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A general rule about making blessings is that in most cases they are made before the action is taken (Megilah 21b). However for lighting candles on both Erev Shabbat (Friday evening) and Havdalah (Saturday night), I was taught to light them, cover my eyes, say the blessing, then look at the light.

This order of operations does cause one to say the blessing before looking, but it seems like there are opinions for Erev Shabbat where men should say the blessing, then light the candles, which seems simpler and seems to be more consistent with the usual "bracha first" rule. Some Mi Yodeya answers that indicate this can be found here and here.

My question is: Can the simpler procedure for blessing then lighting be used for Havdalah? I did not find an opinion explicitly permitting or recommending that, but it would make sense. My siddur says to say the bracha (borai morai ha-aish) "over the flame", implying it is already lit.

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    "I was taught to light them, cover my eyes, say the blessing, then look at the light." I have never seen anyone do this for Havdala. Who taught you this? – Double AA Feb 2 '15 at 1:35
  • @DoubleAA My daughter's Hebrew school teacher. Part of why I am asking is because I don't have so much confidence in this. I suspected that she could be misapplying the usual Friday evening technique. – Mike Feb 2 '15 at 1:45
  • @DoubleAA I'm pretty sure our rabbi did not cover his eyes or anything last time I was at Havdalah at the shul (months ago), but as to the order of events, who knows (Mi Yodeya)? – Mike Feb 2 '15 at 1:50
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It seems that the person who instructed you this way regarding the berakhah on the ner havdalah was simply mistaken.

While there is an opinion that on ^erev shabbath one should first light, then cover their eyes and recite the blessing, and then uncover their eyes to see the light, there is no such custom or opinion anywhere with regard to doing so at havdalah at all. And - le-^aniyuth da^ati - even on ^erev shabbath it is more correct to recite the berakhah for lighting and then to light afterwards [cf. Hilkhoth Shabbath 5:1].

It is clear according to all, however, that the berakhah of borei me'orei ha-esh is fundamentally different from the berakhah of le-hadliq her shel shabbath in that the former is on the actual lighting of the lamp while the later is on the light itself. Thus, the Rambam writes in the Mishneh Thorah, Hilkhoth Shabbath 29:25,

"[At havdalah] we do not pronounce the blessing on the lamp until we benefit from its light to the point that [the light is bright enough that] it is possible to distinguish between coins of various countries."

[See Hilkhoth Shabbath 29:24-29 for a complete set of instructions and regulations regarding the essential miSwah and elements of seder ha-havdalah]

As you correctly noted in your question, this language certainly not only implies but requires that the havdalah lamp be lit before reciting the berakhah of bore me'orei ha-esh. Most commonly, in order to specifically benefit from the light, people are accustomed to "inspect" their fingers and fingernails in the light or to read from a book/siddur during havdalah. [Making a berakhah on the candle while your electric lights are on is almost certainly a berakhah le-vaTalah (a blessing said in vain)!]

One last note. As someone who routinely interacts with and answers questions from those who are either new Jews or newly religious Jews, I can tell you that it is extremely important to always seek the guidance of a competent Rav in any halakhic matter. If one has a friend who is knowledgable in a certain area, then one may rely on that as well (i.e. ^aseh lekha rag, uqneh lekha Haver - "appoint for yourself a Rav, and acquire for yourself a knowledgeable scholar/friend). Confusion abounds from well-meaning Hebrew school teachers and mikveh ladies who feel that they are "rebbetzins." To avoid such confusion, always ask a competent person who is adequately knowledgable in the dictates and principles of the halakhah.

Hope this helps. Kol tuv.

  • "Making a berakhah on the candle while your electric lights are on is almost certainly a berakhah le-vaTalah (a blessing said in vain)!" I don't see why. One need not actually distinguish coins to the light. He must be close enough that he could due to the light. – Double AA Feb 2 '15 at 20:38
  • @DoubleAA - I have to disagree. The MT was not written in a vacuum, and the very plain and clear intention of the Rambam is that one is not to make a berakhah on a lamp that doesn't burn bright enough to help make distinctions between one thing and another, such as coins from various countries - i.e. the need for a lamp at the close of Shabbath was very real. Further, until one has already benefited from the light to at least this degree, one cannot and should not make a berakhah of borei me'orei ha-esh. This is the plain meaning of the halakhah as stated. Unless I missed something. Kol tuv. – user3342 Feb 3 '15 at 2:42
  • @Mike - You are very welcome. It is only my pleasure to help. If you have any other questions, feel free to ask again :) All the best to and may HaShem continue to guide you as you grow in Torah. Kol tuv. – user3342 Feb 3 '15 at 2:43
  • What exactly is the case where you claim there is a bracha levatala? Candle with electric lights also? Why isn't that considered benefiting from the candlelight? – Double AA Feb 3 '15 at 2:56
  • @DoubleAA - What I was referring to is a case (which I have seen many times) where it comes time for havdalah and everyone moves to the dining room which is already brightly lit by several fluorescent lights. The lamp is lit and there is no noticeable contribution of the flame to the lighting of the room. And everyone in attendance proceeds to say the blessing while not having benefited one iota from the light of that lamp. I once argued this point with a Yeshivish friend who did this on Shabbath. He ended up asking his RY who told him that I was correct. We always turn off the lights 1st. KT. – user3342 Feb 3 '15 at 5:05

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