Lighting a memorial candle for departed loved
ones on the Hebrew anniversary of their deaths is a very popular tradition in the Jewish community. The way we do it may be missing the point entirely, though.
The Rosh, Rabbeinu Asher, explained in the fourteenth century that it is a good thing to donate oil lamps and candles to the local synagogue for them to use on Yom Kippur as a way to atone for one’s parents. A collection of halachid rulings, called the Kolbo, states that you should light a candle on their death anniversary because it makes you pray and study the Torah for longer which, in turn, brings merit to you ancestors.
Benzion Uziel, the former Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, says that that is the whole point of the yahrzeit candles. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef wrote that in this day and time, you can fulfill the same purpose by giving money towards the shul’s electric bill instead of donating oil lamps and candles. This is because the goal of the yahrzeit candles is to help spread spiritual light so the power isn’t within the candles themselves but what they represent.