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Vayakel Midrash Top
Vayakel Midrash Bottom

This Parsha singles out only one of the 39 types of Melachot (work) that is forbidden on Shabbat, - "Do not kindle any fire in all your dwelling places on the Shabbat day." Lighting a fire on the Shabbat is forbidden. But that only goes for your "dwelling place" - that is - your home. Back in the Mishkan (and later in the Bait Hamikdash) fire was a regular part of the korbanot (sacrifice) services performed daily, even on the Shabbat.

Why does the Torah single out the Melacha of kindling a fire on the Shabbat day?

Once, when Hadrian, the Roman emperor was chatting with Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chanina, he commented "I am greater than Moshe - your teacher." Taken aback, Rabbi Yehoshua replied, "How can you claim to be greater than the greatest Jewish prophet who ever lived?"

Hadrian went on to quote the Torah: "It says in the book of Kohelet (9:4); ‘Better to be a live dog than a dead lion.’ Moshe’s dead, I’m alive, so I’m greater than he is."

Rabbi Yehoshua quickly replied, "Listen here, your Royal Highness, since you’re so all-powerful, do you think you can get all your subjects to stop lighting fires in their homes for three days?"

"Sure I can," replied Hadrian, who immediately called in his royal officers to spread the decree of his new "no fire" law for the next three days.

The very first night, Rabbi Yehoshua and the Emperor climb to the roof of the palace, and they see smoke rising from a chimney.

Enraged, the Emperor heads out to the smoky corner of town, dragging Rabbi Yehoshua along for the ride. When they get to the violator’s home, Hadrian busts down the door and confronts his disloyal subject. "You know my decree of no fire in the home for three days. Why is there a roaring fire in your fireplace?"

The nobleman replied "I had a cold and my doctor recommended plenty of hot tea, so I whipped up a fire to boil tea."

When they left the house, Rabbi Yehoshua declared, "You see, that nobleman broke your law for his own convenience. Your subjects don’t even respect your laws for one day while you’re alive. Our Rebbe, Moshe warned us over a thousand years ago "Do not kindle a flame on the Shabbat." To this very day, you will not find any Torah true Jew lighting a fire on Shabbat.

Indeed, no Jew did light a fire ON the Shabbat. The Torah states; "Do not kindle any fire in all your dwelling places ON the Shabbat day." But there is no halacha (law) stopping a Jew from preparing fire BEFORE Shabbat to keep their house and food warm and to light up the house on Friday night. There were, of course, those fanatics who said "no fire on Shabbat means just that - no fire." They were the Karaites. When Shabbat rolled around, their houses went dark and they ate cold cholent. Our Rabbis call these Karaites fools. Hashem wants us to live by His laws, not to suffer from them.

Our Sages also point out that the Torah does NOT say 'six days you shall do work', rather It says 'six days work shall be done.' The Torah is guaranteeing us that anyone who keeps Shabbat properly will merit the siyata dishmaya (divine intervention) and blessings from Hashem during his work week, until it will seem as if the work gets done by itself.

Lamed-Tet Melachot

Since this Parsha discusses work prohibited on Shabbat - here is the list of the 39 Melachot (main activities) prohibited on the Shabbat:

For more details about the 39 Melachot, click here.

1. Sowing (seeding)

2. Plowing

3. Reaping (cutting)

4. Gathering

5. Threshing

6. Winnowing

7. Sorting (selecting, separating)

8. Grinding

9. Sifting

10. Kneading

11. Baking/cooking

12. Shearing

13. Whitening (bleaching)

14. Disentangling, Combing

15. Dyeing

16. Spinning

17. Mounting the warp (stretching threads onto loom)

18. Setting two heddles (preparing to weave)

19. Weaving

20. Separating (removing) threads (Unweaving)

21. Tying a knot

22. Untying a knot

23. Sewing

24. Tearing ( Unsewing - ripping)

25. Trapping

26. Slaughtering (Killing)

27. Skinning

28. Salting/tanning process [1]

29. Tracing (scratching) lines

30. Smoothing / scraping

31. Cutting (to shape)

32. Writing two or more letters

33. Erasing two or more letters

34. Building

35. Demolishing

36. Extinguishing (putting out a flame)

37. Kindling (making a fire)

38. Striking the final blow (Finishing an object)

39. Transferring (transporting) from domain to domain (carrying)

[1] The list of Melachot in the Talmud (Tractate Shabbat 7:2) includes salting hides and tanning as separate Melachot. The Talmud (Tractate Shabbat 75b) states that these two are really the same Melacha, and amends the Mishna by inserting tracing lines, as the twenty-ninth Melacha.

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