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Parshah Halacha

Parshat Bereishit/Shabbat Mevarchim

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Parsha Halacha is underwritten by a grant from Dr. Stephen and Bella Brenner in loving memory of Stephen’s father, Shmuel Tzvi ben Pinchas, and Bella’s parents, Avraham ben Yitzchak and Leah bas HaRav Sholom Zev HaCohen.
In the Torah portion of Bereishit we read about the creation of light on the first day.[1] This light was different than the light of the sun as the sun was created later, on the fourth day. This was a spiritual light[2] by which one could see from one end of the world to another. It shone only during the day and not at night when it was dark. Even when the heavenly luminaries were created on the fourth day, the light of the luminaries was not necessary and became visible only after the light of the first day was hidden away.[3]
36 Hours of Light
On the first Friday night, in honor of Shabbat, the spiritual light did not depart. It was only when the sun set at the end of Shabbat that G-d hid the light and saved it for the righteous in the World to Come. Thus, mankind experienced this light for a total of 36 hours, from the time they were created on Friday[4]until the end of Shabbat.[5]
The First Darkness
As Shabbat departed, the world began to darken. Adam HaRishon (the first man), seeing darkness for the first time, feared that the snake would bite him in fulfillment of the verse, “And you will bite his heel.”[6] G-d therefore prepared two blocks of stone for Adam and granted him the wisdom to strike them against each other, thus creating fire. Adam immediately recited the blessing of Borei Me’orei Ha’Esh (Who creates lights of fire), thanking G-d for the wondrous creation.[7]
In addition, the Talmud says, on that Motzei Shabbat G-d granted Adam the wisdom to mate a horse and a donkey, thus producing the first mule.[8]
Fixing the World
Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin explains[9] that Adam Harishon, who had sinned and was now facing a dark world, felt unsure of what was his purpose and goal in life. G-d therefore enabled him to “create” new entities, one in the realm of the inanimate and the other in the animal kingdom. Creating fire was a continuation of the first day of creation when G-d created light, and breeding the animals was a continuation of the sixth day of creation when G-d created the animals. This symbolized that Adam (and mankind as a whole) had the power to improve and perfect every aspect of G-d’s creation from the beginning to the end.
The Blessing
The Talmud says[10] that just as Adam created fire after Shabbat and thanked G-d for it, we too must recite the blessing of Borei Me’orei Ha’Esh (who creates lights of fire) when we see fire after Shabbat.
Why Only Then?
We don’t recite the blessing on fire every time we benefit from it as this pleasure does not enter our bodies as do food and smell.[11] We only say the blessing on Motzei Shabbat as that is when fire was first created and it is thus appropriate to thank G-d for it then.[12] This is similar to the blessing made when we see the sun in the sky in the same position in which it was originally created. (It happens every 28 years.)[13]
After Yom Kippur
In addition, we also recite this blessing in the Havdala at the end of Yom Kippur if one has a fire that was burning since before Yom Kippur. This is similar to the blessing we say in the morning tefilot (prayers)on the creation of the luminaries (Yotzer HaMe’orot). Although the benefit from these luminaries also does not enter our bodies, the sages established that we thank G-d for them since their light is essential to humanity. The blessing is recited in the morning since during the night we could not enjoy the light of the sun. Similarly, since fire is essential to life, the sages established that we thank G-d for it at the end of Yom Kippur, as during the holiday it was forbidden to benefit from it.[14]
Another Opinion
Some say that the blessing we recite on fire after Shabbat is similar to the blessings we recite on food since the body benefits directly from both light and heat. According to this opinion, the reason we don’t make a blessing every time we benefit from fire is that we are constantly benefitting from it in some way or another. This can be compared to one sitting in a perfume shop who need not recite a blessing on the smell of the perfume as long as he is in the shop.[15] It is only at the end of Shabbat or Yom Kippur, when we were forbidden to benefit from it (in a way that would involve cooking with it), that we recite this blessing again.[16]
There are many halachot regarding the blessing of Borei Me’orei Ha’Esh. This article will only cover some of them. For more information, see O.C. Siman 298.
Non-Mandatory Blessing
As mentioned above (in the first opinion), the blessing on fire is not like blessings on food since the benefit of fire doesn’t enter the body. For this reason, this blessing is not considered a mandatory blessing. Rather, if one has a fire on Motzei Shabbat (or can easily make one), he should recite the blessing. If one doesn’t have a fire (or matches etc.), he need not go out of his way to find one.[17]
Without Wine
If one does not expect to have wine for Havdalah on Motzoei Shabbat, one may recite the blessing on fire without wine.[18] Similarly, one who recited Havdalah on wine but didn’t say the blessing on fire because he didn’t have a fire, may recite the blessing on fire later that evening when he comes across a fire.[19]
If one does not have wine immediately after Shabbat but expects to have some later that evening, it is best not to recite the blessing on the fire separately. Rather, one should wait until he can recite it together with the rest of the Havdalah.[20]
One who recited Havdalah and forgot to the say the blessing on fire and remembered after completing the blessing of Havdalah but before he drank the wine, should recite the blessing before he drinks the wine. This is not considered an interruption since it is proper to say the blessing on fire over a cup of wine.[21]
The Havdalah Candle
It is best to recite this blessing on a torch (i.e., a candle with more than one wick) as the many wicks create multiple sources of light. This parallels the blessing which is “Borei meorei ha’eish – Who creates the lights of fire” in the plural, which implies that there are many sources of light.[22]
One can also fulfill this concept by putting two candles (or even two matches) together.[23]
If many wicks are braided together, the flames from each one need not actually touch each other as they are considered to be “one flame.”[24] Others say that the actual flames should be fused.[25]
For Kabbalistic reasons, it is best to use a beeswax candle (with multiple wicks) for Havdalah.[26] In any case, one should not use a candle with a bad smell since on Motzei Shabbat we should try to “restore our souls” with pleasant aromas.[27]
If necessary, one may recite the blessing on a single candle or match. One may still say Me’orei Ha’Esh (colors of light) in the plural since every fire has several colors – red, white and blue.[28]
Electric Light
Some say that one may make the blessing on an incandescent lightbulb through which one can see the glowing filament. They say that, halachically, the red hot metal of the filament is considered a flame. There were many great rabbis who followed this in practice.[29]
Others disagree and say that, even if the filament is considered a fire, it is not similar to the fire made by Adam HaRishon which actually consumed (burned) fuel. In addition, this fire can only be seen through the glass (of the bulb), and some say that one may not make a blessing on a fire seen through a glass.[30]Furthermore, the “fire” only produces light with one color, unlike ordinary fire which has several colors, as explained above.[31]
All agree that one may not make the blessing on a florescent bulb since there is no “flame.” Neither can one make it on an incandescent bulb that has a translucent rather than a transparent bulb since the actual “flame” (i.e., the filament) cannot be seen. [32]
One who is wearing sunglasses should take them off for this bracha so he can see the fire as clearly as possible.[33] One who wears them for medical reasons may leave them on.[34] There is no need to remove ordinary glasses.[35]
It is necessary to be close enough to the light to be able to discern between the coins of one country and those of another.[36]
When Havdalah is recited for large numbers of people, those who are too distant from the Havdalah candle to benefit from its light should say the blessing separately following Havdalah (on a lit candle that is close to them) or say the blessing over other candles during Havdalah.[37]
Lights On or Off?
Although when electric lights are on, one does not really notice the additional light of the flame of the Havdalah candle, if one is close enough to the flame to be able to benefit from it as explained above, he may recite the blessing even if the electric lights are on. Some are strict and extinguish the electric light before reciting the blessing.[38]
Looking at the Nails
It is customary to look at one’s nails to at this time. If one can discern between his nails and his flesh he would also be able to discern between coins. In addition, nails are a sign of blessing, for they always grow and develop.[39]
The Alter Rebbe writes,[40] “One should look at the nails of his right hand while holding the cup of wine in his left hand.[41]”
“It is customary to look at the palms of one’s hands, because the lines of one’s palms symbolize blessings.[42] One should bend the four fingers over the thumb towards the palm of the hand, for then he sees his nails and his palm at the same time (thus fulfilling both concepts). There are some who have the custom that they then spread out their four fingers and look at the outer side of their hands, gazing at their nails.” The Lubavitcher Rebbe would follow this custom.[43]
For Kabbalistic reasons, one should not look at his thumb at this time.[44]
Some women have a custom to not look at their nails at this time.[45]
Order of the Blessing
The Alter Rebbe writes[46] that one should first say the blessing and then look at one’s nails. This follows the order of the blessings on foods and other pleasures where we say the blessing before partaking. This is the common custom.[47] The Mishnah Berurah is of the opinion that one should first look at one’s fingers and then recite the blessing. This follows the order of blessings praising G-d for natural occurrences (e.g., thunder and lightning) when the blessing is recited after the occurrence.
Smelling the Candle
Some have a custom to smell the smoke of the Havdalah candle after it is extinguished.[48] This is a segulah to be saved from bad smells.[49] This is not the Chabad custom.[50]
May we soon merit to experience the light of the six days of creation!
[1] Gen. 1:3-5
[2] See Netivot Olam of the Maharal, Netiv HaTzedek, chapter 1
[3] Rashi D.H. Lehavdil on Gen. 1:14 but see Ramban on that verse
[4] But see Sanhedrin 38b that the creation of man took five hours.
[5] The Benei Yissachar (Chanukah) discusses these 36 hours in reference to the 36 candles we light on Chanukah
[6] Gen. 3:15
[7] Pesachim 53b and 54a, Jerusalem Talmud Berachot 8:5, Bereishit Rabbah 11:2 and 12:6. Cited in Shulchan Aruch HaRav, 298: 1 and 624:5. See also Yalkut Shimoni, Yehoshua, end of Siman 22
[8] It is not clear why G-d granted him this wisdom since the Torah considers such mating to be improper. See the continuation of the Talmud Pesachim.
[9] Oznayim LaTorah, Gen. 1:3
[10] Pesachim ibid
[11] Tosfot D.H Ein on Pesachim 53b
[12] Chidushei Rabeinu David by Rabbi David Bonapid, a 13th-century student of the Ramban, on Pesachim 53b D.H. Ho’il
[13] See Brachot 59b
[14] Chidushei Rabeinu David ibid
[15] O.C. 217:1
[16] Sefer HaMichtam By Rabbi David ben Levi of 13th-century Narbonne, France on Pesachim 106a. See there that according to this opinion, if one did not recite the blessing of Borei Me’orei Ha’Esh after Shabbat, he should recite it later on in the week. The halacha does not follow this view, see Shulchan Aruch HaRav 299:9.
[17] Shulchan Aruch HaRav, 298:1. See there, Se’if 2 regarding Motzei Yom Kippur
[18] Ibid, 3
[19] See ibid 47:5
[20] Mishnah Berurah, 298:4
[21] Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, quoted in Shemirat Shabbat KeHilchato, vol. 2, 60:32 and note 116 based on the Jerusalem Talmud, 8th chapter of Brachot, end of Halacha 1.
[22] Shulchan Aruch HaRav, ibid, 4
[23] Shmirat Shabbat Kehilchato, ibid, 26
[24] Shulchan Aruch HaRav, ibid
[25] Mishnah Berurah 8 based on the Magen Avraham
[26] See Pri Etz Chaim by Rabbi Chaim Vital, Sha’ar HaShabbat, chapter 24. The word for beeswax in Hebrew is שעוה. This indicates that the 370 revelations (שע is the Gematiryah of 370) of Arich Anpin should shine into the Emotive Atrributes of Atzilut (alluded to by the letters ו and ה)
[27] Shulchan Aruch HaRav, ibid and 297:1
[28] Shulchan Aruch HaRav ibid
[29] See Encyclopedia Talmudit, entry Chashmal, 4. In note 336 he writes that this was the custom in the house of the Rogatchover Gaon, Reb Chaim Brisker and Reb Chaim Ozer Grodzensky.
[30] See O.C. 298:15 and Biur Halacha D.H. Oh BeToch who cites the various opinions regarding this.
[31] See Encyclopedia Talmudit ibid, note 356 that some say one should say the blessing Borei Ma’or Ha’Esh (in the singular) on an electric bulb.
[32] Shmirat Shabbat Kehilchato, ibid, 32
[33] Badei HaShulchan, 99:6
[34] Piskei Teshuvot, 298:11
[35] Badei HaShulchan ibid
[36] Brachot 51b and 53b
[37] Note 22 on the newly translated Shulchan Aruch HaRav, 298:6
[38] Piskei Teshuvot 298:5 and note 34
[39] Taz 2 quoting the Tur and Rav Hai Ga’on
[40] 298:6
[41] See Shulchan Aruch HaRav 296:16 that, during Havdalah, one should alternate the wine and spices between his right and left hands. The Rebbe did not follow this practice and it is not the common custom in Chabad.
[42] The Sefer Ha’Orah (Siman 62 pg. 57) explains that the sages were able to look at a person’s palm and foretell all the occurrences and good things that would happen to them.
There is a Sefardic custom to laugh while looking at the palms of one’s hands. This symbolizes that one should have a joyous week.
[43] Note 25 in the English Shulchan Aruch HaRav. But see Sha’arei Halacha UMinhag vol. 5 pg. 67 that the Rebbe Rashab would first look at his fingers when they were extended and then curl them over his thumb.
[44] Magen Avraham and Machatzit HaShekel, 5
[45] See here for more information
[46] Piskei HaSiddur
[47] Igrot Moshe O.C. 5:9, 9. Reb Moshe points out that this is the opinion of the Yavetz and the Vilna Gaon. This was also the custom of the Chazon Ish (Mishnah Berurah, Dirshu edition, note 25 on Siman 296).
[48] Likutei Maharich, vol. 2, Seder Havdalah Mitzei Shabbat Kodesh, pg. 456
[49] I’m not sure why bad smells are so terrible that we take measures to protect from them (A.C.).
[50] Sha’arei Halacha UMinhag ibid
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom Umevorach and a Chodesh Tov!

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