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Havdalah Candle

Berachot (8:6) | Yisrael Bankier | 3 days ago

Havdalah recited after Shabbat ends consists of four berachot. The beracha on wine, besamim (spices), flame and the beracha of havdalah. This week we saw the debate regarding the order of these berchaot (8:5) and the discussion about what can be used for the besamim and the flame (8:6). The Mishnah closes by teaching that one cannot recite the beracha of bore me'orei ha'esh until he has benefitted from the fire. We shall try to understand this law.

The Bartenura explains ones does not need to benefit from the flame prior to reciting the beracha. It is sufficient that he is close enough to the flame, that he could derive benefit if he needed to.1 Citing the Gemara, the Tifferet Yisrael explains that he must close enough such that he can discern a coin's denomination by its light.

The understanding of the Mishnah thus far assumes a reading of the Mishnah that uses the term יאותו, spelled with an aleph. The Tifferet Yisrael however explains that the exact term is debated in the Yerushalmi, with Rav maintaining our version of the Mishnah. The Tifferet Yisrael explains that term implies proximity. Shmuel however understands it should be read יעותו, the root of which is עת which means time. In other words, the Mishnah is understood to be instructing one to only make the beracha at the time when the candle is most useful -- when it is sufficiently dark. In other words, according to the Yerushalmi, the Mishnah was concerned with either proximity or optimal timing and not deriving benefit alone.

Perhaps we can understand these requirements by analysing another law related to Havdalah candles. There is a debate regard whether on can recite bore me'orei ha'esh on a Havdalah candle that is inside a glass lantern. The Gemara seems to suggest that one cannot. The Gemara (53b) teaches that if the flame is insider a lantern, one cannot make the beracha unless he sees the flame. Rashi understands that the Gemara is referring to a glass lantern, and even though one can see the flame through the glass, the beracha cannot be recited. Note that this would be the case even he is close enough to derive benefit from its light.

The Raavad however disagrees. If the lantern was glass such that the flame was visible there would be no issue with reciting the beracha. Glass is not considered a sufficient separation regarding laws impacted by visibility. For example, one cannot recite berachot in front of someone who is uncovered, even if separated by glass. Consequently, the Mishnah may be referring to a solid lantern, that emits light while the flame is concealed.

The Mishnah Berurah (Bi'ur Halacha 298, s.v. oh) however defends Rashi against the Raavad's proof, arguing that the two cases are different. We need to appreciate why we recite the beracha of borei me'orei ha'esh on motzei Shabbat. The Gemara (Pesach 54b) explains that it was on motzei Shabbat that Hashem gave Adam the inspiration to strike two stones together to start a fire. It was the beginning of the "creation" of fire. The beracha we recite is in recognition of that event.

To be clear the beracha is not because one is deriving benefit from fire. Instead, it is a beracha of praise connected to its genesis.2 This then explains why one does not need to derive benefit from the fire. More important is the proximity and timing so that when one makes the beracha, it is similar to that first moment. The Mishnah Berurah understands that Rashi takes this concept one step further. In that first moment the fire was exposed and not enclosed by glass. Consequently, despite the fact that one might be able to see the flame through glass, the situation does not accurately represent that first moment for the beracha to be recited, so the borei me'orei ha'eish cannot be said.

Yisrael Bankier

1 Note that there are opinions that one must derive benefit from the light (Baal HaMeor). Interestingly, Haghot Maimoniot cites the Midrash Shachar Tov who explains that the minhag to look at one's fingernails by the light of the candle, is based on the pasuk in tehilllim, "all my bones shall say, 'Hashem who is like you?...". In other words, one's entire body, even to their fingertips, sing Hashem's praises.

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