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The Shabbos Candle Mitzvah Campaign

Thursday, 19 November, 2009 - 6:52 am

candle lighting 6In the 1970s, the branch of the Lubavitch Women's Organization dedicated to spreading the practice of kindling Shabbos candles, organized a series of radio ads encouraging women and girls to fulfill this mitzvah. Because federal law required that every ad have a commercial aspect, the notices mentioned that if the listeners sent one dollar to the Candle lighting Division of the Lubavitch Women's Organization at 770 Eastern Parkway, they would be sent a special set of Shabbos candle holders.

Thousands of these holders were distributed. At times, people would err, and instead of addressing their letters to the Lubavitch Women's Organization, they would send them to the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

On one occasion, a woman living on Ocean Avenue in Brooklyn wrote to ask for the Shabbos candle holders. She too erred, and addressed her letter to the Rebbe. The Rebbe received the letter in the Friday mail. On Friday afternoon, he had his secretary, Rabbi Binyamin Klein, call Mrs. Esther Sternberg (who ran the Shabbos candle campaign) and ask her to see to it that this woman had the opportunity to light Shabbos candles that Friday.

Mrs. Sternberg is not one to take a request from the Rebbe lightly. With 45 minutes left before Shabbos started, she tried to get the woman's phone number, but was told it was unlisted. Then, noting that the woman's address was not far away, she resolved to deliver the candle holders personally. If the woman was not home, she would leave it with a neighbor.

Taking two of her daughters along, Mrs. Sternberg drove (flew!) to the woman's apartment. She rang the bell and knocked several times, but there was no answer. She tried several of the neighbors' apartments, but they too did not answer. Finally, a woman from an apartment down the hall replied that, yes, she knew the woman who had asked for the candle holders. She was an elderly lady, said the neighbor, and hard of hearing. That's probably why she had not answered her bell; she hadn't heard it ringing!

And so Mrs. Sternberg, her two daughters, and the neighbor all knocked hard on the woman's door. Eventually, an elderly Jewish lady answered. She was grateful to see visitors, and even more grateful when she found that she would be able to light Shabbos candles that week.

Mrs. Sternberg was happy to give the woman the candle holders, but couldn't help wondering: The woman seemed sincerely committed to the mitzvah; why then hadn't she lit candles before? "Don't you have candle holders of your own?" she asked.

"Of course I have Shabbos candles," the woman told Mrs. Sternberg, taking her into her kitchen and showing her a large silver candelabra on top of one of the cabinets. "But when my children moved me here," she explained, "they put my candelabra up there. Neither I nor any of my neighbors can reach it! That's why I haven't been able to light." (Apparently, this woman, as do many others, mistakenly felt that Shabbos candles had to be lit in a ritual candelabra.)

One of Mrs. Sternberg's daughters climbed up and brought down the woman's candlesticks. And so, thanks to the Rebbe's concern and Mrs. Sternberg's commitment, the woman was able to light candles in her own candelabra that Shabbos.

On another occasion, the Rebbe received a letter from a man from Bowie, Maryland, asking that Shabbos candle holders be sent to his daughter. Again, the letter arrived on Friday, and again, the Rebbe had his secretary ask Mrs. Sternberg to see to it that the girl lit candles that Friday.

This time, it was only 20 minutes before Shabbos when Mrs. Sternberg was contacted. She immediately phoned one of the Shluchim in Maryland and asked if he could deliver candles to the girl. But the Shliach replied that Bowie was over two hours away; he had no way of delivering the candles in time.

Not seeing any alternative, Mrs. Sternberg located the family's phone number. The mother answered the phone. Yes, her husband had asked for the candleholders. She didn't light candles herself, but thought that it was a good idea for her daughter to light.

Mrs. Sternberg told her that she would be mailing the candle holders, but meantime, she would instruct her on how to make candle holders from aluminum foil so that her daughter would be able to light that Shabbos. And with no more than a drop of convincing, the mother agreed to join her daughter and light candles herself.

She listened diligently to Mrs. Sternberg's instructions, and wrote down the transliteration of the blessing word for word.

As they were talking, Mrs. Sternberg asked the woman if her daughter had any other friends who would like candle holders. The woman mentioned that there were several girls in her daughter's Hebrew School class who would probably appreciate such a gift. And in her own Chavurah group, she could think of a few women, and she had some other friends....

All in all, when Mrs. Sternberg prepared the package of candle holders to send to Bowie, it contained more than 40!

On the following Friday, Mrs. Sternberg received another call from the Rebbe's office. "The Rebbe wants to know what's happening with the girl in Bowie," the secretary told her.

Mrs. Sternberg again called the woman. Yes, her daughter had lit candles the previous Shabbos, and they had received the candle holders in the mail. Everyone was overwhelmed. Women were talking about it all over town.

"Could you send more?" she wanted to know. "My daughter has other friends... and I have other friends...."

And so, the following week, Mrs. Sternberg sent an even larger order of candle holders to Bowie.

The following Friday, Mrs. Sternberg did not wait for a call from the Rebbe's office. Instead, she phoned her new friend in Bowie herself. Yes, the candle holders had arrived and the women were very happy. What's more, the woman's friends and neighbors wanted to meet some of the ladies who had reached out and brought Shabbos light into their homes.

A Shabbaton was arranged. Women and girls from Crown Heights came and shared a Shabbos encounter with the community.

So it was that a few words from the Rebbe snowballed into an ongoing positive Jewish experience.

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