Vayakhel/Pekudai – Rationalization

This week’s double Torah portion of Vayakhel and Pekudei discusses the actual building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), and it also concludes the Book of Shemos. It begins with Moshe warning the Jewish people that they should work for six days but on the seventh day should rest, and he specifies that one should not light a fire on Shabbos.

The Gemara in Shabbos 70a says there is an argument as to why the Torah singled out a specific melacha [literally translated: a form of work] out of the 39 forbidden melachos. One view says it was in order to teach us that each individual melacha transgressed by accident deserves its own sin-offering, even if multiple transgressions were done at once. The other view says that the melacha that was picked is singled out in order to teach us that it only requires the punishment of lashes, instead of kares  and stoning, which is given for transgressing the other 38 melachos,if they are done on purpose, with two witnesses and a warning.

Many commentators like the Rashbam, Ramban and Sforno discuss why specifically lighting a fire, out of all the 39 melachos, was singled out. They answer that for one reason or another, a mistake in halacha might happen and therefore this melacha had to be singled out.

However the Daas Zekeinim has a different take on the matter. The Daas Zekenim says: “The Torah warned us about lighting a fire more than the other melachos because it does not appear to be so much of a form of work, like many of the other melachos, and therefore perhaps people will say: ‘We will not do a melacha but we will light a fire and get everything ready in order to work with the gold and silver [for the building of the Mishkan] immediately after Shabbos.’ Therefore the Torah says ‘Do not light a fire…’” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Jewish people had just learned that the 39 prohibitions of melacha on Shabbos are based on what had to be done in preparation for and the actual construction of the Mishkan.  They were warned that they should work on the construction for six days and rest on Shabbos. However, out of their zeal for wanting to continue such an important mitzvah as soon as Shabbos was completed, Moshe was worried that they would start to rationalize and say that ‘this is not really a melacha because lighting a fire is such an insignificant act, it does not take too much time or strength; it is not really a job, we’ll prepare everything now so that we can go back to our important work as soon as Shabbos is over.’ This would desecrate the sanctity of Shabbos  and therefore Moshe felt compelled to spell out that this specific melacha of lighting a fire on Shabbos is prohibited.

One of the Yetzer Hara’s (evil inclination’s) weapons is rationalizing. He downplays a problem and makes it look like it is not a problem at all; rather, on the contrary, it is a mitzvah, something of great importance, done for the sake of Heaven. We must be on guard and train ourselves to think clearly, without rationalizing, and always seek advice to be sure we are making the correct decisions.