|This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, my uncle Reuven Nachum Ben Moshe & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein.
It should also be in Zechus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandfather Moshe Ben Breindel, and my grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-Chaya Rochel Ettel Bas Shulamis
-Nechama Hinda Bas Tzirel Leah
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus. B”H, Zalman Michael Bes Golda Mirel and Ariella Golda Bas Amira Tova have experienced incredible Refuos!
**Note: This D’var Torah is a re-written, much edited, and expanded version of an old one I wrote a few years ago.
וַיַּקְהֵל ● Vayak’heil
● Is the act of kindling a fire on Shabbos symbolic of a greater message in the forbidden Melachos of Shabbos? ●
“We Didn’t Start the Fire”1
As was elaborated on in our most previous discussion2, Moshe Rabbeinu prefaced the announcement of the Mishkan project with a reminder of Shabbos, to intimate to the B’nei Yisrael that the construction of the Mishkan does not override Shabbos.3 In that discussion, we addressed the Pasuk which specified, “Lo S’va’aru Eish B’Chol Mosh’voseichem B’Yom HaShabbos”-“You shall not kindle fire in all of your dwellings on the day of Shabbos”4 and explored the meaning behind two oddities in that text.
Firstly, we wondered why the act of kindling a fire was apparently singled out as the model Melachah to represent all the activities that are forbidden on Shabbos, of all Melachos. Indeed, considering that there are many other labor intensive activities that are forbidden on Shabbos such as plowing, planting, cooking, building, etc. it is strange that the Torah chose this one, simple act of kindling.
The second, peculiar point we pondered was the seemingly superfluous and perhaps misleading phrase, as the Chumash specified, “Lo S’va’aru Eish B’Chol Mosh’voseichem B’Yom HaShabbos”-“You shall not kindle fire in all of your dwellings on the day of Shabbos.” We wanted to know why the Torah stressed that one should not light a fire in one’s “dwellings,” especially considering how, in truth, the prohibition of lighting a fire on Shabbos does not only apply in one’s dwellings; it is actually prohibited basically anywhere, even outside of one’s dwellings.
In our previous discussion, we addressed these questions by searching for more sophisticated and more precise definitions of Melachah and of “rest” as it pertains to Shabbos. Here, we are going to revisit these questions one more time and uncover even deeper significance behind the act of kindling a fire and the specification of our dwellings. The suggestion I will present here will sound more “mystical” in nature, but if you bear with me, the theory will hopefully be as equally satisfying and no less compelling. Additionally, what I will be suggesting here will be not be, by any means, mutually exclusive to what I suggested earlier.
So, just to recap the two main questions: What about the act of kindling a fire makes it the most appropriate and befitting representative of what not to do on Shabbos and why exactly did the Torah specify that this prohibition applies “in all of your dwellings”?
“In all of your dwellings” – Matzah
For the purposes of this journey, we are going to focus on the second question first, as the question revolving the “dwellings” will actually open a secret passageway to other similar passages in the Torah which could help us answer both of our questions. As it happens, the peculiar feature of “dwellings” in our Pasuk actually appears more commonly than one might realize.
One earlier such occurrence of the phrase “in your dwellings” can be found regarding the commandment to eat Matzah, unleavened bread, on Pesach. Earlier in Parshas Bo, the Torah commands, “Kal Machmetzes Lo Socheilu B’Chol Moshvoseichem Tochlu Matzos”-“All leavening you shall not eat; in all of your dwellings you shall eat Matzos.”5 Here too, the expression is kind of odd, because both the commandments not to eat Chameitz, leavened bread, and the counter commandment to eat Matzah apply wherever one is; in one’s home, in someone else’s home, in the park, etc.
The M’forshim in both this context and ours supply reasons for the reference to the dwelling places of the B’nei Yisrael. For example, regarding the kindling of a fire on Shabbos, we already mentioned the approach that point out that when the Torah emphasizes one’s dwellings, it means to exclude the Temple, where, in certain situations, the kindling of fire is actually permitted.6 In a similar vein, regarding the eating of Matzah, Rashi suggests that the emphasis on one’s dwellings is actually the Torah’s written permission for the B’nei Yisrael to eat Matzah in their homes instead of in Yerushalayim (unlike other items that one is required, by Torah law, to be eat there specifically).7
However, one can suggest even more simply that really, the word “in your dwellings” is just a nonspecific phrase and all it means to suggest that “wherever you may be dwelling at that given moment…”—“don’t light a fire on it’s Shabbos,” or “make sure to eat Matzah on Pesach,” and so forth. Indeed, the Rashbam seems to suggest an answer that sounds very much along these lines, but in a completely unrelated context.
“There was light in their dwellings”
In fact, there is another time where the Torah oddly mentions the “dwellings” of the B’nei Yisrael, and just like in our Pasuk here, the Torah is actually describing a light source in those “dwellings.” In this other location, the Rashbam comments that wherever the people would hae been dwelling at the time, there would have been this light source. Where is this other context?
The Rashbam’s comments can be found earlier in Parshas Bo, during Makkas Choshech, the Plague of Darkness. As the Egyptians are stuck, planted in the dark, the Torah testifies, “…U’L’Chal B’nei Yisrael Hayah Or B’Moshvosam”-“…and [yet] for all of the Children of Israel there was light in their dwellings.”8 Rashi9 explains that the B’nei Yisrael were actually able to go into the Egyptians’ homes and peek into their dressers to scout out their wealth, making it seem that it was not just in the their own dwellings they had light, but wherever they went, they had light. Even if they were in an Egyptian’s house, the same house in which the Egyptian could not see, the B’nei Yisrael could see. Indeed, the Rashbam explains here, that when the Torah says “in their dwellings,” it means that wherever they would have been at any moment during the duration of the plague, the B’nei Yisrael had that light.
Now that part of the question has been answered, it could be that this seemingly unrelated verse in Parshas Bo can be useful for further investigation of our case, the prohibition of lighting a fire on Shabbos. But, how?
A Tale of Two Lights
As was mentioned, the reference to the dwellings during Makkas Choshech is not the only thematic parallel to our verse regarding Shabbos. There is a second parallel, namely the reference to a light source in both contexts, in Parshas Bo, the light during the Plague of Darkness, and here in Parshas Vayak’heil, the light of the fire during Shabbos. Now, most might reasonably pass this “similarity” as a coincidence, but, if we may humor the possibility of a connection more fundamental, perhaps there is a monumental lesson hidden in these two “light sources.” Might these symbols have anything to do with one another? What is the connection, if any at all, between the light in the dwellings of the B’nei Yisrael during the Plague of Darkness in Egypt, and the fire in the dwellings of the B’nei Yisrael on Shabbos?
As we proceed to entertain this ambitious expedition, but with a fair dosage of studious skeptisicm, one point to keep in mind is that if one looks at these two contexts again, one will notice an obvious contrast between the “light sources.” Regarding Makkas Choshech, the Torah states that the B’nei Yisrael in fact had light in their dwellings, whereas here, during Shabbos, the Torah specifically commands the B’nei Yisrael not to light a fire. If the parallel is at all significant as we’re venturing to consider it might be, we would have to assume that there is deeper meaning behind this contrast. What might be the message?
Makkas Choshech as a Model for Shabbos
It could be that in some way, Makkas Choshech can serve as some model for us to better understand the cessation from work on Shabbos. As was explained above, Shabbos is the precondition for the building of the Mishkan. The Mishkan is built wholly through the Melachos which, by Torah law, may only be done during the six days of the week. The B’nei Yisrael are about to join this project of building a Mishkan where they will be engaging in physical labor according to Hashem’s instructions.
Now, if one thinks about it, all that the B’nei Yisrael know about physical labor under the king’s decree, they learned in Egypt when they were slaves to Pharaoh, L’Havdil. Believe it or not, there is an opinion in Tosafos which suggests that the thirty-nine Melachos which are forbidden on Shabbos were actually derived from the laborious work we were subject to in Egypt!10 Apparently, there is some connection between the Egyptian Subjugation and the labor of the week, and consequently, the Exodus from Egypt and the resting of Shabbos.
With that said, we can use that subjugation as a construct for the B’nei Yisrael’s learned understanding of physical labor. So, what did they learn about physical labor? As slaves, they learned that physical labor means that there is no time to rest, no stopping. If they would stop, they would be whipped. The goal of their work is their mere survival and peace of mind, and indeed, it intrinsically was not purposeful labor.
But, when the plagues struck Egypt, especially during Makkas Choshech, the B’nei Yisrael had a moment’s relief. They were not bound by their Egyptian masters. On the contrary, their masters were the ones who were bound by the Darkness, for indeed, the Torah indicates that the Egyptians could not move from their spots.11 Meanwhile, the B’nei Yisrael had light provided for them. The week of Darkness for Egypt was actually a week of a Shabbos experience for the B’nei Yisrael, a complete cessation from their work. And what is interesting is that while the Egyptians’ cessation from their own work during that time was superimposed on them forcefully by the Darkness, the B’nei Yisrael were able to cease from work by their own will. There was no fear of being whipped or being “fired.”
This scene can certainly reveal a lot about Shabbos. For example, if Shabbos is the Tachlis or the purpose of Creation12, Makkas Choshech could enlighten us as to what that purpose is (pun intended). Indeed, without knowing better, this broad, daunting question could make our heads spin. What is the purpose of life? What it is that keeps the world going? Many may suggest various answers that life is about constantly being in action, working and being “productive.” Now, while these things are certainly necessary and respectable, if we consider the model of Makkas Choshech, perhaps Shabbos might actually be telling us to take a step back and give a second thought. Apparently, it is not the labor itself, but the meaning behind the labor, that gives life purpose. Indeed, if we would just spend our lives engaging in “productive activities” mindlessly and never stop to ask ourselves why we work so hard, we may never realize the meaning of our work.
Why do we engage in labor in this world anyway? Is it just to survive another day? Is it because it gives us pleasure or something to do? Is it even worth it? On Shabbos, we reflect on life and realize that the goal of our work is really only so that we can serve G-d through it. We realize this goal specifically when we stop working on Shabbos when G-d has commanded us to. Meanwhile, as the Egyptians did then, the nations of the world for all time live in the dark, while the Jews have the light of G-d in their midst, showing them what the true purpose of life is. Hashem provided their light in Egypt, and on Shabbos, the very same light will be provided for them.
Light vs. Fire
The above may explain the contrast between the light during Choshech and the prohibition of kindling the light of a fire during Shabbos. Before we address how that is though, let us first analyze the true meaning of the two light sources we’ve identified. What exactly is “light” and what is “fire”? Yes, they’re certainly similar as both are sources of light and can provide warmth. But, if one thinks about it, the two have a fundamental difference. Not only is there a contrast between Choshech where there was this light and the command that on Shabbos, we don’t light a fire. Light and fire themselves are not exactly identical.
- Light: G-d’s Creation
What exactly is light? Considering this question from the standpoint of Creation, light was what G-d produced for the world, literally from nothing, Yeish MeiAyin (lit., something from nothing) on the very first “day” of universe’s existence.13 It is a product of raw energy that Hashem generated from His Essence. It is His fundamental creation.
- Fire: Man’s “Creation”
If that is the case, what is fire? Fire, on the contrary, is a force created through intense chemical reactions, based on preexisting elements in the world. In this way, much unlike “light” which derives from G-d Himself, fire is the Po’eil, an actualization or fruition, which is derived from preexisting Koach, or potential energy. In other words, fire is created through labor, something man can relate to. In fact, fire is perhaps the first and fundamental creation of man.
Indeed, Chazal say that G-d intended to create fire on the sixth day of Creation, just before Shabbos, but for some reason, He waited until after Shabbos, and actually conveyed the secret of producing fire from two stones to Adam, and man subsequently created fire14, on what we might think of as the hidden “Eighth Day of Creation.” This tradition is actually the source for making the blessing over the fire during Havdalah which declares the end of Shabbos, the end of our cessation from creation and the beginning of our return to the work week!
Considering this contrast, Creation began with G-d’s light and ended with man’s light. “Light” is representative of G-d’s work in this world while fire represents man’s toil in this world, his partnering with G-d in Creation. It is the toil which man must return to when Shabbos is over.
“We Didn’t Start the Fire”1
Now, while it may seem, as we’ve described, that man created fire, indeed Hashem wants us to understand that “we didn’t start the fire.”1 And indeed, it really was “always burning since the world was turning.”1 The creation of fire, “Man’s Creation” was really Hashem’s doing—Hashem just allowed man to take part in it.
How can we marvel in our own work while, at the same time, realizing that it is really Hashem’s doing? “Lo S’va’aru Eish B’Chol Mosh’voseichem B’Yom HaShabbos”-“You shall not kindle fire in all of your dwellings on the day of Shabbos.” On Shabbos we cease lighting a fire so that we really that it was Hashem’s Creation that ultimately allowed man to do it. Yes, Hashem allowed man to participate in Creation, but there’s a catch: Not on Shabbos! On Shabbos, we stop marveling at our own creations. We realize that it’s not about us. We mature from the false mindset of “Kochi V’Otzem Yadi Asah Li Es HaChayil HaZeh”-“My [own] strength and the might of my [own] hand made for me this wealth.”15
Thus, Shabbos teaches us that during the six days of the week, we’re supposed to toil and prepare, but on Shabbos, whatever we have is it. The project is finished. We can no longer rely on the work of our own hands. We do what we can, but Hashem provides the “rest” (pun intended). Only Hashem can. We don’t kindle our manmade light on Shabbos. We can only rely on the light of Hashem, the same one with which Hashem had begun Creation, the same one which was present in Egypt for the B’nei Yisrael during the darkness. It is this light which was stored away during Creation for the Next World16 that one can attain on Shabbos, “Mei’Ein Olam HaBa,” or a semblance of the Next World.17
Entering the “Shabbos Zone”
Hopefully, by now, we have an even richer understanding of Shabbos than before. Shabbos is meant to really modify and reframe our work week, elevating it from the mundane creation of man to a partnership with Hashem. The secret though is that all of these ideas might not merely inform us of the difference between Shabbos and weekday exclusively. Granted, in Halachah, there is a difference between the six days of the week and Shabbos, however these two entities, Shabbos and weekday, may actually be representative of larger realities or realms in life that exist every single day, perhaps varying between every single situation and circumstance we encounter in life. How so?
So, for example, the six days certainly represent the breadth of man’s toil in this world. But, you know what? There are times where man simply can toil no longer. We reach a point where we have to confess and acknowledge our own limitations; “I’ve done everything I could.” At those points in life, one realizes that he can really only rely on G-d. At that point, he leaves the “Man’s Zone,” the realm of weekday, and enters the “Shabbos Zone.” Shabbos represents those times in life when we can toil no longer, when only Hashem can provide, when we rely on “Hashem’s Creation” alone. Of course, we know that even in what we may think of as “Man’s Zone,” Hashem is running the show, that we always depend on Hashem. We know inside that “we didn’t start the fire.” Nonetheless, the “Shabbos Zone” is where we ultimately stand when we are awakened to that reality that our own toil is ultimately futile.
To further demonstrate the difference between the “Shabbos Zone” and “Man’s Zone,” consider the following in the Jewish calendar and history.
- Pesach: The Shabbos Zone
On Pesach, we celebrate our Exodus from the Egyptian subjugation. But, how in the world did we get out of it? We couldn’t do it ourselves through our own toil if our lives depended on it, which they did. Who provided for us? It was G-d, through open miracles. Who literally shined the light for us during the time of Darkness? None other than G-d. When we delve into the Haggadah and relive the story of the Exodus each Pesach, we acknowledge that it was G-d alone Who provided for us. Pesach was undoubtedly a “Shabbos Zone” marked by the recognition that G-d is in charge.
Realizing this reality in the Pesach story is a no-brainer. In the “Shabbos Zone,” we know well the limits of our own toil. We readily accept those limits and turn to Hashem. Indeed, the “Shabbos Zone” is a safe zone.
- Purim: Man’s Zone
How about Purim? At first glance, the salvation in the Purim story was natural, quite unlike the miraculous redemption of Pesach. The Purim story as it is described in Megillas Esther is filled with a bunch of justifiable coincidences combined with the work of clever and courageous humans. Indeed, it was undeniably “Man’s Zone.” Mordechai and Esther were in the right place at the right time and ultimately played the political game, making excellent use of negotiation and opportunity. Man appears to prove perfectly capable…right—perhaps too perfectly. It is for these reasons that “Man’s Zone” which is characterized by nature, chance, and the concealed “hand of G-d,” is the true battle zone for our development of trust in Hashem and faith in Him as the Creator and Guide for the world. And yet, what does the text of the text say at the climax of the Megillah?
“LaYehudim Hayisa Orah V’Simchah V’Sason Vikar”-“For the Jews there was light and happiness, and gladness and honor.”18 There was light for the Jews! Where have we heard this before? Oh, that’s right. In Egypt during Makkas Choshech! But, who (or Who) could have possibly produced the light in Megillas Esther though? Could it have been any human? We know that light is not a human creation. Indeed, although G-d’s Name is nowhere to be found in the Megillah explicitly, at this point, we know that it could have been none other than G-d Himself! It is the light of the “Shabbos Zone,” penetrating “Man’s Zone,” reminding us what we know inside to be true, that indeed, Hashem runs the show.
How undeniably apropos is it that this very line, “LaYehudim Hayisa Orah…,” the climax of the Purim story, was placed into the text of Havdalah at the end of every Shabbos! At the very moment that we—mankind—return to our toil and produces our own “man-made” light through fire, we’re forced to remember the light of G-d!
“Redemption to Redemption”
All of the above may also explain why during the Jewish leap year, Chazal have ordained that Purim not be celebrated in the first month of Adar, but rather in the second. The Gemara says that we need to be “Someich Geulah L’Geulah,” that we have to literally juxtapose one “redemption” to the other, placing the celebration of Purim next to that of Pesach which comes only a month later in Nissan.19 We require this juxtaposition so that we can realize that fundamentally speaking, there really is no difference between the open miracles of Hashem in Pesach and the “natural” redemption of Purim. Both were dependent on the light of G-d, the part of Creation that only G-d can provide, the part that represents Shabbos, when man can toil no longer. The “Semichas Geulah L’Geulah” reminds us that “Man’s Zone” is an illusion. Yes, man must toil, but those who know better understand that we are always living in the “Shabbos Zone.”
With all of the above it is uncanny and quite amazing that historically speaking, Mei’Am Lo’eiz points out that Makkas Choshech had actually begun on the thirteenth of Adar and lasted for a week, completely coinciding with what would become the week of Purim generations later! As the Pesach and Purim stories converge, we once again find the light of “Shabbos” penetrating “Man’s Zone.”
In the end, it is our responsibility to be aware of our role at all times, whether during the week or during Shabbos, during “Pesach” or during “Purim.” There are limits to the work of our hands. Yes, we must exert ourselves, but when we cannot, when it’s “Shabbos,” we must cease from kindling our fires and remember Hashem Who is the true provider of light. And if we do that, then just as, “…L’Chal B’nei Yisrael Hayah Or B’Moshvosam” and just as “La’Yehudim Haysa Orah…” with G-d’s help, “Kein Tihiyeh Lanu”-“So, it shall be for us!”20
May we all be Zocheh to understand our role at each moment of life, toil and rest when appropriate, always realize that the true light comes from Hashem, and we shall merit the full measure of Hashem’s light—the light of Creation, Shabbos, the Geulos of both Purim and Pesach, and the ultimate Geulah, with the coming of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos Shekalim/Mevarchim Adar Sheini and Freilichin Chodesh Adar Sheini!! 🙂 🙂 🙂
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂
- Borrowed from Billy Joel’s legendary song
- See what I wrote in the previous entry, “The Temporal Temple.”
- Rashi to Shemos 35:2 citing Mechilta
- Shemos 35:3
- Ibid. 12:20
- Chizkuni and Kli Yakar
- Citing Mechilta
- Shemos 10:23
- To 10:22 citing Shemos Rabbah 14:3 and Tanchuma 3
- Tosafos to Pesachim 117B explains the the word “Perach” [פרך] which describe the backbreaking labor of the Egyptian Subjugation [Shemos 1:13], when reversed through the letter-manipulation of ATBA”SH [אתב״ש] (in which the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet switch places), spells “V’Gal” [וג״ל], which has a Gematria or numerical value of thirty-nine, alluding to the thirty-nine Melachos.
- Rashi to Shemos 10:22
- Amidah for Ma’ariv of Leil Shabbos
- Bereishis 1:3
- Pesachim 54A; See also Bereishis Rabbah 11:2.
- Devarim 8:17
- See Rashi to Bereishis 1:4
- Osios R’ Akiva; See also the Shabbos Zemer, “Mah Yedidus.”
- Esther 8:16
- Megillah 6B