The light of the Havdala Candle (Part 2)

In my previous post, I mentioned the question of the nature of the ברכה of בורא מאורי האש. There are two candidate that can be used to categorise this ברכה. It is either a member of the family of

  1. ברכת הנהנין where we benefit from something in this world and before we benefit we make a ברכה. For example: before we eat a strawberry, we either make a על האדמה or העץ (depending on which ברכה your Rabbi/Posek applies to strawberries.
  2. ברכת השבח where we witness something which shows God’s majesty, so to speak, after witnessing this manifestation of God’s majesty, we praise God and make a ברכה. For example, in Nisan (in Israel) when one sees the flowers sprouting forth for the first time, one makes ברכת אילנות as described in או’’ח סימן רכ”ו.  ָAnother example, is Benching Gomel. Again, we do that after we have experienced something.

Where does the Bracha on the candles/torch/flame at Havdala fit in? If it’s a ברכת הנהנין then first we would make a ברכה and then benefit from the light (using the מנהג to bring one’s nails close to the flame so that the flame bring a benefit via its light (and is sufficient to differentiate between two coins). If, however, it is a ברכת השבח then we would make the ברכה after we have symbolically benefitted from the flame and praised Hashem for (re)creating light on  Motzei Shabbos (as that was when this light was created).

If you watch carefully, you can see some people who seem to do it at the same time that they are flashing their fingernails against the flame. I’m not sure that this practice makes much sense. It seems to try and deliberately be vague on what type of ברכה it is, and have a bet each way. The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t appear to satisfy either category. I’m certainly not here to advise anyone how to order the ברכה and the act. Remember all my posts are not להלכה and not למעשה. They are just פיטפוטים.

The Mishna in Brachos at the beginning of the eighth chapter, according to the plain reading which states

אין מברכין אל האור עד שיאותו לאורו

We don’t make the Bracha until we have benefitted from the light.

appears to be clearly saying that first one benefits from the light and only then makes the Bracha. This implies that it is a ברכה השבח. Indeed, the Rishonim claim that it couldn’t possibly be a ברכת הנהנין because then we would need to make a ברכה every day when we “created” a new light and benefitted from it (just before benefitting from the light). The ערוך השלחן who was the major posek for non Chassidic Ashkenzi Jewry, suggests that we could still consider the ברכה to be a ברכת הנהנין however we would not have to make a new ברכה since we make a bracha everyday יוצר אור ובורא חושך. Other counter that it doesn’t make sense. We should have to make it many times during the day before we benefit from (new) light. One could also argue that as long as a person isn’t מסיח דעת—forgets about the ברכה they had made––then one ברכה per day would suffice.

The consensus is not like the ערוך השלחן and that the ברכה on the Havdala flame is a ברכה השבח and therefore first one reflects the light on one’s nails (and/or palms) with that wristy twist and  only after then would you make the ברכה of בורא מאורי האש.

There is some confusion as to whether you use your right hand to do this, and transfer the כוס to your left hand, and then return the כוס to your right hand and make the ברכה, or you just use your left hand and leave the כוס in your right hand. Ask your Rabbi/Posek.

Interestingly, in the additions to the שולחן ערוך הרב in the שער הכולל, Rav Yehuda Herzl Henkin points out that the implication is that מנהג חב’’ד is to make the ברכה first and then to reflect the nails on the flame (as in a classical ברכת הנהנין).  The source for this practice is quoted as being in the name of the Maharil. A problem is that there is no such Maharil. On the contrary, the Maharil in Hilchos Tisha B’Av explicitly says that on Tisha B’Av that is on מוצאי שבת (as it was this year) first you shine the light on your nails and only then do you make the ברכה.

I read that R’ Aharon Lichtenstein performs the finger nail movement both before and after the Bracha.

Author: pitputim

I'm a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia. I skylark as the band leader/singer for the Schnapps band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel.

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