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.

Light and Darkness II: Guest post from P. Hasofer

The following was posted as a comment to my earlier blog post on this topic by P. Hasofer. He hasn’t asked for a guest post, but I am posting it as it is a little long for a comment, and worth reading. Yes, I have little knowledge of Chassidus in general, including Chabad Chassidus. Allow me to bring to the table, a different perspective (similar to that of R’ Hershel Schachter  and no doubt from where he derived it) by R’ Chaim Volozhiner ז’ל (the successor and lead student of the Vilna Gaon) in his Nefesh Hachaim. See the words of the Nefesh Hachaim  here.

Dear R’ Isaac Balbin:

To understand what the Rebbe, Zechusoi yogen oleinu. is explaining here, please let me give you a short introduction with which will make things more understood, You have written in the past that you don’t have much knowledge in Chabad Chassidus, so this will hopefully help you understand this Inyan.

This idea is explained at length in Chabad Chassidus starting from the Alter Rebbes Tanya.

There are 3 general elements in our world. 1. Kedusha 2. Klipas noga 3. Sholosh Klipas Hatmeos:

Kedusha doesn’t really need to much explanation I hope, its basically anything holy, Torah and Mitzvos, Shabbos, Tefillin etc.

Klipas Noga, is the middle area, which includes everything mundane, anything that is kosher, or just simply not Kedusha, for example – all kosher foods etc, which can be elevated to Kedusha, by either using it Leshem Shomayim, or Making a brocho before eating the food, and having the intention to use the energy derived from the food, for Torah study or the keeping of Mitzvos.

Sholosh Klipos Hatmeos are all those things which are forbidden or Not Kosher, and cannot be elevated or used for Kedusha, or Lesham Shomayim, we are prohibited to have anything to do with them, and through pushing it away, that is its redemption and purpose. “Ibudo zehu tikuno”

The second level, Klipas Noga, is clearly not Kedusha at all, and can be used against Kedusha, or be elevated to the realm of Kedusha, it is therefore our mission to elevate the “nitzus” (holy spark) which is inside these creations, and bring them to the realm of Kedusha.

Now onto our subject, the transformation or effect that Kedusha – light can have on Klipa – darkness.

Lets separate this into 3 parts:

  1. The effect the light of Torah “Or Hashemesh” has on the darkness – “klipa” in the world that surrounds us.
  2. The effect Mitzvos “Or Haner” has on the darkness (Klipa).
  3. The effect a Baal Tshuvah has on the darkness (Klipa).

“Ki Ner Miztva VeTorah Or”

The effect of the light of the sun – Or Hashemesh on the darkness – it pushes away the darkness, when the sun comes up, it disperses the darkness. It does not transform the darkness into light, it merely pushes it away, and overpowers it, by its mere existence and nature.
On the other hand, the light of a candle is quite different by its mere nature, not only does it disperse the darkness, depending of course how big the candle is, but it has another advantage. As explained above, the sun light pushes away the darkness. The candle however not only pushes away the darkness, but it also transforms the wick and oil etc, into light, it transforms what is not light, into light.

So too, in our Discussion:

Torah is like the sunlight, it pushes away and disperses any darkness in reach, it pushes away the Darkness and Klipas around us, and inside us.
Mitzvos have the same effect, but with an additional advantage, Mitzvos do not only push away the darkness and klipa, but with its intense light it has the power to transform that which is not light – that which is not holy, the mundane, the Klipas Noga. It transforms the Physical objects and energy used in the fulfillment of the Mitzva into Light, into Kedusha. (it must be noted that Torah also transforms the persons energy used to study Torah, into Kedusha, but it is specifically the Mitzvas Talmud Torah which has that effect.)
When affecting or transforming the Darkness – the Klipas, the light can only have an effect on the darkness which has the capability to be transformed into light – into Kedusha. Just like the candle can only burn and transform into light those materials which are possible to burn and become light, the oil and wick etc. must be suitable to burn. Meaning: Torah and Mitzvos can only have an effect on Klipas noga, which has the ability, and is suitable to become Kedusha, one cannot elevate Sholosh Klipas Hatmeos into Kedusha.

A Baal Teshuva though, through their Teshuva (and each of us as well, with our own Aveiros, in which we are can be a Baal Teshuva in our own way) not only transforms the mundane, the Klipas Noga, but effects the Sholosh Klipas Hatmeos, they with the power of Teshuva, transforms their sins – the ultimate darkness and Klipa, into Kedusha, “zdonos nasu lo Kezochios”

To Summarize: there are 3 ways of effecting the darkness – Klipas.

Torah: Pushes away the darkness – Klipas, but only that which is possible to push away – Klipas Noga.

Mitzvos: Transforms the Klipas Noga, and elevates it into the realm of Kedusha.

A Baal Teshuva: Transforms even the lowest darkness – Sholosh Klipas Hatmeos into Kedusha.

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