Vayakhel/Pekudei 5783


Kindling traits of passion[1]

לא-תבערו אש בכל משבתיכם ביום השבת
Do not kindle a flame on the Sabbath day in any of your dwelling places[2]

Of all of the 39 forbidden categories of creative activities which are forbidden on Shabbos, the Torah finds the need to specify one of them. It says that it is forbidden to kindle a flame. Why was this activity singled out? Rashi brings[3] that it’s a dispute amongst our sages[4]. One opinion is that it’s to teach us that kindling a fire is for whatever reason considered a lower-level prohibition in comparison to the other forbidden creative activities. It gets downgraded to a regular transgression. The other opinion says it’s to teach us that even someone who performed one creative labor has desecrated Shabbos, as opposed to thinking it takes performing all of them to be guilty. This latter opinion still requires analysis. If this is the intent of the Torah, why was specifically the activity of kindling a flame chosen to teach this lesson? Seemingly the Torah could have chosen any other of the 38 forbidden activities.

The Zohar[5] gives an interesting interpretation of our verse. It says: “Meritorious is the one who safeguards his abode on Shabbos, i.e. his heart. He does this by not bringing close [to his heart] sadness, which comes from the spleen[6], or anger, which comes from the gallbladder[7]; for anger is the fire of hell. Upon this it is said: don’t kindle a flame on the Sabbath day. For one who gets angry is as if they kindled the flames of hell.”[8] This hellish fire is a reference to the three main negative traits of passion: jealousy, lusts, and honor/arrogance[9]. These three are all symbolized by fire.

We see this with jealousy and anger, as it says: “His anger burned within him”[10]. This trait is personified by Eisav, who was considered the waste product of Yitzchak. He took Yitzchak’s trait of gevurah, might and justice, and turned it into fire. We see this with lusts, as it says: “They all were adulterous like an oven burning from baking”[11]. Our sages also described[12] lusts as a pillar of fire. This trait is personified by Yishmael, who was considered the waste product of Avraham. He took Avraham’s trait of chessed, loving kindness, and corrupted it[13] into fire. We even find love described as fire, as it says: “many waters cannot extinguish the love”[14]. While there’s no verse describing arrogance as fire, the symbolism of fire rising upwards is clear[15].

Opposite these negative traits are those of the forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. Avraham’s trait is love, the opposite of lusts. Yitzchak trait is awe, the opposite of jealousy. Yaakov’s trait is meekness[16], the opposite of arrogance. We see that one should especially be careful on Shabbos, which Kabbalistically is associated with the forefathers[17], not to kindle a fire. Meaning, the Torah is telling us not to ignite the negative traits of passion, those directly opposite those of our holy forefathers[18].

Good Shabbos

[1] Based on Pri Tzaddik II Vayakhel § 9, by Rav Tzaddok HaKohen

[2] Exodus 35:3

[3] Ad. loc.

[4] Shabbos 70a

[5] Tikkunei Zohar § 48

[6] חטול

[7] מרה

[8] See also Zohar II parshas Vayakhel p. 203b

[9] The three sins which take a person out of the world (Avos 4:21)

[10] Esther 1:12. I’m not sure how we see jealousy from this verse, which is about Achashverosh’s insult that Vashti didn’t show up to his party wearing just her crown

[11] Hosea 7:4

[12] Kiddushin 81a

[13] This seems to be a common theme in the writings of Rav Tzaddok. See also Pri Tzaddik I Kedushas Shabbos § 4. Rav Dessler builds on this theme as well in Michtav M’Eliyahu II p. 164-165. See also

[14] Song of Songs 8:6,7

[15] Rav Tzaddok adds that he proved in Pri Tzaddik IV Parah § 8 that arrogance is connected to idol worship, which is also symbolized by fire (Yoma 69b)

[16] As we see in Genesis 32:31, Yaakov called himself small. I haven’t seen this trait attributed to Yaakov in any other source

[17] See Zohar loc. cit. p. 204a

[18] Rav Tzaddok goes on to connect this idea to the verse’s stress of not kindling a fire in any of your dwelling places