The first man to be executed for profaning Shab•âtꞋ based on Shᵊmōt 35.3 never actually lit the fateful fire! So, why was he executed? Does this mi•tzᵊw•âhꞋ forbid striking a match or lighting a candle on Shab•âtꞋ?
The man who, modern readers think, Mōsh•ëhꞋ executed for lighting a fire never flicked his Zippo nor struck a match. He didn’t even strike a flint against his trusty fine steel survival knife or use a magnifying glass or parabolic mirror.
There weren’t even candles to light. Rather, for those who find period authenticity rewarding (and taking appropriate precautions against fire hazard), there were Early Bronze Age oil-filled clay bowl-lamps (clay bowls pinched on one side for a cloth wick) in the time of this incident (sometime between ca. B.C.E. 1453, the Yᵊtzi•âhꞋ, and ca. B.C.E. 1427, when Mōsh•ëhꞋ relinquished power to Yᵊho•shuꞋa).
A close reading of the Hebrew text in bᵊ-MidᵊbarꞋ 15.32 reveals no evidence that the Shab•âtꞋ-profaner described therein ever lit the fateful fire! The Bible always provides the essential information and innocence is presumed until guilt is proven by evidence. However, the text reads that the charge against him was not that he had lit a fire (or, horrors, switched on an electric light!), but merely charging him with מְקֹשֵׁשׁ עֵצִים (mᵊqō•sheishꞋ eitz•imꞋ; gathering kindling). So, logically (a priori), why was he executed?
Unless the modern reader was a Scout or went through some kind of survival training, (s)he doesn’t usually relate to בִּעֵר (bi•eirꞋ; “building” a fire) as it was perceived in the era of Mōsh•ëhꞋ and this incident (ca. B.C.E. 1450). Think – only after foraging far and wide scavenging wood and kindling, lugging it all home, then properly assembling the material for a fire (sometimes when it’s cold and even raining) – finally taking a bow and using it to twist one stick into another to create friction and heat until it begins to smoke. Each of those chores, as anyone who has ever tried it knows, constituted significant mᵊlâkh•âhꞋ!
However, what’s written in the Bible at bᵊ-MidᵊbarꞋ 15.32 is: לֹא תְבַעֲרוּ אֵשׁ (lō tᵊva•arꞋu eish; Don’t build a fire, from the verb בִּעֵר) on Shab•âtꞋ.
Ignition, lighting, of the fire would have been accomplished not through the hard work of rubbing sticks together (which would have been yet another charge of doing mᵊlâkh•âhꞋ on Shab•âtꞋ) but, rather, by transferral of an ember from a neighbor’s fire.
What has man created?
The mi•tzᵊw•âhꞋ of Shᵊmōt 35.3, then, is consistent in forbidding the actual mᵊlâkh•âhꞋ involved in building a fire on Shab•âtꞋ: gathering wood and kindling, lugging it home, assembling it in the hearth and rubbing sticks together – all having nothing to do with creating fire on Shab•âtꞋ! Only י--ה can create; everything in the physical universe.
Electricity as “creating fire”
Shab•âtꞋ, today, is practically defined as a shᵊvit•âhꞋ (cessation, stoppage; cognate of Shab•âtꞋ) from “creating”; especially electricity and electronic equipment. But man creates nothing physical. Thus, shᵊvit•âhꞋ from creating has always been an impossibility for man!
The ban on using electricity on Shab•âtꞋ didn’t come from Har Sinai (unless you maintain that Edison was there). This was only instituted after the introduction of electric lights in streets and electricity to homes in the early 20th century! My mother remembered that happening in a suburb of Orlando, Florida when she was a girl. And the rabbis, ignorant of science, banned electricity as a kind of fire – which it is not. The Divine Laws of logic, authored by י--ה, are ultimate authority over any mortal. The logic, and, therefore, the asserted Ha•lâkh•âhꞋ presuming to ban the use of electricity on Shab•âtꞋ, is invalid.
Shortcoming of rabbinic definition of mᵊlâkh•âhꞋ
Today’s rabbinic definition of mᵊlâkh•âhꞋ prohibits Fred Flintstone from carrying rocks for construction in his ox cart on Shab•âtꞋ. And while the prohibitions under the rabbinic definition of mᵊlâkh•âhꞋ are shallow, literalistic and archaic, the permissions under the archaic definition of mᵊlâkh•âhꞋ are even more profoundly flawed and inadequate. Today’s rabbinic definition of mᵊlâkh•âhꞋ permits a student to study on Shab•âtꞋ for a test (as long as they don’t write, use a computer and the like) – and many Orthodox students routinely do so. Today’s rabbinic definition of mᵊlâkh•âhꞋ permits business people to negotiate oral transactions and oral deals – and many Orthodox business people do so. While Orthodox rabbis discourage such things, they also admit they have no credible basis for prohibiting them.
But the Bible does prohibit such things! The rabbinic definition is logically flawed, prohibiting things they should not while allowing things they should not. What the Bible prohibits on Shab•âtꞋ is mᵊlâkh•âhꞋ.
So, why the shᵊvit•âhꞋ from mᵊlâkh•âhꞋ on Shab•âtꞋ
Last week’s pâ•râsh•âhꞋ made clear that only י--ה can make a person qâ•dōshꞋ; that being dependent on doing one’s utmost to live according to Tōr•âhꞋ (including Ha•lâkh•âhꞋ). Making a shᵊvit•âhꞋ on Shab•âtꞋ is our weekly commemoration, confession and testimonial that we are completely dependent upon י--ה to make us qâ•dōshꞋ; that we play no part in this provision of His Graciousness!