Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Shabbos: Extinguishing A Candle

R'Tanchum of Nevi is asked, "Is it permissible to extinguish a lit candle for the benefit of a seriously ill person on the Sabbath?" (30a). Rashi suggests that the question was "posed before a crowd," most likely because what follows is not the traditional give-and-take of the study hall, but a rousing (and exceedingly homiletic) sermon. Here, perhaps, is a hint of the Rabbinic public voice, preaching rather than engaging in a meticulous examination of the textual basis for an ordinance.

The Mishnah is clear: yes, it is permissible to extinguish a candle on Shabbos for the benefit of a seriously ill person. Less clear is the meaning of the sermon, which at one point suggests that God forgave the people even for eating on Yom Kippur when they were celebrating the dedication of the Temple, and that God said to David that He preferred a single day in which David studied Torah to a thousand of his olah offerings. These are two examples of instances when the very existence of the Temple led to practices that are undervalued by God when compared to the values of Rabbinic Judaism.

Ultimately, the sermon comes round to tie into the previous extended discussion of the proper care of the candle with a grand rhetorical flourish:
And as for the question that I asked of you, here is the answer: In the Hebrew language, a candle is called "a candle," and a person's soul is called "a candle." Thus, when one candle must be extinguished so that the other may survive, it is better to allow the candle fashioned by flesh and blood to be extinguished before the candle fashioned by the Holy One, Blessed is He. (30b).
Which Rashi interprets to mean, "let a candle fashioned by man be extinguished so that the life of a person-- a "candle" fashioned by God-- may be preserved."

3 Comments:

Anonymous kaspit said...

Terrific to run into your blog tonight. I'm also trying to blog in synch with daf yomi, less literary and more from a contemporary policy standpoint (maybe not unlike your Rich Man piece). Hope you'll visit and comment to your heart's delight.

From your post here, I'm reminded that the goses [person on death bed] is compared to a flickering candle. The soul is still burning enough and nobody is supposed to make a move that might put it out.

Keep up your ner tamid of terrific posts, kol tuv,
Kaspit

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