The Candle Maker of Light

Devorah Spilman

Retold by Robert Haralick

In a small Jewish village, many years ago, lived the first Candle Maker of Light. Her name was Hannah. She lived alone in a small house on a hill surrounded by trees. No one knew how old she was, and even she couldn't remember. On Friday evenings, if anyone had ever looked in the window of her house, they would have seen her light her Shabbos candles. When the candles were lit, the candlelight filled her house and flowed out of the windows in streams of light into the hearts and souls of the people.

Rena was an orphan who lived in the same town as Hannah. Her parents were killed tragically when she was seven. For the last five years, Rena had lived with her Aunt Brach. Rena loved her Aunt Bracha, but she was still filled with the pain and loneliness of no longer having her parents. She especially missed her mother on Friday evening when she and her mother would light the Shabbos candles. She remembered how the Shabbos candle lighting was sacred. She and her mother would gather up the light three times and stand for a long time making wishes and giving blessings to all the people of the world.

It was just not the same with her Aunt Bracha. Aunt Bracha just lit the candles, said the blessing, and quickly went on to something else. Rena tried standing at the candles alone, but it wasn't the same and usually her Aunt Bracha told her to set the table, anyway. Soon she stopped even trying. But the empty sadness never left her.

On Thursday afternoons, it was Rena's job to buy the Shabbos candles from the candle maker in the marketplace. There was nowhere else to buy candles except from Hannah, the candle maker. Rena did not like this job. She would go to the marketplace with her money in hand: "I'd like these four candles," she would say. Hannah always sat at her table, arms folded, a frown placed purposefully on her face, with her eyes sparkling. "How much money do you have?" would be Hannah's brusque reply. Rena showed her the money. "You do not have enough money for those candles," Hannah retorted. "Well then, I'll take any candles you say I can afford," Rena stammered. "Oh! Now you don't care which candles you take? Hannah replied indignantly. "No, I do care." stuttered Rena. I just do not know which ones I can afford. "Then Hannah pointed, Rena picked, and the ordeal was over until next week.

But on this Thursday afternoon, it didn't happen that way. Rena arrived a bit earlier than usual at the marketplace. There were very few people around. When she arrived at Hannah's table, Hannah motioned for her to be quiet, and then Hannah looked in both directions, as if making sure that nobody was nearby. Then she did something amazing. She looked Rena directly in the eye and she began to smile, a warm, deep, gentle smile, filling her face with light. Rena gazed in amazement, her mouth hanging open. She had never seen Hannah smile.

"Can you come to my house this Shabbos," said Hannah, her voice sweet and gentle. Can you come tomorrow before candle-lighting? Rena said absolutely nothing. She could only gaze in shock, her mouth hanging open. "Rena," said Hannah, "close your mouth." Rena gasped, closed her mouth and began to smile.

"I'm sorry, I was just surprised. I have to ask my Aunt Bracha if I can come to your house." "Then go and ask her, and take these four cnadles. They are my best. They are a gift. Now hurry."

Rena ran all the way home, bursting breathless into the house. "Aunt Bracha, Aunt Bracha," she shouted over and over. "Rena, what is it? What's the matter?" "Nothing's the matter. It's just that Hannah, the candle maker, invited me to her house for Shabbos. She wants me to come tomorrow, before candle-lighting. I told here I had to ask you first. Can I go?"

"If Hannah invited you," replied her Aunt Bracha quietly, "then you must go. It is a great honor. She is the oldest and perhaps even the wisest person in our village. There must be a reason she has chosen to invite you."

"She gave us these cnadles, too, as a gift." Rena said. The candles were Hannah's most beautiful, long and white candles, and seemed to shine all by themselves, even unlit. "They are beautiful," her aunt replied, and she took them gently from Rena's hands. "I have to go back and tell her that I can come," said Rena. "Then hurry up and go tell her."

When Rena arrived at Hannah's table the second time that afternoon, Hannah made her wait until they were alone. "Well?" said Hannah smilling again at Rena. "I can come," Rena said. "Good," said Hannah, "and bring two of the candles that I gave you, and for now, do not tell anyone else that you are coming to my house."

Someone else came up to the table. Hannah was again brusque, her face pinched. With a wave of her hand, she brushed Rena away. "Hurry up! Now go home. Go on. Go on." Rena turned and ran home. She wondered why Hannah didn't want anyone to know that she really was so nice.

The next day, Rena didn't know whether to be more scared or more excited. She didn't know anyone who had ever been to Hanna's house. Everyone knew where it was, but it seemed that no one had been there. She put on her best Shabbos dress. Her hair combed, the candles in her hand, she kissed her Aunt Bracha good-bye and wished her a good Shabbbos.

On her way to Hannah's house, she stopped to pick some wildflowers to give to Hannah as a gift. She reached the door and knocked nervously. "Come in, its open," she heard Hannah call from the inside of the house. Rena walked slowly into the house. She was surprised -- it was not so different from the house she lived in with her Aunt Bracha. "Come in, come in," Hannah called. "Put your candles into the candle holder over the mantlepiece, and you can put the flowers in the vase on the table."

"How did she know I brought flowers?" Rena thought, looking at the flowers in her hand. She put them in the empty vase on the table. "And don't forget the water." Hannah called. "How did she know?" thought Rena. She filled the vase with water and returned to the table. At that moment, Hannah walked into the room. Rena stared at her in amazement, her mouth hanging open. Hannah was dressed all in white, in a flowing dress. Her face seemd to shine. She was beautiful.

"Good Shabbos, Rena." Rena couldn't get any words to come out of her mouth. She just stared in wonder. Hannah looked so different. "Rena, close your mouth," Hannah said, smiling at her. "Oh!" said Rena. She quickly shut her mouth. "Its just that you're so beautiful. You are glowing with happiness and the white dress makes you look like an angel.

"Come said Hannah, "it is time to light the candles. When I light them, I want you to watch me closely, and you will do just what I do. When I finish you will light your two candles and gather up the light three times and cover your eyes. Then when you say the blessing, let every word be its own song. When you are finished, do not uncover your eyes. Wait. Look at the light within you, see what you can see. Make three wishes -- prayers from your heart -- one for the whole world, one for your family and friends, and one for yourself. When you feel my hand on your shoulder, you can uncover your eyes.

"But what if I make a mistake" What if I don't remember everything you said?" "Don't worry," said Hannah, "Whatever you do will be right." When I am finished I will nod my head and you will begin to light your candles."

Hannah struck her match, lit her candles, gathered the light and sang the blessing. When she finished she nodded her head, but she did not uncover her eyes. Rena struck her match, lit her candles, and began gathering up the light. As she gathered the light, suddenly she remembered that this was the way she used to light candles with her mother. She covered her eyes, which were now wet with tears, and began to sing the blessing over the candles. Each word was its own song that seemed to sing itself within her, and when she finished, it seemed to Rena that she could see streams of light flowing out from the candles and out from her fingers, filling them with light. She wished that the whole world would be filled with the light of Shabbos. She wished she could see her parents again, even though she knew it was impossible. She wished that the new girl in school would want to be her friend.

She felt a gentle touch on her shoulder. She opened her eyes. The room seemed to be filled with light. Hannah's face was glowing, her eyes radiating love. Rena thought of her mother, and tears welled up in her eyes. Hannah wiped her tears and held her close.

"Did you see anything?" said Hannah.

"I ... I saw -- this might sound funny ... " said Rena. "Go on," said Hannah. "I saw light coming out of the candles and out of my fingers. And they flowed out of the house, and it seemed to me that these streams of light split up into many, many, many streams, and each one went inside a person and filled them with light. It was very beautiful, Hannah. It made me remember when I used to light candles with my mother. We would say that we were sending Shabbos light to all of our family and friends. But with my mother, I never say the light actually going out and into people. I hope that's OK."

"Its more than OK, Rena. It is why I picked you." Picked me for what?" asked Rena. "I picked you to take over my job," said the candle maker. "What do you mean?" "I am very old. And I will not live forever. When I die, there must be someone to take over for me." But now that I like you," said Rena, "I don't want you to die."

"Like everyone, I too, must die," Hannah replied gently. "But before I die, I will teach you how to make the most beautiful candles in the world. But more than that. I will teach you how to be the Candle Maker of Light."

Rena couldn't move. But the moment Hannah said that, she felt a strange sensation lighting up within her. "I will teach you," continued Hannah, "not only how to make candles, but how to truly send the light of Shabbos out into the world to heal and nourish the hearts of the people."

Rena gazed into Hannah's eyes and saw that it was true. "When you grow up and get married, you will come and live in this house. And you will be the new Candle Maker of Light."

Rena still could not speak. She felt a great joy filling up inside her. She had been silent for so long that Hannah finally said to her. "What do you think of all this, Rena?"

"I believe you," said Rena. "When I looked into your eyes, I could see that what you were saying was true. For the first time since my parents died I feel the pain is somehow less and maybe I'll be happy again. With you, I can light candles as I did with my mother. But Hannah, there's one thing that bothers me. Why are you always so distant when you sold your candles in the marketplace? Do I have to act like that?"

"No, my dear, you do not. I am not allowed to reveal who I truly am. And so, for now, you must not tell anyone what I have told you. But by the time your are grown, this will no longer be necessary. And you will sell your candles with light and joy. For this is your way."

And so it was that it came to pass exactly as Hannah said. Throughout the rest of her childhood, Rena came monthly to spend Shabbos with Hannah. And every week she came after school to learn how to make candles. Hannah lived to see Rena married. And when she died, Rena and her husband moved into Hannah's house. Rena became the new Candle Maker of Light.

By day Rena sold her beautiful candles in the marketplace. But unlike Hannah, she greeted all who came to her table with a smile of warmth and love. And all who came to her house for Shabbos learned how to gather the light and let each word of the blessing sing itself within their hearts and how to send the light of Shabbos out into the hearts of all who needed it.

And now we too can gather that light and send it out into the world, where so much light is needed.