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I am familiar with the idea of a yahrzeit candle.

I have observed a custom of keeping a flame alight for the whole year (or maybe 11 months) after the death of a close relative. (When one goes out, they light another one). What is the source for that?

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Nitei Gavriel Hilcho Aveilus-2 65:4 brings down this Minhag in the name of the Ruach Chaim 367 and others.

  • who is ruach chaim? Is it R. Chaim Palagi? – mevaqesh Jul 26 '15 at 5:32
  • @mevaqesh Apparently. Check out the link that was added to this post – Shokhet Jul 27 '15 at 13:45
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In Double AA's related question, there is a source for keeping a flame alight for the whole year. It is this Chabad reference.

Rough translation "It is customary to light a candle for the deceased and for the soul at home, after the death to the end of the shiva, and on the yahrzeit.The custom of Chabad is to light the whole year, until after the Yahrzeit. In previous generations they used to light a candle for the whole twelve months in the synagogue."

  • This implies DAILY lighting a candle, not necessarily lighting candles continuously for a whole year. In the synagogue, they explicitly light the candle on the lectern for the Ba'al Tefillah right before davening. From your quote it may be implied that the mourner is given this privilege (of lighting the candle) until the first yahrzeit. – Isaac Kotlicky Jul 27 '15 at 17:27
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artscroll's commentary on Proverbs/Mishlei brings the source as the verse (20:27)

נֵ֣ר יְ֭הוָה נִשְׁמַ֣ת אָדָ֑ם חֹ֝פֵ֗שׂ כָּל־חַדְרֵי־בָֽטֶן׃
A man's soul is the lamp of Hashem which searches the chambers of one's innards

They bring R Bachya (on Shemot 25:31) building on this verse and writing the soul delights in light because it is "a being of light"

It is known that the soul itself benefits when lights are lit and it derives pleasure and joy from its light. Once the soul is in a joyous state its joy spreads seeing the soul itself is perceived as if it were hewn out of the light of man’s intelligence. This relationship between light and intelligence is the reason why the soul is drawn after light which is of its own kind although basically the “light” of our intelligence is essentially physical in nature, whereas the light represented by the soul is of a spiritual nature. This is why Solomon was able to compare a lamp (physical light) to the soul (spiritual light) when he said “the soul is the light of the Lord.”

Sefer HaIkkarim comments that the analogy between the candle and the soul strengthens our belief in the resurrection of the dead. Just as a candle is easy to relight after it has been extinguished, so too can a soul return to the body.

See also here.

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