Simeon ben Lakish said: The Torah given to Moses was written with black
fire upon white fire, sealed with fire, and swathed with bands of fire.
While writing it, Moses wiped off the reed on his hair -- thus he received
the radiance that was to emanate from his countenance.
Rabbah bar Bar Hanah said: Why are words of Torah likened to fire, as
in the verse, "Is not My word like as fire, saith the Lord" (Jer.
23:29)? To teach you that just as fire does not ignite of itself, so words
of Torah do not abide in him who studies by himself.
PERSPECTIVE ON JEREMIAH
We have been taught that R. Judah Ben Betera used to say: Words of Torah
are not susceptible to uncleanness. Once a disciple, who was seated above
R. Judah Ben Betera, was mumbling indistinctly as he read from the Torah
[having had a seminal emission during the night, he was reluctant to utter
the Scriptural words distinctly]. So R. Judah said to him: My son, open
your mouth and let your words shine, for words of Torah are not susceptible
to uncleanness, since Scripture says, "Is not my word like as fire?"
(Jer. 23:29) As fire is not susceptible to uncleanness, so words of Torah
are not susceptible to uncleanness.
PRACTICAL, AND MAKES A GOOD IMPRESSION
"At His right hand was a fiery law unto them" (Deut. 33:2). The
verse asserts that words of Torah are likened to fire. As fire was given from
heaven, so were words of Torah given from heaven. Even as fire is life for
the world, so words of Torah are life for the world. Fire: close up to it,
one is scorched; away from it, one is chilled; near but not too near, one
So are words of Torah: as long as a man labors in them, they are life for
him; but when he separates himself from them, they slay him. Even as fire
is made use of in this world and in the world-to-come, so words of Torah are
made use of in this world and in the world-to-come. Even as fire when used
leaves a mark on a man's body, so words of Torah when used leave mark on the
body. Fire: they who work with it are readily distinguishable from other mortals.
So, too by their walk, by their speech, by their
garments in the marketplace disciples of the wise
are just as readily distinguishable.
The Torah is all fire. It was given out of fire and it is like fire. What
is the way of fire? When a man comes too close to it, he is scorched; when
too far from it, he is chilled. So, too, a man should make certain that he
is no more than warmed by the fire of the sages.
JT, Shel. 6:1, 49d [back]
 TB Ta. 7a [back]
 BT, Ber. 22a [back]
 Sef. Deut. 343, Yalkut Berakhah, 951
 Tanhuma, Yitro, 12 [back]
"The Book of Legends" (Sefer ha-Aggadah
by H.N. Bialik and Y.H. Ravnitsky, transl. by William G. Braude.
Copyright © 1992 Schocken Books.