Shabbat Candlelighting Meditation
by Rabbi Debra Orenstein

It is customary to bring in your hands three times before lighting, as a way of “gathering” Shabbes light. For this meditation, you bring in the hands very slowly, and pause after each of the three gestures. This is based on technios (Yiddish women’s candlelighting prayers) and was taught to be by my grandmother.

After bringing your hands in the first time—Imagine in your mind’s eye, one by one, the faces of the people you hold dearest. See each face, and surround it with Shabbat light. Imagine that the light is surrounding them with love, healing and protection. My grandmother used to go in the order of the generations—from grandparents to grandchildren—calling to mind each member of the immediate family, whether alive or deceased.

After bringing your hands in the second time—Imagine in your mind’s eye, one by one, faces of people you know and have encountered this week—friends, acquaintances, a store clerk who helped you, someone you bumped into or met for the first time. See each face, and surround it with Shabbat light. You don’t have to plan whom you’ll bless. Just let the faces come up, and surround them with Sabbath light. Imagine that the light is bringing them love, healing and protection.

After bringing your hands in the third time—Imagine in your mind’s eye, one by one, faces of people against whom you hold some anger or unforgiveness. Focus on one person at a time. Gently, as much as you can, surround them with Shabbat light. Imagine that the light is surrounding them with love, healing and protection. If you find yourself resisting doing this, due to some resentment or withholding on your part, imagine what they would be like, and how they would treat you, if they were healed from all their troubles. Then, wish them healed, to the extent that you can. You haven’t “flunked” if you’re unable to do it wholeheartedly.

Simply continue doing this practice from week to week as best you can. Over time, it will have the effect of opening your heart, and you will be able to bless people more and more each week. I have found that this meditation can and does help people transform their relationships. If and when you have trouble surrounding the people who have hurt you with Shabbat light, try these tactics:

1. Ask yourself: What were their parents like? What did they have to go through?
2. Ask yourself: What are the ways in which I am just like them?
3. Imagine the Shabbat candles on a table in the center of a beautiful room, with the offending person(s) standing at the doorway. In your meditation, observe the light draw them in.

A Teaching from Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav in Support of the Meditation

“On Shabbat everyone is judged favorably. Shabbat is a time when all harsh judgments are overturned. Accordingly, the good point (nekudah tovah) which is to be found in every[one], even those who are evil, shines forth on Shabbat. The Zohar tells us that there is no such thing as a sinner who does not have good deeds which elevate him to the World to Come. When do they elevate him? On Shabbat. Thus are all crowned with the crown of Shabbat …The good point shines forth on Shabbat. Thus on Shabbat everyone is judged in the scale of merit [giving them the benefit of the doubt] and through this people genuinely move into the scale of merit and are able to return to God in true repentance—teshuvah. That is why Shabbat (sh. b. t.) includes the concept of teshuvah (t. sh. u. b. h). Accordingly, the Sages said, “One who observes Shabbat is forgiven their sins” (Shabbat 118b). This accounts for the great joy of Shabbat.” — Kedushat Shabbat 282


Clearly, teshuvah is not reserved for High Holidays, but touches us each day, and especially on Shabbat.