Every mitzvah introduces light into the world. With certain mitzvot, the light we generate can actually be seen and appreciated. Lighting candles to usher in the Shabbat is one such mitzvah; the candles lend a soft and peaceful atmosphere to the holy Day of Rest.

Shabbat candles are traditionally a woman’s mitzvah. The woman sets the tone of the household; it is her task and G‑d-given ability to ensure that light and harmony prevail in her home. Girls begin lighting Shabbat candles when they can recite the blessing (approx. three years of age). A man should light the candles if no adult woman is present. Light the candles eighteen minutes before sunset.

Young girls light before their mother.

Place the candles on or near the Shabbat dinner table.

Put some money in a charity box before lighting the candles.

Until marriage, women and girls light one candle. Post-marriage, women light two candles. Some add an additional candle for each child, so that, for example, a woman with three children lights five candles.

Light the candles.

Extend your hands and draw them in a circular motion toward yourself, and cover your eyes.

Say: Ba-ruch a-tah A-do-nai Elo-hei-nu Me-lech ha-olam, asher kid-sha-nu b’mitz-vo-tav v’tzi-vanu l’had-leek ner shel Shabbat Ko-desh.

[Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to kindle the light of the holy Shabbat.]

Candle-lighting time is auspicious for private prayer. While your eyes are covered, take a moment to pray for whatever your heart desires.

“Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it.” This is how Sabbath begins.

Hebrew: קידוש‎‎ [ki’duʃ]), literally, “sanctification,” is a blessing recited over wine or grape juice to sanctify the Shabbat and Jewish holidays. Additionally, the word refers to a small repast held on Shabbat or festival mornings after the prayer services and before the meal.

On Friday night, sing the Shalom Aleichem, to welcome the Shabbat angels, and the ode to the Woman of Valor.

Rinse and dry the kiddush cup.

Fill it to the brim with kosher wine.

Gather everyone to stand around the Shabbat table.

Raise the wine-filled cup in your right hand (unless you are left-handed), and recite the kiddush aloud.

On Friday night, gaze at the Shabbat candles as you say the first four words. Then look at the wine in the cup while saying the wine blessing. All in attendance answer “Amen” at the conclusion of the blessings. Drink at least 1½ ounces from the cup. Everyone else should also have a sip.

As the Shabbat Queen departs and darkness descends, the Havdalah ceremony fills us with hope and courage. Havdalah means “separation,” between light and dark, between the holy and the mundane.

Havdlalah is a multi-sensory experience. If there is a group, one person recites while all participate and answer “Amen.” You’ll need: A prayerbook, cup, wine or grape juice, a candle (multi-wick, if available), and aromatic herbs (whole cloves are popular).

Fill the cup to the rim, and then some. Lift it in your right hand (unless you are left-handed).

Recite the preliminary verses. Pause when you reach “For the Jews there was light, happiness, joy and honor—so be it for us!” and allow everyone to say it in unison.

Recite the Hagafen blessing on the wine.

Put the cup down. Recite the blessing on the aromatic herbs. Give everyone a chance to take a whiff. Their fragrance is meant to revive and soothe the soul as the Shabbat departs.

Recite the blessing on the candle. Everyone looks at his or her fingernails by the candle’s light. On the first Saturday night after creation, darkness engulfed the world for the first time. G‑d gave Adam the wisdom to rub together two stones and harness fire—for which we now offer thanks.

Lift the cup again, and recite the concluding Havdalah blessing.

Sit down and drink at least 1.5 ounces.

Extinguish the candle by dipping it in the wine that overflowed onto the plate beneath the cup. Many dip a finger into this wine, and run the finger over the eyelids.

Shavuot is the Hebrew word for “weeks” and refers to the Jewish festival marking the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, which occurs seven weeks after Passover. Shavuot, like many other Jewish holidays, began as an ancient agricultural festival that marked the end of the spring barley harvest and the beginning of the summer wheat harvest. In ancient times, Shavuot was a pilgrimage festival during which Israelites brought crop offerings to the Temple in Jerusalem. Today, it is a celebration of Torah, education, and actively choosing to participate in Jewish life. Shavuot, known as the Festival of the Giving of the Torah, is reflected in the Bible, which recounts how, after the Exodus from Egypt, the Children of Israel proceeded to Mount Sinai in the desert. Moses ascended the mountain to meet God, who gave him the Ten Commandments, which were written on two tablets to be delivered to the Children of Israel. According to the Torah, it took precisely 49 days, or seven weeks, for the ancient Israelites to travel from Egypt to the foot of Mount Sinai. The Torah commands: "And you shall proclaim that day (the 50th day) to be a holy convocation!" (Leviticus 23:21). The name Shavuot, "Weeks," symbolizes the completion of this seven-week journey. The rabbis tightened this connection by associating Shavuot with Moses’ receiving the Torah from God atop Mount Sinai. Shavuot also is a harvest holiday. In the time of the Temple, the ancient Israelites brought their first fruits to the Temple to offer to God at Shavuot. Along with Sukkot and Passover, it is one of the Shalosh Regalim (Three Pilgrimage Festivals), during which people gathered in Jerusalem with their agricultural offerings. Shavuot is known by several names: Chag Hashavuot (the Festival of Weeks), Chag Habikkurim (the Feast of the First Fruits), and Chag Hakatzir (the Festival of Reaping). Ashkenazi Jews may pronounce and write the name of the holiday as Shavuos.
For many Jews, the High Holiday season begins with Rosh HaShanah and the start of the new month of Tishrei. Jewish tradition, however, teaches that the preceding month of Elul is a time of soul-searching and reflection to prepare oneself for the magnitude of the Days of Awe. It is during this time that we observe Selichot (also spelled s'lichot). In the broadest definition, selichot are penitential prayers said before and during the High Holidays and other fast days throughout the year. But the term first appears as a reference to the biblical verses that were added to the Yom Kippur liturgy. Eventually, the holiday prayers were combined with general prayers of repentance. The prayer book of Rav Amram Gaon, from the ninth century, for example, includes a collection of these poetic writings and meditations. While these prayers were initially only recited during the days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, the custom developed to use them in the days beforehand as well. In Hebrew, selichot translates to “forgiveness,” and indeed there is an emphasis in these prayers on the merciful attributes with which God is said to govern the world. In many ways, the prayers which make up the Selichot service mirror what we find on the Day of Atonement which follows soon after. The language of these qualities should sound familiar to anyone who has recited the liturgy throughout Yom Kippur when we speak about God’s ability to forgive “transgression, iniquity, and sin.” We begin and end the season of repentance with the same words, calling out to the compassionate God who we hope will accept our prayers. The holiday itself occurs early in the month of Elul in Sephardic tradition, but on the Saturday evening just before Rosh HaShanah in Ashkenazi communities. Either way, prayers are read and meditations considered as individuals are encouraged to reflect on the past year and the changes they wish to make in the upcoming one. Reform congregations have developed beautiful and meaningful programs for the observance of Selichot on the Saturday evening prior to Rosh HaShanah. This often includes a study program about the themes of repentance and forgiveness. Many congregations show a popular movie exploring these themes. In addition to the Selichot service, a meaningful ritual of changing the Torah covers to those specifically designed for the High Holidays often precedes the service. The special covers are usually white, representing purity and the wish that through repentance, our sins will be made white as snow (Isaiah 1:18).

Tzedakah, which is most commonly translated as “charity,” has its roots in the word for “justice” or “righteousness.”

Jewish tradition teaches that giving tzedakah is a religious imperative, even for those who have little to give.

It is customary to place money in a tzedakah box just prior to Shabbat, holidays and other special occasions. Keeping a tzedakah box at home facilitates this practice and teaches children the value of this mitzvah (divine obligation). In fact, some households make a monthly or yearly family project of determining which worthy cause will be the recipient of their tzedakah.

Tzedakah boxes (Yiddish: pushke) are available in a variety of sizes and styles from exceedingly plain to ornately decorative.

The concept of hidur mitzvah (adorning or beautifying the mitzvah) teaches that whenever possible, one should seek to carry out mitzvot in joyful and beautiful ways. Many tzedakah boxes are works of art and make appropriate gifts for celebrating lifecycle events. They can be purchased in synagogue and retail Judaica shops, as well as online. Tzedakah boxes also are available from specific organizations that distribute empty boxes, later collecting the boxes and any funds that are in them.

The Jewish National Fund—and its iconic blue and white tzedakah boxes—is perhaps the best known of these organizations.