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Neirot Shabbat

Rav Moshe Taragin

          The Rambam who is always so meticulous with the language and placement of halakhot within the Mishneh Torah, cites the laws of neirot Shabbat  in two locations. In perek 5 he includes the principal discussion - when and how to light.  However in perek 30, amidst an elaboration of the laws of kavod Shabbat (acts done in preparation of Shabbat to honor its arrival) he writes "One must prepare his house on Friday to  honor the Shabbat; he should have a lit candle a set table and drawn beds - all to honor Shabbat."  The question emerges as to why the Rambam repeated his description of these halakhot.  The Brisker Rov inferred from this repeated reference that neirot Shabbat contain two dimensions.  There are indeed two mitzvot derived from Yeshaya (58) - "ve-kara'ta le-Shabbat ONEG ve-likdosh Hashem MECHUBAD." -Kavod Shabbat and Oneg Shabbat.  The first concerns preparations made before Shabbat such as cleaning, bathing, preparing food and changing clothing.  The second refers to experiences of delight during Shabbat itself - eating learning, and not fasting.  The Brisker Rov claimed that neirot Shabbat actually include each element.  Lighting a candle is part of preparing the house for the imminent arrival of Shabbat.  It adds to its glory and splendor and creates an environment conducive to kabbalat Shekhina (see Afterword).  In addition, it enhances the actual meal of Shabbat by adding elegance and class.  As such, given its dual identity, the Rambam enunciates these halakhot in two separate locations.  The first (perek 5) is intended to illustrate its oneg - providing capabilities and how it may embellish the actual meal.  The second reference evokes its role in establishing an atmosphere of kavod.  This represents a typical case of two references and two related dimensions.  Indeed, several sources claim that the standard of lighting two candles stems from the two references of shamor ve-zakhor - two mitzvot aimed at enhancing the quality of Shabbat beyond the mere cessation of work.  These two mitzvot might, in turn, represent Biblical origins of oneg and kavod (See Afterword).  In a sense, then, the two candles might themselves represent, in vivid fashion, the two halakhic components of this mitzva.  It is possible to analyze an intriguing sugya in Shabbat, in light of this distinction.  The gemara in Shabbat (25b) describes those types of fuel which may not be used for neirot Shabbat because their foul odor will cause people to exit the room.  Abbaye questions this halakha - "After all why can't they leave?".  The gemara ultimately responds that neirot are a 'chova'.  What is somewhat perplexing is Abbaye's initial wonder.  Does he not accept neirot Shabbat as a binding mitzvah?  After all, the entire second perek of Shabbat is primarily dedicated to discussing the laws of neirot Shabbat!!  This perek includes several references to this mitzva.  This question is posed by the Beit Ha-levi (the Brisker Rov's grandfather) in the first volume of his sefer siman 11.  His answer bases itself upon  the dual nature of neirot Shabbat.  No one, even Abbaye denies its binding nature.  However, Abbaye saw within this mitzva merely kavod Shabbat - lighting to anticipate the arrival of Shabbat.  This aspect in no way requires that a person remain in the room and benefit from the candle.  It is a purely objective and formalized halakha aimed at defining a state of "elegant preparedness" to welcome the Shabbat.  (One might have claimed that a foul odor greatly compromises this ambiance but the Beit Ha-levi did not adopt this stance).  Abbaye saw no contribution of neirot to the quality of the actual se'uda.  As such there is no need to remain in the room and foul-smelling fuels should be permissible.  Abbaye was not rejecting the mitzva of neirot Shabbat; he was merely quantifying and circumscribing it by eliminating one of the aforementioned elements.  Of course the gemara's response might be understood as a reaffirmation of the dual nature of neirot Shabbat.  The second component of oneg - of enhancing the meal necessitates remaining in the room with the ner and invalidates foul smelling fuels.  Beyond Abbaye's question there is a famous controversy emanating from this gemara and surrounding the berakha on neirot Shabbat.  Several positions in the Rishonim (see Tosafot Shabbat 25b and the Mordechai in the name of the Rabenu Meshulam) rejected making a berakha on neirot Shabbat.  They staked their view upon three factors which will be discussed in turn.  The Rabenu Meshulam opposes a berakha because the lighting is not the completion of the mitzva.  The gemara in Menachot (42b) declares that anytime the mitzva is not yet completed at present no berakha is recited.  This justifies why no berakha is recited over the manufacture of tefillin and tzitzit (which still require donning) while a berakha is recited over performing the mila (which has no subsequent action).  Based on this model, claims this position, no berakha should be recited over lighting neirot since one still has to eat by their light.  Based on the above declared dual structure of neirot one might concur with this analysis ONLY regarding the ONEG-component.  Indeed, this aspect doesn't materialize until the actual meal.  However, the alternate dimension of kavod is accomplished immediately.  Possibly, the berakha is recited over this component which has immediate impact.  In fact, the Rabenu Tam (who responded in his responsa 48:6 to Rabenu Meshulam and supported the minhag to recite a berakha) might have intended this very notion when he responded "neirot Shabbat contributes to shalom bayit" (based upon the gemara in Shabbat 25b derived from a pasuk in Ekha 3).  The gemara in Menachot only excludes from berakha those actions which entail no immediate mitzva but are merely preparatory for later fulfillment of a mitzva.  Quite possibly, Rabenu Meshulam was charting the inverse position of Abbaye.  If Abbaye saw within neirot only kavod Shabbat, Rabenu Meshulam discerned only oneg.  Our minhag might be based upon recognizing it dual nature.  Similar logic might be employed to address the issue raised by one of the Ba'alei Tosafot.  He claims that no act of lighting is necessary on Shabbat evening.  Indeed, if one already has a lit candle there is no requirement to extinguish and rekindle (as there is in the case of Chanuka).  Given this condition, no berakha is recited; the act of lighting is bereft of any significance and doesn't deserve a berakha.  Tosafot, in their conclusion, (which authorizes a berakha on neirot Shabbat) respond to this claim in two ways.  First they accept the fact that no action is necessary.  This, in and of itself, should not disqualify the mitzva from a berakha.  By analogy, if the blood of a slaughtered animal has already been covered by the wind there is no mitzva of kisui ha-dam.  However, in 'normal' instances when the blood requires active covering a berakha is recited.  The same pattern would apply here.  Though, in theory, no new candle need be lit, where ONE IS lit a berakha is recited.  Tosafot eventually selects a different answer.  They claim that retaining a lit candle is not sufficient to fulfill the mitzva of neirot Shabbat.  Being that one must ALWAYS actively light a candle a berakha is warranted.  Given this response we arrive at a fundamental difference between Rishonim as to whether neirot Shabbat requires a newly lit candle or not.  On what might this machloket be based?  One justification for relighting an already burning candle would be to designate it  as a Shabbat candle.  The gemara (23b) states that a person should be careful not to light Shabbat candles too early nor too late.  Lighting too late is problematic for obvious reasons.  Rashi adds that lighting too early is problematic because it isn't evident that the candle is designated for Shabbat.  Rashi confirms the need for Shabbat candles to be properly identified as 'neirot Shabbat'.  This might explain Tosafot's requirement that a lit candle be rekindled for Shabbat.  In a general sense this requirement - a special Shabbat candle - might reflect the expanded nature of neirot Shabbat.  Were neirot intended to merely enhance the meal little care would be given to its 'IDENTITY'.  As long as the meal is adorned ONEG is served.  Given, however, that neirot play an additional role, to serve as vigil to mark the onset of Shabbat, one can easily see why only a Shabbat candle would accomplish this goal.  What emerges from this machloket are two consistent lines of reasoning which each position might have adopted.  Those who deny berakha might have consistently viewed neirot as merely ONEG.  As such, the mitzva is entirely delayed until the meal and there is no requirement for a specific Shabbat candle.  By contrast, those who support a berakha  might justify their view in light of the existence of a second dimension - kavod honoring the arrival of Shabbat by establishing royal ambiance.  The mitzva is thus initiated immediately and, in addition, one might demand a specific candle to be allocated.  We have demonstrated that several disagreements about the form of hadlakat neirot  might revolve around the question of its  dual nature.  All positions do not necessarily embrace this dual nature of neirot espoused by the Brisker Rov in his reading of the Rambam.  Both Amoraim as well as Rishonim might have been debating this issue within their practical and technical debate surrounding the berakha or the need to remain in the same room as the candles.




1. Utmost sensitivity is necessary whenever a particular halakha is addressed in two discreet contexts.  If the Torah includes two sources for the halakha, many times this bespeaks a dual nature.  If the Rambam includes two distinct references, oftentimes the same is true.

2. Debates regarding particulars of a halakha often revolve around fundamentally different viewpoints regarding that halakha's essence.  This article proceeded along this analytic course- but backwards.  It first isolated the different strata of the halakha and then applied this picture to two different debates.  This form of analysis - known as deduction (applying a principle to particular points) is less frequent in the learning of gemara.  More often than not we engage in the reverse process of induction.  We accumulate particulars (a machloket, a halakha) and from this set of 'data' attempt to induce halakhic principles.  I do not have to inform any which is the more difficult process.




1. In the first volume of the Yahrzeit shiurim (shiurim le-zekher Abba Mori zt"l vol. 1) the Rav zt"l addresses the mitzvot of kavod and oneg Shabbat.  He establishes the link between the non-Biblical mitzvot of kavod and oneg and the Biblical mitzvot of zakhor and shamor.  In addition, he elaborates upon the Rambam's definition of kavod Shabbat.  It includes not merely making necessary preparations for Shabbat.  It entails, in addition, setting the proper mood for the arrival of Shabbat Ha-malka.  In fact, he draws an analogy (halakhic, in turn reflecting hashkafic) between greeting the shekhina on Shabbat and greeting the shekhina during tefilla.  To those who have access to this article it is HIGHLY recommended reading.

2. Another issue of concern to those who deny a berakha for neirot is the way in which the gemara dubs this mitzva.  Instead of calling it a 'mitzva' the gemara refers to it as 'chova'.  This name is reminiscent of the way the gemara refers to mayim acharonim which according to most positions is not an actual 'mitzva' but intended to cleanse melach sedomit (leftover salt known in those days to be harmful).  Given this role and identity, mayim acharonim does not receive a berakha.  By analogy, suggest some, neirot also dubbed a 'chova', should not receive a berakha.  How is this status of chova affected by the dual nature of neirot?  Chova, indeed, might suggest an act which by itself has no purpose but serves some other function similar to the case of mayim acharonim.  Is this image more appropriate to kavod or oneg in the case of neirot?

3. Might we defend the need to rekindle ner Shabbat for reasons other than merely designating the candle as a Shabbat candle?  Might there by an objective and independent mitzva to actually perform an act of kindling - similar to the situation in the case of ner Chanuka.  See especially the Ra'avya in siman 199 who draws this analogy between ner Chanuka and ner Shabbat.


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