one can question whether one can fulfill the mitzvah of lighting Shabbos candles in such a place, since the candles do not add any appreciable light. Be that as it may, it is the practice of most women today to perform the mitzvah of lighting Shabbos candles even when the electric lights are on.]

And although the Torah commands us: “You shall not kindle fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath Day” (Exodus 35:3), our tradition, based on the Oral Law handed down from Moses at Mount Sinai, makes clear that only the creation of a fire and such use of it as cooking and baking is forbidden on Shabbos, but there is no prohibition against enjoying its light and heat. Thus lighting candles before Shabbos so as to enjoy one’s meal on Shabbos is totally permissible (and Rabbinically obligatory).

However, deviant sects such as the Sadducees, who denied the teachings of the Sages and preached a literal interpretation of the biblical text, understood this passage as referring to all use of fire, so they would sit in the dark while eating their Friday night Shabbos meal.

[I should mention that although the Talmud makes clear that eating without being able to see one’s food is considered an ‘affliction’ and a lack of joy, there are a handful of (non-kosher) restaurants around the world which offer “dining in the dark” as a new and alternative way to experience food, claiming that when eating in the dark, one’s remaining senses are heightened to savor the smell and taste of the food.]

We can now understand the Midrash Pliah – explains the Chid”a – which links the manna that ‘afflicted’ the Jewish people for forty years in the desert with the mitzvah to light Shabbos candles every week.

The reason why our ancestors were so ‘afflicted’ by the miraculous manna was because although it tasted like whatever food they wished, they could never fully enjoy it since it always looked like the same old manna. And it was for this very same reason (among others) that our Sages ordained the mitzvah of lighting candles every Friday afternoon so that we could see our food at the Shabbos meal and properly enjoy it – and not have to dine in the dark!

[To learn more about the many laws and traditions of Shabbos candle lighting – including a “how-to” guide - click on: ]

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