I suggest that you select long lasting Shabbat candles that can burn for a few hours, and light them with a meaningful ceremony at the correct time, i.e. at least 18 minutes before sunset. When your husband arrives home, together you can inaugurate the Shabbat holiness, perhaps meditate on the Shabbat lights, and then sing Shalom Aleichem, Kiddush and the other Shabbat rituals.
Lighting candles before sunset is a statement that we are putting a stop to the bustling weekday activities by entering a sanctified space of "no work" The Torah states, You shall not light fire in all your dwelling places on the day of the Shabbat (Exodus 35,3). Of all the 39 prohibitions of "melacha", work, this is the only one listed in the Torah explicitly.
Halachically, two distinct facets are essential to the Shabbat candles – the act of lighting and the enjoyment ofthe light. The first is Shabbat in actu, an actual lighting to delineate the entry of the Shabbat. This is implied in the commandment of Shamor as recorded in the Decalogue, Deuteronomy 5, 12-15: Shamor - "Observe the Shabbat day to keep it holy. Six days shall you work and do all your tasks. But the seventh day is a Shabbat unto the Lord your God. You shall do no manner of work".
However, there is also a command of Zakhor, stipulated in Exodus 20, 8-11, Zakhor – Remember the Shabbat. This implies the positive commandment of remembering the historical Shabbat of Creation and Revelation and is expressed verbally in Kiddush
The custom of lighting two candles was instituted by Safed Kabbalists in the 16th century to represent these two distinct, yet complementary, elements of the Shabbat experience. Shamor entails observing the Shabbat by refraining from "work" such as lighting fires. This is symbolized in the kindling before sunset. Whereas, Zakhor ensures a proactive energy of the mitzvot of Shabbat, oneg Shabbat, expressing joy, enhancing our inner light, remembering our spirituality. Safed Kabbalists placed Shamor before Zakhor. Thus we sing in the hymn of Lecha Dodi, Shamor veZachor. One needs to first receive (lekabel as in the word kabbalah) the Divine Effulgence, and only afterwards, become active in the mode of Zakhor.
In sum, in reciting the blessing before the mitzvah of lighting the candles, you announce "Shamor", your readiness to receive the tranquility and illumination created through the Shabbat. Then, when your husband joins you, together you can create Zakhor, remembering the spiritual light symbolized in the candles creating both shalom bayit (harmony in the home) and oneg Shabbat (Sabbath joy).
May the joy of Shabbat lead you together to celebrate a harmonious Shabbat filled with Light of both Shamor and Zakhor.
 The Biblical commentator, Nahmanides, notes on this verse in Exodus 20, 8, that each term has its own realm of connotations. Zakhor refers to Love and is expressed in positive commandments such as remembering Shabbat by reciting Kiddush. Shamor refers to Awe and appears in negative commandments such as refraining from work (see also Maimonides, Laws of Shabbat, 29, 1).
This is the most frequent question I get as a rabbi. At some point the mitzvah (commandment) of kindling the Shabbat candles became a beautiful ritual in which the whole family participates. In traditional circles this is one of three mitzvot that is specially reserved for women (the others are taking challah -- separating a portion of dough -- and niddah -- sexual separation during a woman's menstrual period and ritual immersion afterwards).
Traditionally, if a woman is available then she is the one who should light the Shabbat candles. I've noticed that even in many egalitarian homes, it is still the woman (or women) who take ownership of this mitzvah. Truthfully, it is a mitzvah that either a man or a woman can perform.
The lighting of the Shabbat candles brings in the holiness of the Sabbath day. An interesting fact about this blessing is that typically, a blessing must be said before the act is done. However, since the blessing over the Shabbat candles is also the act which initiates Shabbat, it is forbidden to light a fire after the blessing is said [because of the restriction against kindling a flame on Shabbat]. Thus, one lights the candles and then covers one's eyes while saying the blessing. When the eyes are opened, the already lit candles are enjoyed for the first time, as it were, therefore both completing the blessing and not violating Shabbat.
I think that it is nice for the entire family to gather around as the candles are lit and blessed, however, it is also important to not kindle a flame once Shabbat has commenced. Therefore, it is better to light the candles before Shabbat even if the entire family isn't together at the time.
While it is a beautiful custom to all light together, it should be done at the appropriate time and while that might not always be the most convenient time for all members of the family it remains a strict law in Judaism. Now, in terms of a nice ritual to perform for when your husband arrives home I would encourage you to come up with something meaningful to do in order to begin the Shabbat together.
I pray that even when it isn't possible for you to light candles with your husband, you still make the Shabbat a holy and spiritually meaningful tme for your family each week. Have a Shabbat Shalom!
Your question can be separated into two sections: what is the Reform position on when candles ought to be lit, and what can one do if your situation does not allow the candles to be lit by that time. Let's address both of these issues.
According to Mark Washofsky's Jewish Living: A Guide to Contemporary Reform Practice, “technically, Shabbat starts at the onset of 'night' of Friday night, but precisely when does this moment come? The uncertainties over this question led to the establishment of a requirement 'to add from the weekday to the holy day,' that is, to begin Shabbat sometime before nightfall on Friday...” (pg 75) His response reflects the traditional practice of lighting candles before dark.
In many homes the custom is for one family member to light candles at their prescribed time, regardless of whether any other members of the family have yet gathered. Others may be on the road coming home or may be at the synagogue, but the candles get lit in their own time.
Your question suggests a different value; that is, the importance of lighting the candles together and ushering in Shabbat as a sacred family event. For you, and many others, this moment of gathering is a high value. When family schedules do not allow everyone to arrive home before sunset, a conflict arises between the value of lighting candles in their time and lighting the candles as a sacred family event.
Were I in conversation with you discussing this conflict I would suggest several steps to find a comfortable resolution. First, this conflict offers an opportunity for the family to discuss these conflicting values. Acknowledging the values on all sides of the question allows you as a family to decide consciously which values take precedence in your home. Secondly, I would ask if there are any scheduling adjustments that can be made to accommodate Shabbat in a different way. Third, if scheduling cannot be adjusted and the family consensus is that you value lighting the candles as a family, I would go one step further to consider all the ways you can deepen your Shabbat observance.
The Reform approach values individual autonomy. This is an opportunity for you to find the ways to bring our classic tradition into conversation with your lived 21st century lives. Your desire to create a meaningful Shabbat observance within your household is admirable. I wish you much good luck, and Shabbat Shalom.
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