"You heard a voice out of the darkness, and the
mountain burned with fire."
"The fire conceived and gave birth to light."
—Exodus Rabbah 15:22
is eish, a word interwoven with ish (man) and
ishah (woman). Fire is the first light of creation, and
it is the eternal light burning in the holy sanctum. Fire is the
pillar that led the Israelites through the wilderness, and it
is the burning of revelation atop Mt. Sinai. Fie is the angel
that wrestled with Jacob, blessing and struggling with him. Fire
is the flame of love, as the Song of Songs says: “Many waters
cannot quench love.” Fire is the Divine: the devouring fire
that burns, and also the warm light that blesses and heals. Fire
is the altar, the place of sacrifice and communication. Fire is
atzilut, the world of the spirit. It is also the world
of gevurah, of limitation and ending. It is the world
of the angel Gabriel, the angel of strength and courage, and of
Rebekah, the matriarch of prophecy, who knew when and how to act.
And it is the world of the spark of wisdom, the Abba, the one
who begets, the pouring forth of spirit into form.
Fire represents the sacred hearth, the Temple and the Tabernacle,
the holy place. Now that Jews do not have a Temple, the sacred
hearth is a time rather than a place. The Sabbath, as Abraham
Joshua Heschel says, is a palace in time. It is the flame that
has warmed Jews around the world in times of prosperity and in
times of darkness. This is why we kindle candles to begin the
Sabbath, and why we end it by lighting a new flame. The Divine
too is called a flame, and mystical Jews speak of the holy fire
that is our connection to God. Articles in this section shed light
on fire and the spirit, images of the Divine, as well as on the
Sabbath and other sources of illumination.