Towards the beginning of Parashat Vayakhel, we read of Moshe assembling Benei Yisrael and conveying to them the command of Shabbat observance, singling out the specific prohibition against kindling a flame on Shabbat – “lo teva’aru eish be-khol moshevoteikhem be-yom ha-Shabbat” (35:3).
Rashi cites from the Gemara (70a) two views among the Tanna’im as to the halakhic implication of this singling out of hav’ara (the prohibition against kindling). One view claims that the Torah singled out this prohibition to lower its severity. Whereas violations of any of the other thirty-eight melakhot (forbidden activities) on Shabbat constitutes a capital offense, hav’ara – according to this view – is relegated to the status of an ordinary Torah prohibition. According to the other view, the Torah specified one particular Shabbat prohibition in order “le-chaleik” – to demonstrate that the thirty-nine melakhot should be treated as separate and distinct prohibitions. Thus, if a person did not realize that it was Shabbat, and committed several different melakhot, he must bring a separate atonement offering for each melakha which he inadvertently violated.
Rav Aryeh Tzvi Frommer of Kozhiglov, in his Eretz Tzvi, suggests a deeper insight into the particular significance of the hav’ara prohibition. Symbolically, he writes, the prohibition against kindling a flame on Shabbat instructs that on Shabbat, we should not use our own “light,” but should rather use the special “light” provided by Shabbat itself. Shabbat is often referred to as “me’ein olam ha-ba” – an experience that in a sense resembles or mirrors the idyllic conditions of the next world. Now Rashi, commenting to the story of the creation of light in Sefer Bereishit (1:4), famously cites the Midrashic tradition that the original light created on the first day of creation was “concealed,” and is reserved for the righteous in the next world. However, as the Eretz Tzvi cites from earlier sources, on Shabbat, when we are given a glimpse of the next world, we are allowed, in some sense, to utilize the “or ha-ganuz” – the “hidden light” which is normally reserved for the next world. And therefore, the Torah commands us not to kindle our own light on Shabbat – because on Shabbat, we are to make use of the special light to which we are given access on this day.
The Eretz Tzvi adds that this concept might be alluded to by the view which states that the Torah singled out the hav’ara prohibition “le-chaleik” – which literally means “to distinguish.” The pristine light of the next world gives us the perfect clarity we need to definitively and accurately distinguish between right and wrong. In our world, the lines between right and wrong are often blurred; we cannot always trust our intuition and instincts to distinguish between what is proper and what isn’t. Our judgment is clouded by our biases and base desires. In the next world, we will have access to the special “light” which will give us perfect clarity, and which will enable us to immediately discern right from wrong. And thus the hav’ara prohibition serves “le-chaleik” – to instruct us to use the “light” of the next world which becomes accessible on Shabbat, through which we can more accurately distinguish between good and evil.
Throughout the workweek, as we engage in the world and struggle to earn a livelihood, even as we strive to conduct ourselves according to the Torah’s laws, values and principles, our judgment is likely to be clouded, and our priorities are prone to be skewed. Focused as we are on our daily challenges and rigors, we might lose sight of our ideals and of our ultimate purpose. Shabbat restores the “light” that we might be missing during the week, the clarity of vision and perception, the ability to clearly distinguish between right and wrong, between central and peripheral, between important and trivial. By taking a step back from our weekday pursuits, we are in a position to view life from a purer and truer perspective. And thus, as the Kozhiglover Rav explained, the Torah instructs us not to kindle our own flame on Shabbat, to stop using the “light” of the workweek, to redirect our focus and our refresh our perspective so we have a clearer sense of how we should be living our lives and what our priorities ought to be.