Why Specifically Mention Fire?

In Parshat Vayakhel, Shmot 35:2-3, B’nai Yisrael are told: “Work may be done six days, but the seventh day must be holy to you, it is a Shabbat Shabbaton to you. Whoever does work on it shall be put to death. You must not kindle a fire in all your dwelling places on the day of Shabbat”.


If B’nai Yisrael were already commanded in the Ten Commandments to observe Shabbat then why does the mitzvah need to be repeated again and what do these psukim add?


Ramban points out that this time we are told not to kindle a fire. In other words, cooking and baking would be prohibited on Shabbat. This was not outlined in the Ten Commandments where we were told that work should not be done but the types of work were not specified.


When the laws of Pesach were presented, Devarim 16:8, B’nai Yisrael were told that they may not do work: “For a six day period you shall eat matzot and on the seventh day shall be an assembly to God, you shall not perform any labor”,  yet they were allowed to cook.


From this we see that the fact that we are not allowed to cook on Shabbat has to be clearly stated.


Ramban states that B’nai Yisrael may have actually already been aware from the manna that we are not allowed to cook on Shabbat as they were commanded in Shmot 16:23: “…Bake what you want to bake and cook (on Friday) what you want to cook and whatever is leftover, put away for safekeeping for yourselves until the morning (Shabbat)”.


If they already knew that cooking and baking were prohibited then why did they need to hear specifically about lighting a fire?


B’nai Yisrael may have assumed that anything that wasn’t officially work but rather something that benefits the body such as lighting a candle, making a fire or washing their entire body in hot water should be allowed since they are not being done for work but rather for enjoyment, “Oneg Shabbat”. Therefore, the Torah had to state that lighting fire is not allowed for any reason even if we feel that it may enhance our Shabbat day and therefore we shower, prepare our food and light candles before Shabbat starts.


It also helps us answer the frequently asked question: Why can’t we watch TV on Shabbat if watching TV would enhance the day for us?


We officially start and end Shabbat with fire. The Shabbat candles help transition us into Shabbat (as well as give us light while we have our dinner) and the Havdala candle takes us back into the reality of the regular work week.


As Shabbat concludes and we strike the match to light the Havdala candle after 25 hours, we realize that nothing in life should be taken for granted including the lighting of a simple match.