This Parsha singles out only one of the 39 types of
Melachot (work) that is forbidden on Shabbat,
- "Do not kindle any fire in all your dwelling places on the
Shabbat day." Lighting a fire on the Shabbat is forbidden.
But that only goes for your "dwelling place" - that is - your
home. Back in the Mishkan (and later in the Bait Hamikdash)
fire was a regular part of the korbanot (sacrifice) services
performed daily, even on the Shabbat.
Why does the Torah single out the Melacha of
kindling a fire on the Shabbat day?
Once, when Hadrian, the Roman emperor was chatting with Rabbi
Yehoshua ben Chanina, he commented "I am greater than Moshe
- your teacher." Taken aback, Rabbi Yehoshua replied, "How can
you claim to be greater than the greatest Jewish prophet who
Hadrian went on to quote the Torah: "It says in the
book of Kohelet (9:4); ‘Better to be a live dog than
a dead lion.’ Moshe’s dead, I’m alive, so I’m greater than he
Rabbi Yehoshua quickly replied, "Listen here, your Royal Highness,
since you’re so all-powerful, do you think you can get all your
subjects to stop lighting fires in their homes for three days?"
"Sure I can," replied Hadrian, who immediately called in his
royal officers to spread the decree of his new "no fire" law
for the next three days.
The very first night, Rabbi Yehoshua and the Emperor climb
to the roof of the palace, and they see smoke rising from a
Enraged, the Emperor heads out to the smoky corner of town,
dragging Rabbi Yehoshua along for the ride. When they get to
the violator’s home, Hadrian busts down the door and confronts
his disloyal subject. "You know my decree of no fire in the
home for three days. Why is there a roaring fire in your fireplace?"
The nobleman replied "I had a cold and my doctor recommended
plenty of hot tea, so I whipped up a fire to boil tea."
When they left the house, Rabbi Yehoshua declared, "You see,
that nobleman broke your law for his own convenience. Your subjects
don’t even respect your laws for one day while you’re alive.
Our Rebbe, Moshe warned us over a thousand years ago
"Do not kindle a flame on the Shabbat." To this very
day, you will not find any Torah true Jew lighting a
fire on Shabbat.
Indeed, no Jew did light a fire ON the Shabbat. The
Torah states; "Do not kindle any fire in all your dwelling
places ON the Shabbat day." But there is no halacha
(law) stopping a Jew from preparing fire BEFORE Shabbat
to keep their house and food warm and to light up the house
on Friday night. There were, of course, those fanatics who said
"no fire on Shabbat means just that - no fire." They
were the Karaites. When Shabbat rolled around, their
houses went dark and they ate cold cholent. Our Rabbis
call these Karaites fools. Hashem wants us to live by
His laws, not to suffer from them.