“Charity saves from death,” our Sages say. But what is its special connection to the Sabbath and holidays? The Avner Institute presents the Rebbe’s insight into his famous Candle-Lighting campaign and his comparison of candle-lighting to charity, tzedakah – both reinforcements of Torah observance, both “lifesaving acts” that together correct the sin of Adam and Eve and bring the greatest of light into the world.
In Loving memory of Hadassah Bas Schneur Zalman
“Money is the Medium”
Rochester, New York
Blessing and Greeting:
This is in reply to your letter in which you inquire about the significance of the dollar bill you received in connection with the Candle-Lighting Campaign.
Actually, it has many facets to it, but I must limit myself here to one or two of them. But first, a few words leading up to the subject.
As you know, Jews are commanded to remember and do all the mitzvoth of our Torah. But there are certain mitzvoth that the Torah specifically emphasizes with the command: “Remember!” This, to mention a familiar example, is one of the Ten Commandments: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy!” (Exodus 20:8). So also the commandment to remember yetziat Mitrayim [Exodus from Egypt] every day of the year and various other commandments. The most central of all such remembrances, however, is the commandment to remember the day of our receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, which we celebrate on Shavuot: “Remember the day when you stood before G-d, your G-d, at Horev [Sinai], lest you forget the things which your eyes saw.” (Deuteronomy 4:9-10).
The Torah’s reason for commanding us to remember those very important events is self-evident, for a Jew lives in a world which hustles and bustles with all sorts of material things that distract his attention from what is truly important and eternal. We are, of course, speaking even of “kosher” things, such as eating and drinking, doing business, etc., all of which must be done in accordance with the Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law]. Yet, inasmuch as a person is inevitably and routinely involved with such things for the greater part of the day, day after day, he may become so much absorbed in them as to forget the very important and essential things which the Torah particularly wants us to remember.
It is also a matter of common experience that when people want to make sure they will not forget certain matters, the do all sorts of things to help themselves remember.
In light of the above, the Torah has given us certain mitzvoth which, in addition to all their other meanings, are notable “reminders.” Again, to mention a familiar example, the mezuzah (among other things) reminds the Jew upon leaving and returning him that G-d, Who is our very life and strength, is One, etc., as we read in the portion of Shema [Hear O Israel] which the mezuzah contains. Similarly, upon rising in the morning, we recite a prayer in which we declare our soul, which G-d returns to us every morning, is pure, etc.
And so there are many mitzvoth, which constantly help us to remember our real purpose in life – to serve G-d “in all our ways.” There are mitzvoth which serve as reminders to all Jews, since all Jews are equal in regard to the observance of those mitzvoth. But there are also mitzvoth that apply to certain groups only, such as Kohanim [priestly class]. In each case, there are specific reminders for those concerned.
This brings us to the subject matter of your letter.
One of the most important and most beautiful mitzvoth is the lighting of the candles before Shabbat and Yom Tov, and this mitzvah was given as a special privilege to Jewish women, mothers and daughters, to fulfill not only for themselves, but also for the whole family and household. Obviously, everyone in the home enjoys the advantages of the light of the candles, illuminating the home as well as the table at which the members of the family sit down for the Shabbat and Yom Tov meal.
However, the importance of this mitzvah goes deeper than the mere illumination of the home in the plain sense, for it also makes it a bright home spiritually, in accordance with the text of the blessing recited before the lighting of the candles: “Who sanctified us with His commandments.” Hence, it is highly desirable that such an important mitzvah should have a special “reminder,” further to emphasize the deeper significance of this mitzvah. Most suitable would be one that is not too cumbersome, yet at the same time expresses the significance of the great mitzvah of candle lighting. Thus, the most suitable way is to connect the mitzvah with money, since money is the medium with which one fulfills the mitzvah of tzedakah, which is an especially great mitzvah, since the giver could obviously use the money for his own needs, yet gives it selflessly to a needy person, and thereby saves a life, as our Sages have emphasized (Tanya, part I, ch. 37).
The special relevance of tzedakah [charity] to the lighting of candles before Shabbat and Yom Tov lies in the fact that, as our Sages explain, the lighting of candles is an act of rectification for the wrongdoing committed by the first woman, and mother of all Mankind. Chava (Eve), who with the sin of eating the forbidden fruit caused “the candle of G-d, which is the soul of man” (Proverbs 20:27) – of Adam to be extinguished (Tanhuma, Breishis 11:1). By lighting the candles the Jewish mother and daughter rectify this act of extinguishing the “candle.” It is particularly relevant, therefore, to associate candle lighting with tzedakah, for tzedakah too, as mentioned above, is a lifesaving act.
This then, in a nutshell, is one signification of the dime or dollar bill which accompanied the Candle-Lighting Campaign, and which is intended for tzedakah, or which, if anyone wants to keep that particular dime or dollar bill as a memento, may be substituted for by an equal amount of tzedakah. All this is intended to call attention to and emphasize the importance of lighting of the candles, both for the person lighting them and for the whole Jewish home.
May G-d grant that you fulfill this great mitzvah with joy and inspiration. And inasmuch as the great principle of our Torah is v’ahavtah l’reachah kamochah [loving your neighbor as yourself] (Leviticus 19:18), you will surely use your good influence with friends and neighbors to ensure that they too observe this great mitzvah in similar fashion.
P.S. In connection with the above, I want to emphasize a very important point, namely, that however important that dime or dollar bill is, it is still muktzah [forbidden] and, like any other money, is not to be handled on Shabbat and Yom Tov.
To Receive to your inbox email: [email protected]