A Commandment Singled Out
The Torah recounts that Moses gathered all of the Jewish people and delivered
G‑d’s instructions to them to build a Mishkan, a portable sanctuary.
But before Moses went into detail about the Mishkan, he transmited G‑d’s command to observe the Shabbos. Although that commandment was already mentioned in the Ten Commandments, G‑d repeated it here to underscore the importance of Shabbos and teach the people that even the commandment to build the Mishkan does not override the Shabbos.
The Torah then specifically cites one of the 39 prohibitions of work on Shabbos:
“You shall not kindle a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day.”
The fact that the Torah singled out this form of work of among all the 39 forms needs to be understood. What message is conveyed by this particular Sabbath prohibition?
One interpretation connects this prohibition with the Mitzvah of lighting Shabbos candles before the onset of Shabbos.
Negating Heretical Darkness and Cold
Rabbi Yoseph Karo (the author of the classic Shulchan Aruch, Code of Jewish law), in his work Magid Meisharim, reads something deeper here than the negative statement not to light a fire during Shabbos. This same verse conveys a positive message, i.e., that while the prohibition of lighting a fire applies during the Shabbos, one may light candles before the onset of the Shabbos. This was meant to challenge the distorted interpretation of the Karaites (and perhaps the earlier Sadducees), who maintained that it was forbidden to have any fire burning during Shabbos even if it was kindled before the onset of Shabbos. As a result of their misinterpretation the Karaites would sit in the dark in the chill of winter and eat cold food during Shabbos.
Some later authorities have inferred from this that it is a positive Mitzvah to light Shabbos candles to negate the heresy of the Sadducees and Karaites in their rejection of the Oral Torah, which made clear that it is both permissible and desirable to light candles before Shabbos.
Hence, by singling out the prohibition of lighting a fire during Shabbos, the Torah also alluded to the positive aspect of welcoming the Shabbos with light.
Four Reasons
This particular reason for lighting Shabbos candles is actually the fourth reason given for this important Mitzvah.
The first reason is that it is a way to honor the Shabbos (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos chapter 30:5).
The second reason given is to allow us to enjoy the Shabbos. One cannot fully enjoy the festive Shabbos meal in the dark.
The third reason given is that the light of the Shabbos candles leads to peace in the home. When it is dark there is a likelihood that one can stumble, and that, in turn, can bring on friction and strife in one’s home. In addition, lighting candles can foster a feeling of peace and serenity.
In summary, there are four reasons/benefits in lighting Shabbos candles: To do so brings honor, delight, peace and an affirmation of the integrity of the Torah.
The future age of Redemption often has been compared to Shabbos. Indeed, it is considered to be the ultimate and perpetual Shabbos. It stands to reason that, just as Shabbos is ushered in and characterized by the Shabbos lights, so too the future Messianic Age will bring with it the four benefits of Shabbos candles.
Indeed, the Midrash states that meticulously observing the kindling of Shabbos candles will lead to our seeing the Lights of Zion in the Messianic Age.
Restoring G‑d’s Honor
Recall that the first reason given for kindling Shabbos candles is to bring honor to the Shabbos. When we dwell in Exile, G‑d’s stature and honor are severely compromised. The Prophet Ezekiel (36:23) refers to the Galus period as a chilul Hashem, a desecration of G‑d’s name. All of the suffering the Jewish people have had to endure throughout the painful exile has brought on the greatest dishonor to G‑d. The Psalmist gives expression to the question that so many have asked: “Where is your G‑d?” (Psalm 42) There can be no greater dishonor to G‑d’s existence than people who either deny or relegate belief in G‑d to a back burner, declaring that He is irrelevant to their lives.
Indeed, the entire period of Galus is described in Deuteronomy as a concealment of G‑d’s presence, which is the antithesis of honor.
The final Redemption will bring, once and for all, the time when G‑d’s glory will reign supreme, as many Biblical texts declare, and G‑d’s honor will be fully restored.
We light Shabbos candles before the onset of Shabbos. By extension, this implies that we must do our part to reveal G‑d’s glory and honor now, as we stand on the threshold between Galus and Geulah.
We can advance our part in this greatest of works by the study of Chassidus, which demonstrates logically that everything in this world is an extension of G‑d’s power. This teaching leads us to see the Divine providence in everything. Even the simple act of telling stories of miracles is a powerful way of revealing G‑d’s glory in the world and restoring His honor in preparation for the future Shabbos Gadol.
Generating Delight and Joy
The onset of the future Shabbos is further characterized as a time of unrestrained delight and joy. The Psalmist states, “Then our mouths will be filled with laughter.” In Maimonides words, “All the delight will be in great abundance like the dust of the earth.”
Obviously, the meaning of “delight” varies from individual to individual. For one it may be a physical pleasure while for another it may be a spiritual peak experience. Either way, the Messianic Age will satisfy our need for pleasure and joy because we will be exposed to the source of Divine delight.
We can better understand the concept of Divine delight by way of an analogy. Imagine a person who embarks on a project involving tremendous expense, effort and time. When this person is mid-project, he does not have the time or ability to experience satisfaction. However, as he completes his task and can say fait accompli, he will be overcome with feelings of accomplishment, satisfaction and pure exhilarating delight. The more important this project is to this person’s essence the greater the sense of delight.
In the Messianic Age, G‑d’s plan for the universe will come to fruition. We will finally have succeeded in making this world a “dwelling place” for G‑d through our cumulative efforts at Torah and Mitzvos. This was the very raison d’etre of Creation.  There can be no greater delight than when the world finally achieves its purpose.
Divine delight will permeate the entire world and we will feel its impact and bask in its supernal light.
We can prepare for this transcendent time by increasing our own joy and delight through proper observance of Shabbos and Mitzvos. In addition, we should endeavor to feel pure joy with the realization that we soon will be celebrating the perpetual Shabbos with Moshiach.
Ultimate Peace
The third reason/benefit for the Shabbos lights is the spirit of peace it engenders. The world today is characterized by discord and fragmentation on both the macro and micro levels. People are torn between many conflicting interests and cannot feel peace of mind.  There is an apt Midrashic expression (Toras Kohanim and Rashi Leviticus 26:3) for this: “If there is peace here then everything is here.”
The underlying reason for the lack of peace in Exile is the fundamental barrier between G‑d and our world. This, in turn, leads to dissonance between our bodies and our souls which then leads to conflict with others. This rift will be healed in the Messianic Age and we will see the unity of G‑d with His world.  Peace and harmony will transform the macro and micro worlds. This is the meaning of “the lights of Zion”: when we see the world illuminated in Zion (a reference to the Bais Hamikdash) no one will stumble and cause conflict. The sublime City of Jerusalem will indeed be the source of universal peace.
Our best way to prepare for this is to strengthen our efforts to see the underlying Divinity in everything and the common soul that we share with all others.
Restoring the Integrity of Torah
The fourth reason/benefit of lighting the Shabbos candles is that it supports the integrity of the Oral Torah, which not only allows but mandates that we light the candles before the onset of Shabbos and allowing them to continue to illuminate our homes on Shabbos itself.
The Messianic Age is described by Maimonides as the time in which the Torah will be complete. This means that many, if not most, of the commandments of the Torah cannot be observed fully today because of the lack of the Bais Hamikdash, among other reasons. These defects will be rectified when the Third Bais Hamikdash is rebuilt.
Many distractions in exile adversely affect our study and understanding of Torah.  Furthermore, there are dimensions of Torah knowledge that are concealed and will only be revealed by Moshiach. Indeed, even Moses, who will return in the Messianic Age, will study Torah with Moshiach, who will reveal to him and the entire world aspects of Torah knowledge that were never exposed before, even to Moses, although they were implicit in the revelation at Mount Sinai.
All of this points to the fact that the integrity of Torah will remain compromised as long as we are in Galus. The Final Redemption through Moshiach will rectify that and allow the full brightness of the Torah to illuminate our lives.
Our way of preparing for the time when Torah’s integrity will be complete is through studying all parts of Torah, especially the mystical dimension, which, we are told, is a taste of the future Torah teachings of Moshiach.