Bereishit 24:67 And Yitzchak brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother; he married Rivkah, she became his wife, and he loved her; and thus was Yitzchak consoled after his mother.
Rashi notes that as long as Sarah was alive a lamp was lit from one Shabbat eve to the next; the benediction was made over the dough (which she kneeded); and a cloud hovered over the tent. When she died this all ceased, but when Rivkah came everything began once again.
And a fourth blessing Sarah brought to Avraham's house...their doors were always open wide since she always gave generous alms to the poor.
These three hallmarks of Sarah's tent correspond to the three main duties of the Jewish wife: to light Shabbat lights (hadlakah), to separate challah from the dough, which assures a blessing from above (challah), and to observe the laws of purity of conjugal life (taharat hamishpacha). They draw the presence and protection of the Divine Majesty which hovers invisibly over the home as in a column of "cloud over the tent."
Hadlakah (lighting; kindling)
The Sages set forth three reasons why we light Shabbat candles. First, for peace and harmony in the home (shalom bayit); second, to honor Shabbat and third, to create pleasure.
Our sages tell us that the moments of Shabbat candle lighting are a time of teshuvah, of returning to our spiritual source. With the flames in front of us, our hands covering our eyes and our focus turned inward, we reflect upon what went right or wrong in the past week and evaluate whether life is leading us in the proper direction. We ask ourselves whether we are on a path lit by truth, or whether we are still in the dark. Torah itself is compared to light, because it is the ultimate source of direction and clarity. Thus the Shabbat candles connect us intimately to Torah. When a Jewish woman lights candles on Friday evening she aligns herself with Torah's eternal order and harmony. From this place of profound connection, she gains the ability to bring the same clarity to her surroundings.
The candle (ner) symbolizes our neshamah (soul), our intellect, our personal shalom bayit (peace in the house). Without this light we cannot see, there is no clarity, no relationship to other objects in the room, just as spiritually, without light (Torah), we don't have the clarity to know which path to take that leads to Hashem. So, the Shabbat candle helps us to not only see physically but also represents a spiritual 'seeing' that is obtained through Torah out of sincere kavanah (feeling) towards learning and living as instructed.
Only then will we experiece true shalom bayit, as both our physical and neshamah will be pulling together to lead us in the same direction....towards the Torah's way..towards HaShem Elokeinu, Baruch Hu.
In the atmosphere created by our candles, we are free to meditate on our common goals as Jews and to experience the repose of peace and harmony that is uniquely Shabbat. By refraining from activities of the week and by bringing G-d into the picture, we acknowledge that we Jews share a belief and
a way of life according to Torah, which is the basis of our identity as a people. We see others united by virtue of their business or hobbies, but this bond is based only on common interest, rather than timeless values. The Jewish woman promotes the essential cohesiveness of the Jewish Nation each time she lights.
As bearers of light, women draw down from above the spiritual clarity of Shabbat, and then disseminate it throughout the week to come. The candle light of Shabbat expresses the inherent peace of the individual and collective Jewish soul. It is no wonder then that candle lighting is a woman's obligation, since it is she who unifies and creates peace in her household.
On this day, at the behest of the Torah, we are to refrain from all productive activity. For this one day we relinquish our domination over the world and its resources. This is why the Hebrew name of this day is Shabbat, which does not mean "rest" but "cessation of activity." On this day we, so to speak, restore the world to G-d, and thus proclaim, to ourselves and to others, that our life in this world has higher, spiritual aims.
Preparation for lighting the Shabbat Candles
Place candles on the table where you plan to eat dinner, or in a prominent place where you can see them from the dinner table.
Single women may prepare either one or two candles. A married woman generally prepares two candles. She may add an additional candle for each of her children. (Young girls of three or older, who are capable of
understanding the concept of Shabbat, can be provided with a candlestick and taught to kindle Shabbat lights.)
Some have a custom of putting a few coins in a charity box ("pushke") prior to lighting.
It is important to light your candles on time. Candles are lit 18 minutes before sunset every Friday. Young girls should light just prior to this time.
Click the following link for candle lighting times in your area: http://www.radwin.org/hebcal/?c=on
Procedure for lighting Shabbat candles
1) Light the candles. Next, spread your hands in a circular motion around the candles, drawing your hands inward towards yourself each time to indicate the acceptance of Shabbat.
2) Cover your eyes and recite the following blessing:
Baruch atah HaShem Elo-heinu Melech Ha-olam asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu l'hadlik ner shel Shabbat.
Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments, and has commanded us to kindle the light of the Shabbat.
3) Uncover your eyes and look at the Shabbat lights. At this time, you may wish to add your own words of prayer or thanksgiving.
A woman should light the Shabbat lamp with joyous heart and with pleasure, for it is a supreme honor for her. It serves as a source of great merit for her to be blessed with holy sons who will be a source of light to the world in Torah knowledge and fear of G-d,and will bring more peace into the world. She also thereby causes her husband’s lifetime to be prolonged. For all of these reasons, she should be meticulous in the lighting of the Shabbat lamp. (Zohar: Bereishit).
Some people prepare two wicks [or candles] for the Shabbat lamp, one corresponding to the commandment “Remember the day of Shabbat,” and the other corresponding to the commandment “Observe the day of Shabbat.”
The Tur states that the Beit Yosef and the Kolbo quote the Tanchuma on this matter which states,
“All the matters of the Shabbat come in pairs, e.g. two lambs are offered at the Holy Temple as an additional offering for the Sabbath, the Psalm of Shabbat uses the repetetive wording - “A song, A hymn for the Sabbath day” (Psalms 92), and a double portion of Mann descended for Shabbat. Therefore, we also light two lamps (Tur Orach Chaim 263).Our sages, with their unique gift for epigram, expressed in the Passover Haggadah the fact that the Sabbath contains the sum and substance of Jewish life and thought in the words:
"If G-d had not brought us to Har Sinai and had only given us the Shabbat, it would have been enough."It would indeed have been enough, for Shabbat epitomizes the whole of Judaism.
Call Of The Torah - Chayei Sarah, Rabbi Munk
MeAm Lo'ez - Chayei Sarah - Rabbi Culi
Women in Judaism. The Jewish Renaissance Center - http://www.jewishrenaissance.org/ .
The Sabbath: A Guide to its Understanding and Observance