Monday, March 4, 2013

Lighting up Our Lives

Parshat Vayakhel-Pekudei 
Shmot 38:21 – 40:38 
27 Adar  5773 / March 8 – 9, 2013 

Lighting up Our Lives
by Rachie Lewis, MH Boston

I have always loved the rituals of lighting candles to welcome Shabbat and lighting a fire once again 25 hours later, during havdalah, to bid farewell to the holy day. Our weekly portion, Vayahkel, has caused me to think more deeply about why we bookend this holy day with fire.

The parsha shifts from discussing the obligation of keeping Shabbat to the details of the Mishkan, the desert tabernacle, early on. Exodus 35:3 states "you shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations on the Sabbath day." It is interesting that this is the only Shabbat prohibition mentioned here. In a parsha about holy structures, one of time and one of space, why might the entity of fire be particularly relevant? 

A beautiful midrash, Rabbinic story, in Bereishit Rabbah (taken from Lois Ginzburg's "Legends of the Jews”) states, "an opportunity was given to Adam to learn and appreciate the value of the Sabbath. The celestial light, whereby Adam could survey the world from end to end, should properly have been made to disappear immediately after his sin. But out of consideration for the Sabbath, God had let the light continue to shine...Only with the going out of the Sabbath day the celestial light ceased, to the consternation of Adam, who feared that the serpent would attack him in the dark. But God illuminated his understanding, and he learned to rub two stones against each other and produce light for his needs."  

The source of light in the world seems to dramatically shift in the creation story. This midrash references another that explains the light created on the first day, not as the sun, but as a celestial light that allowed Adam to see from one end of the world to the other. As God removes that light from the world, Adam is forced to create his own to fill it in. 

This midrash seems to be teaching us about work in the world and how we make a bit less of a practical contribution on Shabbat. Yet we still bookend our holy day with our work, with the entity that represents that transition from relying on a Divine source for a needed resource to obtaining it through asserting our own effort and will. 

What we do in the world is holy, but perhaps the Torah says not to start a fire because what exists in between our candles on Friday night and havdalah, is a time in which we do not need to rub stones together, but rather bask in the abundant light of what has been in the previous week and what will be in the one to come. 

Shabbat Shalom!



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