I want to increase my Shabbos observance in honour of the worldwide Shabbos Project. I have resolved to light candles at the correct time, starting this week. One question I had. Why do we light specifically two candles?
A lot of people call themselves "culturally Jewish." They feel connected to the Jewish people, are active in the community, advocate for Israel, and may attend shul on major festivals, but they don't keep Jewish law. When it comes to the details of keeping Shabbos, they will argue that the laws are not important, it is all about family time. If you come to Shabbos dinner, whether you walk or drive doesn't make a difference. As long as you eat chicken soup, it doesn't matter if it was heated before Shabbos came in or after. These people believe it's all about the feeling, not the little details. Let's call them Chicken Soup Jews.
On the other side of the spectrum, there are those Jews who are scrupulous in their observance of Shabbos, keep every law down to the last dot, but they do it without joy. They keep Shabbos neurotically, obsessing over what you can't do and making the day of rest into a day of stress. Let's call them Chicken Coup Jews.
Both are missing something. Chicken Soup Jews have their heart in the right place, but Jewish feeling without observance is wishy-washy and short lived. And the Chicken Coup Jews are indeed truly committed, but observance without feeling is hollow and dry.
The only Judaism that survives and thrives is a Judaism of passion with commitment, observance with feeling, the forest and the trees. When I am Jewish in my heart and in my head, in my kitchen and in my office, in what I do as well as what I say, that is real Judaism.
That's why we light two candles, to symbolize the duality of Shabbos. There are the laws we have to keep, as well as the messages we have to remember. There is the technical side of Shabbos, its rules, as well as the meaning that those rules are supposed to bring and the feelings they arouse.
When you study the laws of Shabbos as well as its inner meaning, you can have the best of both worlds. You really can have your soup and eat it too. The Shabbos rules are not there to make you feel couped up, they are there to free you from the mundane, so your soul can fly like a bird.
NOTE: Before marriage, girls light one candle only. For more info click here