There is a difference between a Shabbat candle and a Yahrzeit candle.
On the one hand, everyone knows there’s a difference between a Shabbat candle and a Yahrzeit candle. Shabbat candles are stubby little creations. They burn a bit more than 2 hours. Yahrzeit candles are those shorter, wider candles you can find in the grocery store if you rummage around. They manage to burn for a bit more than 24 hours.
Here’s why I find myself thinking about the difference between the two candles. A few months ago my grandfather’s yahrzeit rolled around. But when I searched for a yarhzeit candle to light in his memory, I realized we didn’t have one in the house. We had used them all to remember other relatives.
What could I do? I decided to improvise. After all, I said to myself, who decreed that yahrzeit candles have to be any particular shape? Nobody. So I melted a single Shabbat candle onto some aluminum foil and placed it on a plate to remember my grandfather.
The problem became obvious while the evening was still young and the Shabbat candle melted: If you want to remember someone you loved, you don’t honor his or her memory that quickly. You tell stories. You look at some pictures. You say Kaddish. (You’re always invited to the Temple on the Shabbat closest to a yahrzeit for that purpose. We also have a Yizkor service this Monday morning.) And you light a candle that will burn for a full day. You need that candle to burn through the night and into the following morning so that you can see it as you walk by. You need a real yahrzeit candle because it’s designed to linger. The flame stays with you through most of a day so that you remember for most of a day.
Of course, the flame eventually goes out. Life goes on. But for those 24 hours you remember with more intensity, and you do it best with a yahrzeit candle. (By the way, I went out the next day and did buy several yahrzeit candles. I don’t want to be caught short again.)
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