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Shabbat Parashat Ki Tisa 5775

Ein Ayah: The Limits and Significance of Human Ingenuity

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 1:87)

Gemara: “You shall not burn fire in all your inhabitations [on the day of Shabbat]” (Shemot 35:3). In all your inhabitations you shall not burn fire, but you may burn fire in [some context within the Temple]. Rav Chisda said: The pasuk was needed to permit the burning on the altar of the appropriate parts of the animals from sacrifices.


Ein Ayah: The burning of fire is a new activity that man initiated for his needs, employing great ingenuity with which Hashem blessed us. The Torah forbids burning on Shabbat, so that when we are refrain from it, we demonstrate that all of existence is the making of the hands of Hashem. The Torah chose to mention this melacha explicitly, as opposed to almost all melachot, which are referred to generically. This inculcates us with the realization that it is not enough to credit Hashem with natural phenomena, but we should attribute to him even that which man invents from nature with the wisdom He provided us. Hashem leads us so that things are used for great purposes for mankind’s advancement through the conduit of man’s intellect. That is why burning is singled out.  

On the other hand, not only should man recognize Hashem in his achievements, but he must realize that Hashem wants man to continue being creative, through which he is capable of making great and valuable changes. He should just make sure that these innovations are consistent with a tradition of justice and with divine propriety. That is why the classic setting in which the positive elements of creativity are raised is in the Temple. That is the place where it is proper to teach all of mankind their responsibilities as individuals and as a collective. In the face of the needs of service of Hashem, there is no refraining in the Mikdash from actions that would otherwise be a desecration of Shabbat. In other words, it is necessary to impress on man that service of Hashem is his realm. Man should work to serve, glorify, and elevate until he creates new realities in the world, based on a new heart and a new spirit of improvement.

It is with regard to the discovery of fire, which was the classic human innovation, that it is taught that man is capable of inventing things that interplay with divine creations. This should be a constant reminder of how far man can go when he follows the path that his Creator set for him. He should not deny his ability to create new things. The righteous are prepared to give the world a “new face” with good improvements, for they are servants of Hashem who are dedicated to serving Him.

When mankind will be fully developed, righteousness will be the source of all actions and innovations will need to be drawn from the wellspring of the morality of the Beit Hamikdash. Instead of stressing that everything is from Hashem, so that he not stray from the path of the truth, the focus will be different when man is on a higher level. Man will realize his great role in the world and that he can make striking changes in creation through his service of Hashem. The use of fire will be a sign of the beginning of man’s creativity. It will arouse him to follow the path of improving human society and all life that is related to it. That is why it was permitted to use fire to consume parts of sacrifices. This shows that just as it is necessary, at man’s own high point, to recognize Hashem’s power, so must he realize also at the time of relative lowliness how great he, as a human being, is.

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