By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
27 Adar 5764 - March 19, 2004
After the grievous sin of the golden calf, the Children of
Israel seek a way to return to Hashem. Moshe brought down the second Luchot on
Yom Kippur (the 10th of Tishrei), indicating that they were fully pardoned,
but the people want more. They want every trace of their sin removed, their
original relationship with Hashem restored.
The Mishkan was intended for this purpose of kapparah (atonement). Through
building the Mishkan the people would achieve the return to Hashem they yearn
However, before beginning his instructions regarding the construction of the
Mishkan, Moshe teaches the people the importance of Shabbat:
And Moshe assembled the entire community of the Children of Israel, and he
said to them, “These are the things that Hashem has commanded to do them: For
six days shall work be done, and the seventh day shall be holy for you, a
complete Shabbat rest for Hashem; anyone who does work on it shall be put to
death. You shall not kindle (T’VA’ARU) fire in all of your dwellings (MOSHVOTEICHEM)
on the Shabbat day” (Shemot 35:1-3).
Here, Moshe repeats Hashem’s original instructions about observing Shabbat as
stated in 31:12-17. The crucial work of the Mishkan will continue ceaselessly
all week, yet it will be halted for Shabbat.
What is the meaning of specifying the Shabbat prohibition of:
You shall not kindle fire in all of your dwellings on the Shabbat day.
A number of answers are found in the sources, including:
• Kindling fire is singled out as an example, to teach that each principle
type of work (av melachah) is separate. So if a person would, through
ignorance, perform many prohibited acts during Shabbat, he would be obligated
to sacrifice only as many sin-offerings as the number of avot melachah he
violated (Yevamot 6b; quoted by Rashi).
• Fire is essential to the preparation of food, which the Torah permitted on
festivals (12:16); on the other hand, the Torah emphasizes here that the
preparation of food is forbidden on the Shabbat day (Ibn Ezra, Rashbam, Ramban;
also Yerushalmi Beitzah 5:2).
• Kindling fire is accounted by the Torah as a melachah, even though it is
destructive, whereas other melachot, derived from the building of the Mishkan,
are constructive (Sforno).
• Kindling fire is prohibited only in your dwellings; however, in the Temple,
where it is necessary to maintain the fire of the altar, it is permitted
One major interpretation of this verse, found in the Mechilta and Sanhedrin
35b, is enumerated by the Rambam as a mitzvah (Book of the Commandments,
Negative #322) that a court may not administer punishment on Shabbat. In the
Laws of Shabbat 24:7 he explains:
Even though the punishment is a positive commandment, it does not override
Shabbat. …You shall not kindle fire in all of your dwellings on the Shabbat
day is a prohibition to the court not to burn on Shabbat one who deserves
[execution by] burning, and the same law applies to other punishments.
However, the connection between the verse and the mitzvah-derivation seems
remote, and requires explanation.
Haketav V’hakabbalah (R. Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg, 1785-1865) gives a detailed
analysis of this verse, including a scientific explanation of the workings of
fire, as well as some complex Talmudic issues. His main points are:
• Your dwellings (MOSHVOTEICHEM) can refer to the courts, because the verb
Y-SH-V often connotes “sitting in judgment,” with the connotation of
“providing political stability,” as in For there they sat, thrones of
judgment, thrones of the house of David (Tehillim 122:5).
• In execution, the burning is an end in itself, not only a preparation for
some other action. The purpose of burning is to punish, and other forms of
punishment accomplish the same purpose by other means.
• The verb B-A-R suggests both “burning,” as well as “removal, riddance,” as
in Devarim 26:13. This reminds us of the repeated reason for all capital
And you shall remove (UVI’ARTA) the evil from your midst (Devarim 13:6; 17:7;
19:19; 21:21; 22:21,24; 24:7), or And you shall remove the evil from Israel
(17:12; 22:22), or And you shall remove the blood of the innocent from Israel
In essence, the verse thus commands: Do not, by means of any punishment,
remove the guilty from the earth.
R. Mecklenburg concludes with a declaration of the stringency of Shabbat:
Although offering the sacrifices and operating the Sanctuary will prevail over
the laws of Shabbat, its holiness is not overridden, neither by the building
of the Mishkan nor by punishing the guilty.
It is often said that building a “sanctuary-in-time” (Shabbat) is a higher
priority than building a “sanctuary-in-space” (Mishkan). But, what of
punishment, which is the duty of the court and brings atonement to the life of
the criminal (Tosafot to Sanhedrin 35a)? Why does Shabbat supersede
Sefer Ha Chinnuch (ascribed to either R. Aharon HaLevi or R. Pinchas HaLevi of
Barcelona, mid-13th Century) provides us with an analogy:
A great king summoned the people of the country one day to a feast, when he
would not withhold entry from anyone, and after the day of the feast he would
sit in judgment.
Shabbat is a day’s reprieve for all, a day without guilt or judgment, worry or
punishment. On this day we are all equally the guests at the King’s table, for
it is a day for us to find the forgiveness we seek.
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
In this week's Parshah, we are told
about the actual building of the Mishkan and all its accoutrements. The
Torah informs us that Bnei Yisrael contributed generously to the building
of the Mishkan and refers to two categories of donors, "nesa'o libo,"
"whose heart inspired him," and "nadvo rucho," "whose spirit motivated
Rabbi Solovetichik zt"l, explained the difference between the two: A nadvo
rucho reacts in an intellectual, rational way. Many in Bnei Yisrael
analyzed their ability to donate based on the needs of the Mishkan and
contributed a commensurate amount. Their approach was perfectly acceptable
and legitimate. The nesa'o libo, however, reacted on a more instinctive
level. They were overcome with the desire to build a Mishkan as an
expression of their attachment to HaShem. Such people acted well above
what was required of them.
The difference between the intellectual and emotional approach to the
performance of a mitzvah can be applied to almost all of the Torah's
Mitzvot; notably, in the Mitzvah of giving charity. Man can readily accept
and understand rationally the need for giving charity. When, however, one
gives charity from an emotional need and desire to do so, it becomes
etched in his mind and no intellectual or rational reason will deter him.
When one acts on such an impulse, it is characterized as an act of chesed.
There is another Mitzvah which demonstrates the difference between the
nadvo rucho and the nesa'o libo - the Mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael -
living in Eretz Yisrael. It is perfectly legitimate, and under certain
circumstances necessary, to approach aliyah to Eretz Yisrael as a nadvo
rucho. Practical, economic, rational considerations should be part of the
process. But ultimately, the nesao libo is the one who will make aliyah.
One who has an emotional, existential attachment to Israel to the extent
that it becomes etched in his mind so that he is constantly aware of the
desire and necessity of performing this Mitzvah, is the one who will
actually make aliyah and no rational or intellectual obstacle will deter
Rabbi Benyamin Walfish
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Tel: 972-2-566-1181 ext. 320