This will be my short Havdalah candle post. I shall simply tell the whys and whats. The hows, I’ll save for three additional posts: one for rolled beeswax sheets, one for dipped beeswax tapers, and one for a repurposed Hanukkah candle version. Four posts just might be enough room to wax lyrical about the ups and downs and sideways of a seemingly simple process. I feel compelled to record my experiences so that others may skip the labyrinthine bits and get right to the part where everything turns out well.
Fun Fact: All the candles pictured above are kosher Havdalah candles. The minimum requirement is to have more than one wick in order to be “torch-like.” The Havdalah blessing is for eish / fire, not, as in the Shabbat blessing, for lighting the ner / lamp [candle].*
To teach this in class, I start with the Shabbat Candle Demo:
Two Shabbat candles in separate holders = two Shabbat candles.
Two Shabbat candles held in one hand = one Havdalah candle.
Then, I show two Hanukkah candles and even two birthday cake candles.
Note I said minimum requirement. A candle can be kosher and not be pretty. A candle can be kosher and yet be short-lived enough to barely make it to the end of the Havdalah blessings. My students and I try to make our own handmade candles as beautiful and functional as possible (and we bag another mitzvah by trying: Hiddur Mitzvah = to beautify a commandment). But to first learn the minimum is to put the whole lesson in perspective. I love how shocked kids (and grownups) are to find out that holding two fireplace matches in one hand creates kosher “eish” for Havdalah.
So, yes, the more the wicks the better, a la Hiddur Mitzvah. And, the prettier the better. UNLESS, the pretty, zillion-wicked candle is multiplied by 30, with each one in the unpredictable hand of an unpredictable child at a group service. Those flames can leap 12″, which freaks me the heck out. In this case, let me recommend a certain, ugly E-Z version as a safer alternative. If you plan a Havdalah wherein many children will be wielding lit candles, please see my post about repurposing Hanukkah candles.
TYPES OF “NICE” HAVDALAH CANDLES TO MAKE:
But, back to the nice candles: pretty candles that a kid will actually want to make. All three options below are kid-friendly in theory. Most use more than two wicks because kids think more is better, and our tradition agrees with them. (Explanations about why we braid and why we might use a particular number of wicks (3? 6? more?) are fascinating, but I’ll save that for later.)
• 1.) Beeswax sheet rolled around a wick. Roll 3 tapers and twist or braid into one big candle. Or, roll one big taper with more than one wick inside (add wicks one at a time, in different layers).
• 2.) Beeswax dipped tapers. Dip 3 narrow tapers and twist or braid into one big candle. Dip again to fuse them.
• 3.) Poured candle (a.k.a. pillar candle). Melt wax (soy, beeswax or paraffin) and pour into a mold that contains at least two wicks anchored at the bottom. Show your students the fancy schmancy pillar Havdalah candles from Sfat (Safed) in Israel, home of Kabbalah / Jewish Mysticism and perhaps of the Havdalah ceremony itself.
Your own pillar candles can be poured inside of stuff you already have, like soda cans (with the top cut off) or, believe it or not, empty toilet paper tubes. Even beeswax works fine with toilet paper tubes, and kids get quite the kick out of pouring the wax and then peeling off the cardboard. (Use square, cotton braided wick with beeswax.) (Oh no, do I need a separate post for pillars, too? “From pillar to post…”)
I hope you’ll share your own candle-making experiences, gripes, successes and questions below. I crave candle community.
*Contrast the Shabbat candle blessing with the Havdalah candle blessing. For Shabbat, we are commanded “to kindle the light of Shabbat:” “lihadlik ner shel Shabbat.” Ner is singular for one lamp (or candle).
For Havdalah, we praise God “Who creates the light of the fire.” “… borei m’orei ha’eish.” Eish is FIRE, not lamp. And fire, the Rabbis say, means flame that is torch-like and comprised of more than one wick.
Havdalah article by Rabbi Susan Silverman at MyJewishLearning.com: Havdalah basics, blessings.
Short Havdalah video, animated, from Moises House Rocks. I show this to supplement our 2nd and 3rd grade lessons.
Pillar Havdalah Candles: just Google it to show images to your kids. Some of them are over-the-top fancy with carved embellishments (again with the Hiddur Mitzvah). I would love to have an elaborate one to display at the opposite end of the fancy scale (which would be anchored by the doubled Hanukkah candles), but I am not quite willing to pay for one…
Hiddur Mitzvah article at MyJewishLearning.com