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A Short Guide on the Meaning Behind Lighting Candles for Tzaddikim

Lighting candles for beloved family members and Tzaddikim has become a Jewish tradition since time immemorial. This minhag (custom) is not brought up in the Codes of Law and we know very little about it. So, what is it about lighting candles for people? Follow along this article to know many fascinating insights on that practice.

First, there are two main practices when it comes to lighting candles: one is when there’s a yartzheit (death anniversary) and another one is in any given day of the year. Both are meant to elicit the memory of the departed person, whether he be someone from the family or a Tzaddik.

There’s a Pasuk (verse) from Mishlei that states: “Because the Mitzvah is a candle and the Torah is light” and another that states: “The soul of a person is Hashem’s candle”. Having this in mind we can understand a little better the importance of lighting candles for tzaddikim. Since a soul is compared to a candle and we wish to draw down its illumination in our lives, lighting a candle keeps the memory of the blessed Tzaddik alive in our memories and that, in itself brings us blessing.

However, there’s more to lighting candles than meet the eye.

The great Mussar Rishon R’ Bachya ben Asher writes that our souls receive pleasure from the light coming from a candle. The Zohar writes that the candle is composed of 5 different flames, which, in Kabbalistic and Chassidic literature, correspond to the 5 levels of the soul; nefesh, ruach, neshama, chaya and yechida. Knowing this we can better see a relationship between a candle and our souls. The soul shines a spiritual light while the candle shines a physical light.

Mind you, this does not mean that we are bringing the departed soul back by lighting a candle. Likewise, the Talmud says that Avraham Avinu stands in the entrance of Gehinom to prevent Jews who safeguarded their Brit from entering. While this does happen (in a different way), the obvious question is: what, doesn’t Avraham Avinu have anything better to do than stand there all day long telling people not to go in? The same would go for the souls experiencing the wondrous delights of Gan Eden, what possible motivation would they have to abandon that and come down here?

While we know for a fact that Tzaddikim desire to bestow blessings upon people who follow them, the truth is that only a “reshimo” (impression) of the soul comes down, which can nevertheless be a great source of help for us in this world.

The candle then acts as an intermediary to bring the impression (“reshimo”) of the soul of the departed to come. This should also not be underestimated. None less than the great Rabbi Asher ben Yechiel (The Rosh) teaches that it’s customary to light a memorial candle before Yom Kippur in order to atone for the souls of the departed. This also bring them elevation since, as a person has his sins forgiven, he rises in the spiritual realms. As the Tzaddikim loathe being indebted, they certainly act in as our “melitzei yosher” (protector in court) to help our prayers rise and also bring down blessings to us.

This should not come as a surprise since the Zohar and Talmud testifies to the tremendous power Tzaddikim wield after their passing. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov has advised people to constantly keep a candle lit in his honor and many Breslov Chassidim adopt this practice. Some claim they felt better with it and even attribute their salvations to this practice.

Therefore, we see that lighting candles is a very strong way to connect to Tzaddikim and draw down illumination from their souls. There’s real power involved in it as, according to our sages “one shouldn’t underestimate any custom from Am Yisrael” because they almost always are full of meaning. One should think, however, that this has any semblance to Avodah Zarah, and attributing independent power to Tzaddikim or forgetting about Hashem. This is false. It’s just that in the spiritual worlds, there’s a lot of influence and effort Tzaddikim can exert on our behalf.

Whom do you connect to? If you don’t have any Tzaddik in mind, today might be a good idea to start forging a relationship with one! You can do this by studying his works, telling his stories (which as we might see, contain incredibly deep secrets), celebrating his yartzheit and, of course, lighting a candle in his/her honor.

This article was written and published in the zechut of all Emuna Builder Partners. May they have complete emuna and continue in spreading emuna!

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