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Thought for the Day: Minhag Is for Men (But Not Women) to Light a Personal Candle on Yom Kippur

I had three months of chemotherapy almost 20 years ago.  I got four cycles of three weeks each; each cycle was every day for one week, about six hours each day, then two weeks off.  (The treatments were spread out like that in order to give my body the time it needed to cleanup the resulting dead tumor tissue.)  All the treatments were in the doctor's office, along with a dozen or so other victims.  In the course of my visits over those three months, I saw lots of different chemicals being delivered by various means (mine was all IV, others got pills).  I was never once jealous of the other patients; I never even thought to why this one got a pretty blue pill, while all I got was a clear tube.  That's obviously a silly way to approach the issue.  You don't ask, "Why don't I get such and such a medicine?"; you might ask, though, "Why does get/need such and such a medicine?"

I am similarly surprised when people ask, "Why don't orthodox women do X (that orthodox men do)?"  The only reasonable question is, "Why do orthodox men do that?"  Case in point: The Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 610:4) says there is a well established minhag for all men to light a candle for themselves to burn over Yom Kippur.  This is not a case of "men, ie, people", but "men, ie, not women."  So... why do men light a candle for themselves on Yom Kippur?  I saw three reasons; one for the Magein Avraham, two from the Maharil.  (Thank you again, Dirshu, for saving me all the time of actually finding things myself!)

The Magein Avraham says it is because Yom Kippur was the day of finally really accepting the Torah.  Just to recap, acceptance we supposed to be on Shavuos, then there was that ugly incident with a golden calf 40 days later, then Moshe Rabeinu had to beg for our survival for another 40 days, then yet another 40 days to get the final set of luchos which sealed our acceptance of the Torah and HaShem's acceptance of our (really, really this time) sincere acceptance.  Since Torah is compared to light (Torah ohr v'neir mitzvah, T'hillim) and men are obligated in being involved with Torah lishma/for its own sake, men light candles on that day.

The Maharil works with the gematria (numerical value) of the word neir (candle), which is 250.  Men have 248 eivarim/limbs/organs plus a ru'ach (spirit) and neshama (soul); 248 + 1 + 1 = 250!  Women, apparently have more parts (I have no idea how many more, the Maharil just says more), so the whole candle thing just doesn't work for them.

The other gematria the Maharil brings is that there are 248 positive commandments, plus the concept of "lav ha'nitik l'asei" -- a negative commandment that can be corrected with a positive action; such as stealing that can be corrected by returning the stolen goods, plus the concept of "issur asei" -- a negative that comes from a positive; such as the mitzvah to keep the Shabbos, from which springs many things you can't do.  Again, 248+1+1=250.  This time, since women are not obligated in time bound positive commandments, the whole candle thing just doesn't work for them.

As an aside, I have heard that the 248 positive mitzvos each strengthen one of the 248 eivarim.  I never thought about the fact that women are not obligated in positive time bound mitzvos and have more than 248 eivarim means that whole connection doesn't work for them at all.  That sounds like that could have very, very far reaching consequences.  Hmm....

What do you know... men and women are different!  Son of a gun.

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