There’s something that’s been bothering me for several months now, and I don’t really have anyone to confide in or to discuss it with.
A bit of background: I live alone as my husband passed away a few years ago. I have one son who lives with his family in another city. For the most part, I prefer to stay home alone for Shabbosim.
On a Friday afternoon in the middle of last winter I was feeling especially exhausted since I hadn’t slept well the night before. I had prepared everything for Shabbos. Table was set, candles were in place… all I needed to do was change into Shabbos attire.
Since it was still over an hour and a half to the zman, I decided I would lie down for a bit and catch a brief nap. I fell asleep almost instantly. It seemed to me that I had been asleep for only about 15 minutes when I awoke. I glanced out the window and the skies were clouded over as though there was a storm brewing.
When I noticed some men hurrying by, I wondered why they were heading to shul so fast. It took me several minutes to get my bearings and realize that the darkened skies were in reality night setting in. I checked the time and did a double take. It was about half hour past the time of candle lighting!
In utter disbelief I checked my calendar again to make sure… there was no mistake. I had even missed the 18 minute sunset deadline and would be mechalel Shabbos if I struck a match now, which I was so tempted to do.
I was mortified. How could this have happened to me?! I stared at the unlit candles on the table and clutched my face in horror. I felt like I had been locked out of Gan Eden and was helplessly isolated, and there was nothing I could do about it.
In a daze, I managed to change into more appropriate clothing, but my Friday night davening routine seemed out of place. I took my tehillim and started at the beginning, not stopping till I had said the whole thing.
By this time almost three hours had passed. I decided that Shabbos deserved to be observed properly, lit candles or not. It was the least I could do. After davening Kabolas Shabbos and Maariv, I made kiddish and washed, barely able to keep any food down. By the time I went to sleep, it was past 2 a.m. and I was completely drained.
During Shabbos I wondered what I would do. I imagined making an anonymous “ask the Rabbi” type of call and ask how I could atone for my grievous transgression.
On Motzei Shabbos, I lit my candles and tearfully begged Hashem and Shabbos to be mochel me. I also decided against calling anyone. Whoever I would be speaking with wouldn’t know me personally, so I felt their advice might be misplaced or too generalized.
And what if they advised me to do something I wouldn’t be able to abide by? Like to get rid of my smartphone or something like that.
I took it upon myself to light at least ten minutes early every erev Shabbos since, and I started lighting an extra candle.
I’m also immensely grateful that I didn’t get any company that Shabbos as I sometimes do. With the yamim noraim approaching, I’ve had this gnawing need to unburden. I guess I’m hoping you will say something that will make me feel better about myself.
Thank you for listening. Writing it all down has already slightly eased my heavy heart.
That was some harrowing experience you endured. You were all alone, and I can just imagine how lost you had to be feeling. But by all accounts it sounds like you handled your dilemma extraordinarily well.
Please don’t be so hard on yourself. You did, after all, have every intention of lighting Shabbos candles and even had them prepared! Moreover, reciting the entire Sefer Tehillim was no minor feat, and anyone you might have asked would have advised you to light that extra candle each week, which you are doing.
I am also impressed with your lighting the candles on motzei Shabbos. You may have missed welcoming the Shabbos Queen into your home, but you escorted her out in the style befitting her royalty.
As humans, we are prone to err. That is why we have been given the gift of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and teshuvah. You can be certain you are not the first to have entered Shabbos without lighting, though it’s baruch Hashem, hopefully, not a common occurrence.
In fact, our holy seforim reference the possibility of this happening and advise remedies accordingly. If, for instance, the woman of the house is for some reason especially preoccupied and hasn’t had time to change into her Shabbos finest, she is exhorted to first light and change afterwards.
Furthermore, man is advised to best not leave for shul until he has seen his wife light. For in the event that she is running late, he is to take the initiative and light the candles in her stead.
If by chance both missed the timeline for tzinding, they can avail themselves of a non-Jew to light the candles for them. In this instance, neither husband nor wife makes the bracha over the candles. Of course not everyone will have the advantage of a non-Jew’s presence to rely on.
If no candles were lit at all, the woman is obligated to light an extra candle on every erev Shabbos going forward. So you see, you did the right thing. And may I suggest that if you’re ever inclined to take a nap on erev Shabbos in the future, with no one around to wake you, that you play it safe by setting an alarm.
Wishing you peace of mind and heart and many healthy years to continue fulfilling the awesome mitzvah of candle lighting le’kavod Shabbos Kodesh.