When we finished the last of my candles, my husband and I decided that I would try lighting oil for Shabbos. My husband set the candles with oil and floating wicks and I was good to go. After lighting my candles, I sat deeply engrossed in my Tehilim, totally oblivious to what was taking place in front of my eyes. My daughter came into the room and noticed that the flames were a bit intense. I looked up and saw she was right. Something was definitely off.
My husband was already at shul - the one that finishes way after all the other shuls in the neighborhood, of course. Since it was not yet shkiyah, we thought it would be best if my daughter blew out the candles and lit new candles. The problem was that no matter how hard she blew, the flames would not go out. From past experience in the kitchen, I knew that pouring water on the flames would be a bad idea. The flames were large - and growing. They filled the entire area of the glass cups which held the oil and wicks. By now it was shkiyah, so we decided to wait it out. If things progressed into dangerous territory, I would call the fire department. I did not for one second take my eyes off the flames, which by now were full-blown torches. I noticed that the glass cups were starting to turn black. This was not a good sign, but it still did not seem right to call the fire department on Shabbos. I began to sweat, even though the room wasn’t hot. As I nervously watched the flames, one of the wicks suddenly jumped out of the cup and onto the floor. Fortuitously, there is a glass covering on the table on which I light candles, but all the nearby furniture is made of wood. This was getting dangerous! I’d had enough. In a panic I headed toward the phone and my daughter ran out the door looking for help. Just then, a father with two young sons was walking up the stairs right in front of our house. My daughter asked that he please come in and help us. He walked in very calmly and immediately sized up the situation. I asked if I should call the fire department and was surprised when he said no. When I asked why, he answered, “ki hayom Shabbat - because today is Shabbos.” Thanks so much for filling me in on that piece of information, I thought. “So, what should we do?” I asked. He said we should watch the flames. Been there, done that. He instructed us that if things proceeded to a more dangerous situation, chas v’shalom, and it would be necessary to somehow extinguish the fire, we should not do it directly. We should pour whatever substance we use around the fire, not straight on the fire. This is called gramma. My interest in hearing a halachah shiur at that point in time was nil. As we spoke, the wicks continued to jump out of the glasses, like paratroopers politely waiting their turn to jump out of an airplane. Each flying wick was followed by a scream from me. Despite having given me a shiur as well as instructions, the guy was kind enough to stick around until the last flame popped. He realized I was scared and stressed. He asked his kids to go home and tell their mother that he would be home in a few minutes. Throughout this ordeal, our savior was a very calming influence. The last candle took a while to pop, but once it did, the man headed straight for the door as I thanked him profusely.
I learned several things from this experience:
- Paraffin and oil are not the same thing. When one uses paraffin, a closed holder and a wick made specially for paraffin must be used. It’s not the same as olive oil (or other vegetable oils) that one simply places in a little cup on Chanukah. Read the instructions!
- I should review the rules of fire safety.
- I should replace my very old fire extinguisher.
- I should review the halachos regarding when one is permitted to be mechalel Shabbos.
- We can always count on our fellow Jews in times of need.
Several days after the incident, my daughter received a phone call from one of her high school teachers with a suggestion for a shidduch for her. The teacher explained that it was not her idea, nor was she sure it’s an appropriate shidduch, but she was passing on the information given to her. My daughter tried to figure out who was behind this shidduch. Somehow, she managed to find out that it came from another teacher in her school who had never actually taught her. She couldn’t understand on what basis this teacher was setting her up. My daughter’s teacher put her in direct contact with the teacher who originally thought of the idea. When they started messaging each other on WhatsApp, my daughter noticed that in the profile pic of this woman stood none other than the man who came to our rescue on that frightening Friday night. While I was hysterical due to flames flying around my home, he was calmly checking my daughter out for his nephew! In any case, although the boy sounded nice, he did not sound appropriate for my daughter. However, he did sound like he might be suited for a very nice girl we know, and the two agreed to go out.
The day after the couple went out, the family of the girl hosted a Bat Mitzvah celebration for her sister. Earlier on, the mother of the girl had hired a woman to style the hair of the girls in the family for the simchah. Imagine their surprise when they realized that the hairstylist was none other than the mother of the boy! Luckily, they realized this before she walked through the door. The families clarified that there would be a second date before the woman came to their home to work. It would have been too awkward spending all that time together without knowing the plan.
I would love to be able to say that the couple continued to go out and eventually got engaged, but not every story has a fairy-tale ending. But everyone involved was amused by the sequence of events. Hashem does work in mysterious - and sometimes funny - ways.
Suzie (nee Schapiro) Steinberg grew up in Kew Gardens Hills. She works as a social worker and lives with her husband and children in Ramat Beit Shemesh.