The Lighting of the Candles

© Durga Yael Bernhard

It is said that the very first use of the word “sacred” (“kodesh” in Hebrew) was in reference to time.  Sacred time was set apart from ordinary time, and became the oldest holiday on earth that still exists today: the Sabbath.

The Book of Genesis begins with the six days of Creation, culminating in God’s day of rest: the seventh day, Shabbat.  Rituals involving the lighting of candles, the blessing of wine, and the breaking of bread mark the beginning of this holy day.  These simple traditions have held for millennia, even as they evolve from generation to generation and culture to culture.  Once upon a time, only the woman of the house could light the Sabbath candles; and before doing so, she would cover her head with a special cloth.  As the sun goes down, the lights of Shabbat come up, illuminating the woman’s hands from below as she covers her eyes in a moment of reflection – a moment of letting go into sacred time.

I did not grow up with these traditions, but discovered them as an adult.  I found this simple candle-lighting ritual so evocative, I decided to experiment with painting the candlelight.  Using grey paper as a starting point, I worked with colors that are much lighter and much darker than the paper, using the paper as a middle tone.  I decided to let the eyes show through the hands, as if they’re transparent.  The paper and paint were only good enough for a study – no subtle gradations were really possible.  It was a good start, for a study of light, and to give an impression of what it’s like to participate in the ancient tradition of sacred time.

Perhaps someday I’ll take this image beyond a study, and create a larger painting in oils or acrylics.

If you would like to learn more about the Sabbath, please see my award-winning picture book, Around the World in One Shabbat, which follows the cycle of one Sabbath, from sunset to sunset, in families and neighborhoods around the world.

A good week to all!


D Yael Bernhard
Author / Illustrator of
LOVE IS – a unique crossover book for all ages
THE LIFE OF AN OLIVEExplore the life of a 2000-year-old olive tree
JUST LIKE ME, CLIMBING A TREE: Exploring Trees Around the World
NEVER SAY A MEAN WORD AGAIN – A Publisher’s Weekly Starred Review;
winner of the Sydney Taylor Award and National Jewish Book Council Award
THE DREIDEL THAT WOULDN’T SPIN – A Toyshop Tale of Hanukkah
WHILE YOU ARE SLEEPING – A Children’s Book Council Notable Book
A RIDE ON MOTHER’S BACK – An American Bookseller Assoc. Pick of the List
– and more!


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