A prominent feature of Havdalah every Motzaei Shabbat is the distinguished candle upon which the blessing over fire is recited. One should make every effort to use a multi-wick candle for Havdalah, as doing so is considered to be a mitzvah min hamuvchar, the preferred manner in which to perform the mitzvah.1 Nevertheless, one who does not have such a candle may use a regular single-wick candle instead.2 Even two wicks qualify as a “multi-wick candle” for this purpose.3 Alternatively, one can simply light two matches or two candles and hold them together for the recitation of the blessing.4 While it is ideal for the candle or other source of fire to remain lit for the entire Havdalah service, it suffices for it to merely burn while the blessing upon it is being recited.5
There are several reasons why a multi-wick candle is to be preferred for Havdalah. For one, it gives off more light than a single-wick candle.6 Additionally, a torch-like flickering flame is a more impressive and inspiring sight than a lone flame, making it a more prestigious fire on which to recite the blessing. The presence of more than one flame also recalls how Adam discovered fire on a Motzaei Shabbat by striking two rocks together.7 Another reason for the use of a torch-like flame is to recall the Midrashic teaching that the evening after Adam sinned, he was fearful that the snake might return to cause him more trouble. In response, G-d provided him with a pillar of fire that gave him light and protection.8 The candle at Havdalah also reminds us that creating fire is forbidden on Shabbat, while now it now becomes permitted once more.9
Some mistakenly believe that using a multi-wick candle is a requirement, citing the wording of the blessing “Borei me’orei ha’eish (“Who creates the lights of fire”) as proof for this position. However, the plural wording of the blessing does not refer to the multiple fires of a multi-wick candle but rather to the multiple colors within fire: blue, red, orange, and white.10 Nevertheless, the literal wording of the blessing is reason enough to prefer the use of a multi-wick candle.11
One who does not have a candle or other source of fire for Havdalah is not required to go out of their way to obtain one.12 In such a situation, one simply omits the blessing over fire and recites the remainder of Havdalah as normal. Nevertheless, it is proper to make an effort to have fire for Havdalah.13 One should be close to the fire when reciting the blessing upon it to ensure that one derives benefit directly from its light.14 A blind person does not include the blessing over fire when reciting Havdalah.15 In an emergency, some authorities allow the recitation of the blessing over fire upon the Chanukah candles on the Motzaei Shabbat of Chanukah.16
It is customary to examine the palm and fingernails of one’s right hand17 by the light of the Havdalah candle. Doing so is said to arouse blessing.18 Some have the custom of first examining their fingernails and then reciting the blessing upon the fire,19 while others reverse the order.20 It is customary to extinguish the candle in some wine that is poured from the Havdalah goblet into a plate or bowl for this purpose.21 One should not extinguish the Havdalah candle by blowing it out.22 There are those who rule that a woman who recites Havdalah is not to recite the blessing over fire.23 Common custom, however, is not according to this view. Women who recite Havdalah should recite it in full, especially if they are reciting it on behalf of others.24
There is some discussion about whether one may use an electric light bulb for Havdalah in place of a candle in extenuating circumstances.25 It is reported that Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski would always use an electric bulb for Havdalah in order to demonstrate how strongly he felt that electricity should be treated like fire from the perspective of halacha.26 Nevertheless, most authorities frown upon the use of an electric light for Havdalah even when nothing else is available. This is because the blessing recited upon the Havdalah flame includes the word “fire,” which implies the need for actual fire, not merely light. Therefore, a light bulb would not be acceptable according to this view.27 Even those who permit the use of a light bulb for Havdalah only permit the use of incandescent light bulbs and not fluorescent ones.28
- Pesachim 103b; OC 298:2; Aruch HaShulchan, OC 298:6.
- Rema, OC 298:2; Mishna Berura 298:5; Aruch HaShulchan, OC 298:6.
- Rema, OC 298:2.
- Maggid Mishna, Shabbat 29:26; OC 298:3; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 96:9; Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 61:26.
- Rivevot Ephraim 3:285.
- Mishna Berura 298:5.
- Bereishit Rabba 11; Pesachim 54a.
- Based on Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer 20.
- Kol Bo 41; Aruch HaShulchan 296:2.
- Rashi, Berachot 52b; Mishna Berura 298:2.
- Shmuel Pinchas Gelbard, Rite and Reason: 1050 Jewish Customs and Their Sources (Jerusalem: Feldheim, 1998), s.v. “Havdalah.”
- Berachot 53b; OC 298:1; Mishna Berura 298:3.
- Kaf Hachaim, OC 298:7.
- Berachot 51b; OC 298:4; Mishna Berura 298:12.
- Aruch HaShulchan, OC 298:17; Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 61:21.
- Yabia Omer 4:24:5; Rivevot Ephraim 6:370.
- OC 298:3; Sha’arei Teshuva 298:4; Aruch HaShulchan, OC 298:8.
- Mishna Berura 298:9. See also Sefer Kushiot 53.
- Mishna Berura 296:31.
- Kaf Hachaim, OC 296:45; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 96:9; Igrot Moshe, OC 5:9.
- Rema, OC 296:1. See also Eruvin 65b; Leket Yosher, p. 57; and Tashbetz 465. Some look unfavorably upon this custom: Magen Avraham 296:3, Mevasseret Tzion 37.
- Rivevot Ephraim 4:54:35, 5:468:3, Kaf Hachaim, YD 116:115; Salmat Chaim 2:8; Kol Bo 118. It is taught that there is an angel whose name is the same as the sound made when one blows out with force. As it is deemed improper to use the names of holy angels for no reason, some are careful to put out a candle by waving one’s hand rather than blowing it out in order not to “use” the name of an angel to do so.
- Biur Halacha 296.
- Mishna Berura 296:35; Ketzot HaShulchan 96:2; Tzitz Eliezer 14:44; Be’er Moshe 4:28; Teshuvot V’hanhagot 1:266; Kinyan Torah 1:88; Shraga Hameir 5:11:5. For more on this see Rivevot Ephraim 6:172–74.
- She’arim Metzuyanim B’halacha 96:6; Az Nidberu 8:2; Rivevot Ephraim 3:599.
- She’arim Metzuyanim B’halacha 96:6.
- Har Tzvi 2:114.
- Hachashmal L’or Hahalacha 3:88.