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Shabbat Parashat Vayeishev 5775

Ein Ayah: What Type of Torah Ideas Are Off Limits and to Whom?

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 1:52 part II)

Gemara: One should not read by the light of an oil lamp [on Shabbat]. Rava said: If he is an important person, it is permitted. A question was raised from a baraita: “One should not read by the light of an oil lamp, lest he tilt the oil cup. Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha said: ‘I will read and will not tilt.’ One time, he read and almost tilted. He said: ‘How great are the words of the Rabbis, who used to say that one should not read by the light of the candle.’ Rabbi Natan said that [Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha] read and tilted and wrote [after Shabbat] in his notebook: ‘I read and tilted the oil cup on Shabbat. When the Beit Hamikdash is rebuilt, I will bring a fat sin offering.’”


Ein Ayah: One can connect a moral message to the halacha of not reading by the light of an oil lamp on Shabbat.

Reading the Torah causes man to contemplate its content, which can be done in two ways. The simple contemplation is to extract one thing from another in matters of halacha based on hard intellectual work of extrapolation and analysis. A more lofty contemplation is to explore the inner world of Torah thought, including the reasons behind the laws and the philosophical foundations of the mitzvot.

During the week, the time is conducive to practical intellectual development. Shabbat, in contrast, is uniquely capable of bringing out the elevation of the spirit, along with delving into the depths of Torah. This is the place where one must be vigilant. Study of the reasons behind the Torah can be done if it is based on the approach of faith and on emotions of unquestioning commitment and a pure love of Hashem which wells up in each person. It can increase both a person’s knowledge and his understanding of fear of Hashem, according to his level.

Looking at this element of Torah wisdom is like looking at the sun, as the pasuk says, “A sun and shield is Hashem” (Tehillim 84:12). The general light that emanates from Hashem and His Torah that is planted in the hearts of the members of the nation causes their knowledge and understanding of the spiritual depths of the Torah to grow.

However, we have to distinguish between the light of and the understanding of the reasons behind the Torah of the individual and of the collective. While the exact level of the individual’s ability to look into these matters differs significantly, an individual is like a candle, as it says, “The soul of a person is as a candle of Hashem” (Mishlei 20:27). However, the light of the nation as a whole is a product of Hashem’s covenant with us, which gives it extreme, all-encompassing purity, which can be compared to the light of the sun, not just a candle. Thus, the individual must be very careful not to “tilt the oil lamp.” This refers metaphorically to not leaving the paved path and presenting a warped view of Torah, based on personal approaches to the reasons behind the Torah that can cause him to act differently than one should on practical matters.

On the other hand, an important person has the right to go “off the beaten path.” When such a person delves into the secrets of the Torah, he will be able to do so in a way that brings only positive ideas, which strengthen the foundations of Torah in the hearts of many people. No pitfalls will come from the ideas of such a great person, as he can walk through the pardes (literally, an orchard, but a reference to the world of secrets of the Torah) and find flowers and blossoms in the secrets of the Torah, based on his personal wisdom. His personal candle will not tilt away from the paved path.

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