The Gemara (Shabbat 23b) states: Rav Huna said: “If one is accustomed (HaRagil) to lighting a candle he will be blessed with children who are Talmidei Chachamim. If one is careful (HaZahir) with the Mitzvah of Mezuzah he will be blessed with a pleasant place to live, with the laws of Tzitzit he will be rewarded with fine clothing, and those who have wine for Kiddush on Friday night he will be rewarded with many happy occasions where barrels of wine will be needed.”
This Gemara expresses a beautiful idea, but in practice, what type of candle is the Gemara referring to? Rashi writes that this refers to both Chanukah and Shabbat candles, whereas Rabbeinu Chananel argues that it applies only to Chanukah candles.
The commentary Eiyun Ya’akov, quoted in the Ein Ya’akov, asks, “If so many Jewish parents light both Chanukah and Shabbat candles, why aren’t there more Talmidei Chachamim in the world? Furthermore, why is there a switch in the Gemara’s language from HaRagil to HaZahir?” He answers that the candles mentioned have nothing to do with Chanukah and Shabbat. Rather, they refer to extra candles that a parent lights to allow their children to learn Torah at night. When parents illustrate that Torah is so important to them, Hashem rewards them measure for measure with a child that is a Talmid Chacham. Now we understand why the Gemara uses both HaRagil and HaZahir. Some Mitzvot are obligatory (Mezuzah, Tzitzit, Kiddush) and are referenced by the word HaZahir, while others are not obligatory (lighting candles for one’s children) and are referred to by the other word, HaRagil.
Rav Moshe Feinstein in his Darash Moshe on the beginning of Parashat BeHa’alotecha quotes Rashi, who states that the Kohen must light the candles of the Menorah in the Beit HaMikdash so that the flames come up on their own. Rav Moshe explains the job of a parent or Rebbe in a similar way. Like the Kohen lighting the Menorah, a teacher must teach until the student internalizes a desire to learn that will propel him to learn even when the teacher is not there. This, according to Rav Moshe, is what the Gemara means.
Rav Aharon Ziegler quotes Rav Soloveitchik as saying, “The Torah considers children as gifts bestowed upon parents by Hashem. All parents must prove themselves deserving of their children. We must educate our children in the tradition of our forefathers.”
May we keep this important message in mind when we light our Chanukah and Shabbat candles, as well as the extra candles to allow our children to learn well into the night, and may we be rewarded with children who are Talmidei Chachamim.