Tze U'lmad Ki Tavo

Weekly Talmud Learning with Rabbi Mordecai Schwartz, director of Admissions, The Rabbinical School, JTS

Talmud Shabbat 30a-b

Ki Tavo

They asked this question before Rabbi Tenachum of Noy: "May one extinguish the lamplight for the sick on Shabbat?" [He answered] . . . "A lamp is called a lamp and the human soul is called a lamp. It is better that the lamp belonging to mortals be extinguished for the sake of the lamp of the Holy One."

We are called upon to live a life of mitzvot, not die deaths in our attempt to fulfill God's commandments. A dangerously sick person requires our care and we are commanded to desecrate Shabbat to fully see to his or her care. Our source puts forward a question about this with regard to a light that is preventing a sick person from sleeping. Are we allowed to desecrate Shabbat by extinguishing the flame and thereby help make rest and recovery possible?

Rabbi Tenachum's answer is not typically legal in its focus. Rather than a discourse on the halakhic issues involved, he spiritualizes the question and answers it based on Proverbs 20:27, "A person's soul is the Lord's lamp. It searches his entire innermost being." Here the conception seems to be that the soul inhabits the body just as the fire inhabits the lamp. The fire of the soul is more valuable than the preservation of the sanctity of an individual Shabbat by refraining from extinguishing the fire in the lamp. Our souls are the lamps that illumine the transcendent world of Shabbat. Preserving that fire is our higher goal in this case.

Questions

  1. How do we feed the fire of our souls? What would our Shabbat look like if this were our primary goal for the day?
  2. How do our souls function as lamps for God?