Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lighting candles early as a segulah

From the daily email pile

As a zchus for a refuah shleimah for our mother [name] who, as many of you know, has fallen ill, we're asking all of our friends and neighbors to join us in lighting Shabbos candles 5 minutes before the zman.

We hope that in the merit of many people performing the mitzvah of tosfos shabbos [=adding to shabbos] our mother [name] will be blessed with a full recovery, together with all sick people everywhere.
Ok, so first things first: I'm sorry someone's mother is ill, and of course I hope she recovers; also, I understand the impulse to "try anything" when a loved one is in trouble. In fact, I have an atheist friend who, when her child took ill,  found herself visiting rebbes and paying big money for blessings and tikkuns. In an emergency, the superstitious side of ourselves often takes over. Its a way to deflect feelings of helplessness.

So what about this particular scheme? Will the creator of heaven and earth be swayed if a lot of women light candles a few minutes earlier? Will He even notice? Would YOU notice if the ants in your backyard changed their daily routine. How is this different?
Some of you will counter this argument, by pointing out that we do many things for similar reasons. Prayer for instance. Does the creator of heaven and earth notice when we mumble some lines of old Hebrew poetry? Does it matter to him? Probably not. But, as many Torah authorities have pointed out, we don't pray because we expect our words will change God, but because we hope that the action of reciting the words, and reinforcing the messages contained in the prayers will bring about a change in ourselves. The hope is that once we have changed, the unchanging God will respond to us differently. In a famous analogy, the Rambam explains the underlying idea: God is like fire, and fire interacts differently with different things: Some objects burn, and in a variety of different colors; others melt; others glow; others explode. Just as the fire, which is always the same fire, has a different affect on different items, God, who is unchangeable, relates to us differently based on our own state, a state that proper prayer can modify.

Can we say the same about lighting Shabbos candles a few minutes earlier? Does such a trivial activity change us? Can it make God relate to us differently? I don't see it.

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