Question: I watched a Rabbi sing havdala online and noticed that he looked at his hands before saying the beracha over the candle. Don’t we usually recite the beracha before performing the mitzva or benefitting from anything?
Answer: The Mishna (Berachos 51b) teaches that one shouldn’t recite the beracha of meorai haeish unless they benefit from the light of the candle. The Gemara (Berachos 53b) cites a machlokes as to whether one needs to benefit from the light or if it is sufficient for it to be bright, and a further machlokes as to what is considered benefitting. Following this, Rambam (Shabbos 29:25) and the Shulchan Aruch (OC 289:4) write that one needs to actually benefit from the flame and it must be bright enough that one can differentiate between different types of currency. The Tur (OC 298:1) notes that nowadays we look at our hands, particularly as we don’t have money on us.
R’ Asher Weiss (Bereishis 2:2) explains that there is a machlokes as to how to classify the beracha of meorai haeish said over the flame. According to the Kol Bo (41) it is considered to be a birchas hanehenin, a beracha that one says before partaking of something such as food. Tosafos (Pesachim 53b) and Ramban (Berachos 51b) write, however, that this beracha serves simply to remind us that fire was created on motzaei Shabbos. Alternately, R’ Weiss suggests that it may be a beracha of shevach, praise.
Following this, there is a machlokes as to whether we say the beracha before or after looking at our hands. The Taz (298:2) writes that according to the Shibolei Haleket (Shabbos 130) one would look at one’s hands before reciting the beracha. The Mishna Berura (296:31) also writes that this is the correct order.
R’ Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe OC 5:9:9) however (in a teshuva to Dayan Krausz), challenges this, writing that common practice is to recite the beracha first and that is how the Yaavetz and Gra paskened (See Rivevos Ephraim 3:286:1).
In conclusion, while some people say the beracha after looking at their hands, the mainstream practice is to recite the beracha first.