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Extinguish and Distinguish

The Color of HeavenArtscroll
Topic: Blowing out Candles

Brian Connack from Jerusalem wrote:

I would like to ask the rabbi a question. I have noticed that when people put out their havdalah candles after Shabbat, rather that blowing the candle out they put it out in the spilled wine. I was also at a birthday party recently and the hostess insisted that the birthday boy not blow out the candles, rather she put them out by hand. I would like to know if there is any basis to this custom and if there is, what is the difference between blowing out a candle and extinguishing it by hand.


Dear Brian,

There are actually three customs here:

  • Extinguishing the havdalah candle after havdalah
  • Extinguishing it in wine
  • Not blowing out candles in general
Before light bulbs were invented, they used candles! Extinguishing the havdalah candle immediately after havdalah demonstrated that it was lit solely for a mitzvah, and not as a regular source of light.

"Wine spilling like water," says the Talmud, "is a sign of blessing." In order to start the week off right, we fill the cup of havdalah so that a little spills out. And not only do we spill wine, but we spill it 'like water.' That is, we use it lavishly -- to put out a flame; something you would never think of doing with wine.

As for not blowing out candles in general, the following reason has been said in the name of Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky (the 'Steipler'), zatzal:

There's an angel whose name is the same as the sound produced when you blow out with force. According to Kabbalistic tradition, it's improper to make use of the names of holy angels. Many people, therefore, extinguish candles by hand in order not to pronounce the name of this angel.

Another explanation: The Torah depicts man's soul as being a 'breath' from Hashem. The soul is also compared to a flame. Using your breath to blow out a candle is an ironic gesture, using one 'soul' to extinguish another.

I know a rabbi who puts out candles by saying the word 'Purim,' forcefully emphasizing the letter 'P'. And a friend of mine saw his Kung Fu instructor put out a candle by punching it!

Sources:

  • Rama, Orach Chaim 296:1
  • Shulchan Aruch HaRav 296:5
  • Kaf Hachaim, Yoreh De'ah chapter 116 halacha 115
  • Responsa Rivevot Ephraim IV 45:35, that one shouldn't blow out a flame

 
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