THE FLAME THAT BURNS ON
The lighting of a candle as a required observance and focal point of Jewish Ritual is perhaps the most prevalent act of Judaism. At the onset of Shabbos, Holidays, and during times of remembrance the igniting of a candle has served to be an "Eternal Light for the Jewish People.
The connection between the flame, the candle, and the soul is derived from the Book of Proverbs (chapter 20, verse 7): "The soul of man is the light of God."
The flame of a candle is compared to a soul, for just as a flame is never still, so too does the soul continuously strives to 'reach up' to G-d. Additionally, like the soul of man the flame of the candle is something that you cannot touch and has no corporeal quality, but nevertheless you know that it is there.
In the Jewish traditions of mourning this connection is especially significant. We are reminded of the all too temporal bond between body and soul. This same metaphor of the flame of a candle does however contain a great life affirming lesson for us all.
The flame of a single candle can, when touched to another candle have the essential ability to ignite the wick of the next candle, and this newly lit candle can now go on to light the next candle and so on ad infinitum. At a time of remembrance of this, the greatest possible personal loss, one can find tremendous spiritual strength in the knowledge that just as the departed loved one has touched us and lit up our life, so to it is now possible for us to light up the life of someone else. In this way the passing away of an individual from the word is not an end, but even in this physical world the good and godly light that was the deceased’s mission here can now continue. You can and indeed it is your obligation, so to speak, to pass on that torch of life for them to the next one and thus their flame shall burn on.
The following is a listing of the most significant candle lighting rituals of Jewish Mourning Traditions.
After the funeral a Shiva candle is lit. It marks the beginning of the seven days of mourning but it is also a symbol for the soul of the deceased. Shiva means seven, and refers to the first week of mourning after burial. Shiva is a time of intense but sheltered and proscribed grief and affords the mourners time to remember the deceased.
Lighting the Yahrzeit candle is probably the most well-known of Yahrzeit customs. The candle is lit at sundown on the eve of the anniversary of the passing and the candle should remain burning for twenty-four hours.
It is a custom to light a Yizkor candle on the eve of the four Festivals during the year when the Yizkor prayers are said in the Synagogue. Yizkor is recited on the last day of each of the Festivals of Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkoth and on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. In these prayers we ask God to 'remember' the souls of family and friends who have passed away. The Yizkor prayers include an undertaking to give a donation to charity in memory of the deceased. By performing this mitzvah in the name of the deceased, we share the credit with them and enhance the status of their memory. Although a soul can no longer do good deeds, “Mitzvahs”, after death, it can gain merit through the charity and good deeds of the living.
May the world be filled with the light of the good deeds of the Jewish People and speedily usher in the long awaited time of the full revelation of our redemption, about which is said, 'May death disappear forever, and may Eternal G-d wipe the tears from every face!".