Torah Fax

Friday, August 6, 2004 - 19 Menachem Av, 5764

Torah Reading:  Eikev (Deuteronomy 7:12 - 11:25)
Candle Lighting Time:  7:47 PM
Shabbat Ends: 8:50 PM

Food For Thought 

Throughout the voluminous amount of rabbinic writings, we come across - from time to time - a passage which superficially seems to make no sense. One such example is found in a Midrashic comment on a verse in this week's Parshah. In the middle of recounting many of the miracles G‑d did for the Jews after the Exodus, Moses mentions that G‑d "fed us Manna in the desert…in order to afflict us" (our Parshah 8:16). The Midrash makes the surprising comment that from this verse we derive the obligation to - of all things - light Shabbat candles!

Before we shed some light (pun slightly intended…) on this enigmatic Midrash, we must first try and understand the verse itself. Why does the verse connect the eating of Manna with pain and affliction? Besides the obvious fact that the Manna was the main form of sustenance for the Jews in the desert, and was actually a remedy for their affliction (from hunger), our sages tell us that when eating the manna, one could miraculously enjoy any taste imagined. It was the ultimate gourmet experience!

The Talmud (Yoma 74b) provides two answers to this question. "One cannot compare one who has bread in his basket to one who does not." Rashi explains this to mean that one who is worried where his next meal will come from cannot fully enjoy his present meal - no matter how luxurious it may be. As tasty as the manna was, G‑d forbade anyone from saving Manna from one day to the next; every night the Jews had to go to sleep with no food in their tents and have complete faith in G‑d that He would provide more Manna the next day. Thus, though there was a large amount of pleasure experienced by the Jews when they ate the Manna, there was also a measure of anxiety that went along with it, and the Torah calls this anxiety "affliction."

The Talmud offers a second axiom: "one cannot compare the one who sees what he eats with the one who cannot see what he eats." Rashi explains this to mean that a major part of the pleasure derived from eating comes from seeing the food. Since the Manna only tasted like the great foods that were imagined by the eater, no matter how great the taste was, the true pleasure that comes from eating gourmet food was denied. Thus, the lack of true pleasure felt while eating the Manna is referred to by the Torah as an affliction.

In light of the above, we can now understand the connection the Midrash makes between the Torah's description of the Manna as a form of affliction and the obligation to light Shabbat candles.

One of the reasons given for lighting Shabbat candles is to enhance the joy of Shabbat. If we would have to eat our Shabbat meal in the dark, we would not - based on the above-mentioned principle - fully enjoy our food. This would greatly compromise one of the corner stones of Shabbat - the need to have Oneg (joy on) Shabbat. Hence, the Torah's description of the Manna as an affliction underscores the importance of illuminating our homes while we attempt to enjoy the Shabbat repast.

There is another reason given in the Code of Jewish Law for lighting Shabbat candles. Without light in the home, people would quite literally "stumble on wood and stones," meaning we would have no tranquility in our homes on Shabbat because we wouldn't see where we were walking. According to this explanation, not only do Shabbat candles bring extra Shabbat joy, they actually ensure "Shalom Bayit, Peace in the Home."

Our sages have taught that the Shabbat candles offer a foretaste of the light we will experience in the Messianic Age. There are a number of distinctions that can be drawn between the darkness of exile and the illumination of the Redemption that parallel the above mentioned reasons for lighting Shabbat candles.

Firstly, we live in an age where we cannot fully appreciate or enjoy the good things in life. The uncertainties of life  and the unforeseen heartaches make it impossible for us to value the blessings that life affords us. The Age of Moshiach will be a time totally void of any worries or problems. It will therefore be a time when we will be able to clearly see and appreciate all of the good that we have been given.

Another problem of exile is that we are constantly confronted with all sorts of obstacles that disrupt the state of peace that exists  between ourselves and G‑d. On a spiritual level, we have no "Shalom Bayit, Peace in our Home" because we are stumbling over "wood and stone." Lifeless wood and stone are metaphors for idolatry and, in the modern lexicon, they represent materialism and self-centeredness; the pursuit of the G‑dless and the non-spiritual - idolatry by any other name. By lighting the Shabbat candles, we usher in a day that portends the removal of obstacles that create disharmony between G‑d and the Jewish people, and by extension, the entire world. Then, we will be able to see and identify the things that cause us to stumble and the spirit of peace and harmony will be enhanced between one another and between ourselves and G‑d.

Moshiach Matters

“The blind are called ‘Sagi Nahor,’ literally: those with much light, so called because they sadly have no light. When Moshiach comes, G‑d will heal them, and they will become Sagi Nahor in the positive and literal meaning of the words. This is similar to the medieval sage Rabbi Yitzchak Ben HaRa’avad who was called Sagi Nahor because Elijah the prophet revealed himself to him and he had many other spiritual powers.”
(The Rebbe, Parshat Eikev, 1991)
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