There are a number of interesting issues about this candle. In this post, I’ll focus on one. In a future post, I’ll discuss another aspect: whether it is a Birchas HaShvach or Bircas HaNehenin as described in ברכות נ’’א.
How much light is considered “enough”? Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim רצח:ז advises that the light should be sufficient to allow us to differentiate between two coins of equal size, but who differ only in the design on their face. I’ve heard some people claim “so that you can see the difference between a nickel and a dime”, but that doesn’t seem correct because those coins have different size and less light would easily show the difference.
We don’t actually use coins per se, and another rule of thumb (pardon the pun) is to differentiate between the nail portion of a finger and the membrane supporting the nail bed. There are kabbalistic hints regarding the use of the nail, but that is parenthetical to the qualitative issue at hand. The Vilna Gaon in his ביאור הג”א in רצ”ה mentions that the use of the nails is part of the fulfillment of כל עצמותי תאמרנה (together with פריה and מליקה) as a purpose for the creation of nails. In terms of definition, though, it is the quality of light (lumens) that permits one to differentiate two coins which are almost identical except for the design on their face. The light of Havdalah is not for כבוד as in say לויית המת or as used in a סיום ספר תורה or חופה. It’s use is להאיר, which by implication connotes a certain quality of light. Two coins mentioned are the סלע and פונדיון and one examination of these (by R’ Schachter at a Museum) show that they are indeed identical except that one has a horse motif and the other has the same horse motif but with “antlers”. The סלע weighed more than a פונדיון, and I imagine that the designs changed, so I’m not sure about that.
Fluorescent lights, LED lights and even incandescent globes which are frosted and do not permit seeing a visible filament, are not acceptable according to most/all? Poskim. Many Poskim allow standard incandescent globes, however, לכתחילה we use the standard method of creating an אבוקה (a decent flame). R’ Chaim Ozer Grodzenski ז’ל, the famous Dayan of Vilna, was one of the first who was positive about electrical light bulbs with a filament. The required אבוקה (torch-like flame) is often achieved by using a special candle which had intertwined/multiple wicks and thereby increased the amount of light. Technically, one can minimally have two candles next to each other and use those. Although some say that it is necessary to bring the two wicks together, R’ Schachter proves from the gloss of R’ Akiva Eiger in Hilchos Shechitah יו”ד י”א at night (where אבוקה is defined by the רמ”א) , that it is not necessary for the definition of an אבוקה for the wicks of those two candles to be conjoined, so to speak, by bending the candles into each other (and causing a good old mess with the melted wax). In fact, those who seek to do so on Motzei Shabbos leading to Yom Tov may unwittingly cause one or both of the candles to be extinguished by the flowing wax, and that certainly is not permitted! I am aware that some אחרונים do suggest bringing the two wicks together also on account of the language of the Bracha which is plural as in מוארי האש.
At any rate, whether you have a nice Havdala candle, or you use two candles bent towards each other, or just use two candles which are next to each other, how much light should they emit? This question is further complicated by the fact that in many/most shules/homes there are lights on in the house/shule. If so, the candle/s may not physically contribute very much light wise! If so, is one making a ברכה on the electrical lights unintentionally? Many Shules have fluorescent lights, and this further complicates matters for those who are יוצא at Shule, let alone the person making the הבדלה at Shule.
Perhaps the best thing to do then is
- Turn off the electric lights
- Ensure that the candle(s) are lowered to just below eye level as the ברכה is being made (usually the מנהג is for an unmarried female to hold it up high corresponding to the height of her future חתן 🙂
- Ensure that the flame is visible (sometimes it is surrounded by a wax form over time while the candle burns over time but the outer wax membrane stays in place as in the picture below.
- Get close enough (or even pass it around)
At our home, over the last two years or so, we have changed our practice, and now purposefully turn off the lights just prior to making the בורא מאורי האש.
What do you do?