R. 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. [1]

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.[2]

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.[3]

"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 enjoys it.

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.[4]

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.[5]

[1] JT, Shel. 6:1, 49d [back]
[2] TB Ta. 7a [back]
[3] BT, Ber. 22a [back]
[4] Sef. Deut. 343, Yalkut Berakhah, 951 [back]
[5] Tanhuma, Yitro, 12 [back]
Selections "The Book of Legends" (Sefer ha-Aggadah), ed. by H.N. Bialik and Y.H. Ravnitsky, transl. by William G. Braude. Copyright © 1992 Schocken Books.



Subscribe to the JHOM mailing list for updates.

Contact us

Tell a friend