Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Why Single Out Fire

In this week's parsha, Vayakhel, G-D tells the Jewish people that they are not allowed to work on the Sabbath. The work is not defined or clarified here in any way except that G-D says that one is not allowed to kindle a fire. G-D tells the Jewish people that one is supposed to work the six days of the week and on the seventh day the Jewish people are to rest. Why is this so and why is fire singled out?

The pasuk says:

3. You shall not kindle fire in any of your dwelling places on the Sabbath day."

Rashi tells us:

ג. לֹא תְבַעֲרוּ אֵשׁ בְּכֹל מֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם בְּיוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת:

You shall not kindle fire: Some of our Rabbis say that [the prohibition of] kindling was singled out for a [mere] negative commandment, while others say that it was singled out to separate [all types of labor]. -[from Shab. 70a]
לא תבערו אש: יש מרבותינו אומרים הבערה ללאו יצאת, ויש אומרים לחלק יצאת:

Rashi tells us that some of the Rabbis believed it was just a simple commandment with no deeper meaning and others believed that it helped define what work was supposed to mean.
I have a very different idea that might be able to help us appreciate Shabbos in a whole new light.

Let me start by pointing out an argument between the Karites and the Jewish people in regards to Shabbos. The Karites would not have fire in their house on Shabbos whatsoever, even if it was kindled before Shabbos. In fact, this was the test by the Rabbinate of the time to tell if someone was a karite. The Rabbis said that this is a clear misrepresentation of the Shabbos day because only kindling a fire is not permitted, but surely a fire is allowed that was kindled before Shabbos started. In fact, there is even a commandment to light Shabbos candles in order to welcome in the Shabbos day.

Here is my take on why it is important to have a fire in a Jewish home to welcome in the Shabbos day. The main idea of Shabbos, as we read in kiddush every friday night, is to recall how G-D created the world. He formed and molded the world in six days (I am not getting into the age of the earth debate here, just symbolism) and on the seventh day he rested. Therefore, we remember that G-D is the creator of the universe by celebrating Shabbos. This is the whole point of Shabbos, to take out a day from our week and remember that G-D is the creator of the world and the controller of the universe.

Now, what does fire have to do with this? Fire (or heat) gives man the ability to create. Fire makes food edible, allows us to work our machines, and is the basic catalyst for everything. Without fire, we would be as primitive as the animals around us. Therefore, fire is forbidden on Shabbos so that we recognize that G-D is the creator of all things and not man. We, as a species, are self centered and self aggrandizing. For thousands of years we thought the universe revolved around us and most people still think the world revolves around them. Shabbos is the time to realize there is a higher power out there and there is more to just our self-centered lives.

Having a fire in the house that was lit for Shabbos also helps achieve this goal. It helps us recognize that before Shabbos, there was work in order to make Shabbos possible. It helps us attain a greater appreciation of the Shabbos day by focusing on the benefits of fire and how we are dependent on G-D for these benefits as well as the creation of the world.

This is why I think the Torah specifies creating a fire on Shabbos. If someone lights a fire on Shabbos then they are basically denying G-D's authorship of the world, or they are making the statement that they are unwilling to acknowledge that G-D created the world. Shabbos is the day to show our gratitude towards G-D. By abstaining from kindling fire and performing other melachos (work) we are showing G-D that we acknowledge that He is the creator of the world and that all power is in His hands.


Garnel Ironheart said...

The problem with the basic assumption of this post is that other melachos are also singled out, such as plowing, harvesting, cooking and carrying.

However, your thesis would still work because fire is the only melacha with the caveat "in all your dwelling places" which implies a more personal connection.

E-Man said...

Sorry for being unclear, I was referring to this parsha and Rashi talks about why fire is the only one mentioned. That is what I was going on.

E-Man said...

It is not I that say that Fire is singled out, it is Rashi quoting the Gemorah. Hence, why I quoted Rashi.