Saturday, January 17, 2009

Seeing the Light

Guest post by Daniel

I've been learning Mishna Berura yomi. I did not expect to find mystical lessons in halacha. However, I clearly had a misunderstanding for how deep Torah truly is.

With enough halacha, you start to see patterns about the nature of the world. Below is what I have discovered so far about the function of Light.

Uses of flames in halachah:

Coins and Fingernails
HALACHAH: Before (or during, but not after! see note below) the blessing over the Shabbos havdalah flame is said, one must be close enough to the flame to tell the difference between the coin of his land and a foreign coin. Today we say, the difference between his fingernails and the skin around them.

Thus, the definition of benefiting from light is acquiring the ability to distinguish between one thing and another.

The function of Light is to make distinctions.

Now we can dig deeper...

HALACHAH: If a candle is found in the beis midrash or synagogue, it is assumed that it is used for one of two purposes.
A) To honor the Shechinah (G-d's Presence)
B) To allow the Torah scholar to read from his holy books

To honor the Shechinah - light makes the distinction that this is not just any other room; this is a makom kadosh a holy site. You must act accordingly. Light has now instructed a behavior modification!

To allow the Torah scholar to read - light makes the distinction between "Black Fire" and "White Fire." Some say that the black letters are called "Black Fire" and the white space around the letters is called "White Fire." Were it not for the candles light, the whole page would be black; there would be no distinction, and thus no Torah to read from!

Yom Kippur vs. other Yamim tovim - light makes the distinction between Yom Kippur and all other yamim tovim (holidays). Unlike all other yamim tovim when limited use of fire is permitted, on Yom Kippur we don't use fire whatsoever. Therefore Yom Kippur havdalah uniquely requires a flame to point out this distinction.

Shabbos vs. Chol - in this case, light makes a distinction beyond the obvious distinction between Shabbos and Chol (weekday). Unlike the flame of Yom Kippur havdalah, the flame of Shabbos havdalah should preferably be newly lit, not coming from an existing flame. Why? Because the flame of Shabbos havdalah is in remembrance of Adam HaRishon's discovering fire on the first motza'e Shabbos following Creation.

Thus, our Shabbos havdalah light does not just distinguish between Shabbos and Chol. Rather, it makes the distinction between Mankind's mastery over nature, and the Jew's relinquishing this power for the sake of Shabbos. We are mevater (relinquish) our power over nature for the sake of our marriage with the Creator, which is Shabbos.

In 'light' of all this, what distinctions do you think are made from the following types of Light?

(Mishlei 6:23) "The Mitzvah is a lamp; and Torah, light."
(Mishlei 20:27) "The soul of man is the candle of G-d."
(Ovadiah 1:18) "The house of Ya'akov will be fire, the house of Yosef a flame, and the house of Eisav for straw; and they will ignite them and devour them."
Or how about, "a light unto the nations."

May we soon merit the Redemption and all the light that it will bring.

Note on havdalah flame:
Nonetheless, this procedure of examining our nails is classified as a custom and even if one merely enjoyed benefit from the ner without examining one's nails one has fulfilled the obligation (MB 298:9 and see OC 298:4).

However, if he were not close enough to benefit from the light, even if he answers amen to the leader's blessing, he has not fulfilled the mitzvah. After havdalah, he should go back to the flame and benefit from it and say his own blessing. He can do this throughout motza'e Shabbos.

It is not preferable for each individual to say the blessings of the flame and of the spices one at a time, as some people mistakenly think, says the Mishna Berura - preference in this case is to increase the number of people fulfilled via the leader's blessing.

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