Do not light a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day. —Exodus 35:3
The Torah portion for this week is Vayakhel, which means “assembled,” from Exodus 35:1—38:20, and the Haftorah is from 1 Kings 7:13–26.
The Sabbath is widely known as a day of rest. So does this mean that we spend the entire day sleeping or relaxing? Hardly! We pray, study, serve a luxurious meal, join with friends, and do things that connect us with God, the people around us, and our values.
What we don’t do is create anything. Just as God stopped creating on the seventh day, we refrain from creativity on the Sabbath. The laws regarding what is and is not permitted on the Sabbath are gleaned from the creation of the Tabernacle. In this week’s Torah reading, the commandment to keep the Sabbath is placed immediately before the building of the Tabernacle. From this juxtaposition, the rabbis derived the laws governing the Sabbath.
There are no specific laws regarding how to observe the Sabbath in the Bible — except for one. In this week’s reading we learn, “Do not light a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day.” The Jewish sages teach that there is a special message in this one commandment that goes above and beyond what actions are permitted on the Sabbath.
The “fire” in the verse not only refers to physical fire, but also the “fire” of arguments. This commandment directs us: “Do not light the fire of arguments in your homes on the Sabbath.” The Sabbath is also known as Shabbat Shalom, that is, “Sabbath of Peace.” For at least one day a week, we do not allow any arguing in our homes. We have a day of rest — a day of peace.
The Talmud shares the following story: There was once a couple who got into an argument every Friday afternoon, just before the Sabbath began. Rabbi Meir, the miracle worker, paid them a visit and stayed with them for three weeks until he was able to restore peace to their home. When his work was completed, he heard the voice of Satan sadly cry out: “Woe is to me, for Rabbi Meir has removed me from my home.”
The sages explain that a home of quarrelling is the domain of Satan. He works his hardest to create fighting in the home just before the Sabbath when we are trying to focus on creating a day of rest and peace. However, we need to work even harder at creating and maintaining a peaceful environment, even if for just one day a week.
This week, why not resolve to observe one day where arguing is not permitted. Use that day to focus on what we appreciate about our loved ones, with whom we share our home and our lives.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President