See the Light by Danny Shulman


The Gemara (Shabbat 25) presents an argument between Rava and Abaye regarding the nature of Nerot Shabbat.  Rava explains that using malodorous oil is unacceptable on Friday night because the bad smell will force one to eat elsewhere.  Abaye raises the seemingly obvious question: why does it matter if one eats elsewhere?  Rava defends his opinion by claiming that lighting candles is a requirement.  Tosafot (s.v. Hadlakat) explains that Rava’s final statement does not refer to the simple lighting of the candles as even Abaye would agree to this obligation.  (see Rambam Hilchot Shabbat 5:1 as well as Mishnayot Shobbos 2:6).  Rather, Tosafot explains that the Machloket revolves around the requirement to light the candles in conjunction with the Friday night meal.  According to Rava, having candles at the meal on Friday night is necessary as a meal is not significant except in the presence of light, (Rashi ibid.) and, in light of the Mitzvah of Oneg Shabbat, an enhancement of the meal is ideal and perhaps required.            

The two items at hand, light and food, are allegorical paradoxes.  Light represents absolute spirituality which is free of shape restrictions.  Conversely, food is the most basic physical need.  Every person and animal, regardless of status, needs food.  Perhaps a message can be derived from the notion that the Shabbat meal, an entirely physical entity, needs to be coupled with light, the ultimate spiritual creation.  The physical world we live in can be both a challenge as well as an opportunity.  The challenge is clear: overindulgence in worldly pleasures plagues today’s society that is lacking in morals and ethics.  However, as Jews, we are also presented with the prospect of using the world we live in as a means to uplift ourselves.  Through an integration of our basic needs with Torah ideals, the two separate elements can be fully utilized.

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