It all began just before the first Shabbos I was left alone after the wife's visit to the States. Only five minutes to the siren indicating the advent of the Holy day, when I suddenly realized, "wait a minute. I have to light the Shabbos candles". A quick frantic search ensued, but to no avail, I could not find any candles. A quick dash to neighbour, Libby, and all ended well. I made a mental note that we needed candles when next doing the "big shop"
The following Shabbos I was a away from home. However, owing to sad circumstances, I had to spend a third Shabbos in solitary confinement (of sorts).
Anyway, buying candles was still on the list of my priorities. Alas, t'was whilst visiting Olga on my customary Friday afternoon delivery of the Jerusalem Post that I finally remembered I did not have candles to light within the next couple of hours. Dependable Olga to the rescue. She promptly gave me two candles, and all was well.
Once again I prepared for Shabbos. No cooking, no setting up a "blech", no necessity to straighten up the house in the usual manner. Just a few chores. Taking things slowly, calmly, and with deliberate precision, I heard the siren for five minutes, and was ready to walk out the door and go to shul. Rather proud of my organizational skills and beholden of a rare pre-shabbos serenity, I heaved a contented sigh and opened the door for my spiritual departure to a blissful realm. And then a little glitch entered the fray.
"Oh, oh. I still have to light the Shabbos candles. No problem", I immediately reassured myself. I have the candles. Shouldn't take more than a tick"
Before, I proceed any further, let me explain that my wife actually lights at least 8 candles -- the two customary ones, and six additions corresponding to our number of kids. Two is all I can handle, or so I assumed) A large tray serves as the base. It is located on a shelf (probably a little too close to our drapes),and is full of small empty silver cups housing watery substances, shards of silvery aluminum foil, wicks, used matches, little boxes of wicks, and pools of liquid y ax.
Back to the about to begin nightmare, excuse me, I mean, "story"
A little too cocky, I must admit, I made my way to the tray, where I had put the candles. Oh yes.they were there, alright. I cuffed my hand into a position to pluck out a box of matches, strike a light, make contact, and be off to shul without further ado.
I groped around and there were no matches to be clutched. I peered into the tray and cast a swift perusal. Nothing. Gotta be. I plunged my fingers into the mass and scraped the surface, and emerged with wax pickings under my shabbos prepared fingernails.
Okay. A cinch. I'll go into the kitchen which was a distance of about half a cricket pitch away (slight exaggeration) and there I would no doubt find matches. The search quickly became a scramble. (Take into account, soon the Sabbath would be upon us, and all work had to cease forthwith) I looked on the shelves, opened cabinets, but to no avail. There wasn't a match in the vicinity.
I had to think fast. My mind raced. I could and should have run over again to a neighbour, just like I did with the candles two weeks ago.. Oh no, I surmised, for no particular reason.
And then I noticed the stove. I got a flame going by turning on the gas plate. I rushed backed to the tray, found a used match, and charged back to the stove, like a cricketing fast bowler. the match, and now with slow, pacing steps ensuring the it remained lit, I agonizingly made my way back to the candles. The tips of my fingers were now feeling the heat. But it was no good. The ebbing flame extinguished as I arrived at my destination. Undeterred, I groped for another used match. Perhaps one with more unburnt wood available. Yes, this one had longer length of dry timber. I returned to the stove, and made it back to the candle with a burning match. I decided to say the blessing of actually kindling the lights before lighting the flame.. The Laws permit one to light the candles, and only having to observe the sabbath upon the advent of nightfall).
"Blessed is the L-rd......" and as I completed the hallowed words, the match withered and died. I had said the blessing, but had not achieved the flame. I stood frozen in my tracks. What to do?
I ran back to the the kitchen, grabbed an old newspaper, tore out a page with ruthless efficiency, waved the papered torch in the flames emanating from the stove, and like an Olympian symbol raced back to the candles. flew in all directions, precariously close to the drapes. Never mind, the candles, I had to stop the beginnings of what could be a raging blaze. The paper dropped from my hand, I stomped on the blackened embers bent on destruction. Equilibrium had been restored. There was no sign of any fire. The still unlit shabbos candles looked up at me from their tray. I sensed that an audience of angels hovering somewhere above were in fits of laughter. I did not share their mirth.
Again, I had to think fast. Aah! I took both small cups holding the shabbos candles and made off to the stove. I managed to light the wicks and gingerly returned to my perch. I laid down the one candle. Success. And as I put the other one down, the light mockingly fizzled out. Now, I was a bull in a china shop. I roughly picked up the lit candle to reignite his friend, when my nice, clean sleeveless shabbos shirt became immersed at the shoulders with wet wax and black particles of dusted match ash. The two cups of candles fell into the tray, and were now lying sideways. I came to life and stormed to the tap in the kitchen, wet a rag, and soaked my shirt.
Now I took the two candles a second time from the now menacing tray and went to the stove. I lit them, and commenced the journey back. This time, they remained alight, as I placed them down. As I finally turned away, I am quite sure that through the corner of my eye, I glimpsed that one of them flickered, winked at me, and went out.
Head slightly bowed now, a clinging damp shirt on my back, I ventured off to shul.. As I entered the holy domain, my step turned into a jig, and my face brightened and lightened. No-one had to know what I had been through, and, after all, it was shabbos, and the ordeal was over - just about.
Years ago, there was a blazing fire in the attic of my house on a Friday evening caused by a wood burning stove. We discovered the fiery furnace on the way home from shul on a Friday evening.
Towards the end of the service this week, I started to become uneasy. What if I had failed to snuff out one of the cinders, or a flame had crawled out of the tray and began devouring all and sundry? My concern grew into paranoia. And yet, I did not move. I waited until the end of proceedings. And then went home to check. The house was as dry as a parched desert. And the shabbos lights were bereft of any holy glow.
The candles were probably thinking, "Thank G-D, the wife will be home next week".