Va-yakhel

You shall kindle no fire throughout your settlements on the Sabbath day. – Exodus 35:3

Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir (Rashbam) explains: “Since with regard to the festivals we are told, Only what every person is to eat, that alone may be prepared for you (Ex. 12:16), it is clear that fire may be kindled on festivals for baking and cooking. But with regard to the manna gathered on Friday, the Israelites were told, Bake what you would bake and boil what you would boil (Ex. 16:23) – while it is still day. So we are specifically warned here not to kindle fire on the Sabbath even for cooking purposes. It goes without saying that all the other kinds of work, which are prohibited even on festivals, are prohibited on the Sabbath, as well.”

By itself, this verse does not explain why lighting a fire on Shabbat is prohibited. Especially after the Israelites forged a golden calf while Moses was on Mt. Sinai, we might think that it has something to do with forbidden rituals practiced by neighboring peoples. Rather, it is to prevent us from working on the seventh day of the week when we are commanded to have a Sabbath of complete rest (Ex. 35:2). The great medieval commentator helps us to understand that the most significant work associated with fire is first baking, then cooking. Rabbinic laws regarding other kinds of work that cannot be performed on Shabbat derive from the prohibition on these activities.

Baking is central to preparing for Shabbat. There is nothing like enjoying a delicious bread or dessert when we are completely at rest.

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