507. Women Take Precedence

75:5 The mitzvah of lighting Shabbos candles applies to both men and women but women are the principal participants in this mitzvah because they are the primary caretakers of the home. There is also an allusion to Adam and Chava (Eve) in this mitzvah: Proverbs 20:27 tells us that “The soul of man is the candle of G-d.” Chava brought darkness to the world by causing Adam to sin. Women symbolically rectify this through lighting the Shabbos candles. For this reason, if the woman is at home, she takes precedence over the man in performing this mitzvah. In any event, the man should assist in some way with the mitzvah. For example, he might prepare the candles and singe them by lighting them and then putting them out so that they will be easier for the woman to light later. On the first Shabbos after a woman has given birth, her husband lights the candles and recites the bracha. After this, she lights and blesses; she also performs the mitzvah herself when she is niddah.

75:6 There is a custom for women to bathe and put on their Shabbos clothes before they lighting the candles; to do so is considered praiseworthy. They must recite mincha before this because they accept Shabbos through lighting the candles and will not be able to say the weekday prayer after doing so. (If time is short, it’s better for the woman to recite Maariv twice than to risk violating Shabbos – Mishnah Brurah 263:43.) If a woman was delayed so that if she bathed and dressed first she might possibly come to light the candles after Shabbos begins, it is better for her to light as she is rather than to risk a desecration of Shabbos. If her husband sees that she is running late, it is a mitzvah for him to light and he should not be worried that she might be upset with him for doing so. (In the final analysis, it’s even better to sit in the dark all Shabbos than to violate it by lighting late – MB 262:11.)