By Eliyahu Kitov
Woman, Man and Fire
Some of our sages probe not only the words of the Torah, but each individual
letter as well. The foremost exponent of this method was Rabbi Akiva. It was
he who taught:“If husband and wife are deserving, G-d’s Presence dwells in
their midst. If they are not deserving, fire devours them.” “For,” said
Rabbi Akiba, “the Hebrew word for man is ish, spelled aleph, yod, shin. Remove
the yod and you have aleph, shin or esh, meaning fire. The Hebrew word for
woman is ishah, spelled aleph, shin heh. Remove the heh and, once again, you
have esh, meaning fire.
From A Jew and His Home by Eliyahu Kitov published by Feldheim.
From this we learn that there is a consuming fire in
the heart of every man and woman. When they marry, two fires are brought
together that are capable of destroying whole worlds, if not properly tended.
To quench that fire is impossible – for it generates the life of the world. But
to leave the fire as is, is also impossible for it generates evil as
What did G-d do? He placed one of the letters of His name, the first
letter of the Divine Name, yod, between the aleph and the shin to make the
Hebrew name for “man”. And He took the second letter of the Divine Name, the
heh, and placed it after the aleph and the shin to make the Hebrew word for
“woman.” In that way, both man and woman retain in their names the word “fire,”
but when they marry, the Divine Presence dwells in their midst, in the
combination of their names.
Wherever G-d’s presence dwells, that fire gives
warmth and heat, but it does not devour and consume. If husband and wife do not
make the Divine Presence unwelcome, its blessing rests on the work of their
hands and they become as partners in the act of Divine creation. But if they
make the Presence unwelcome so that it does not dwell in their midst they are
left only with two consuming fires.
Every Jewish home is intended as a
sanctuary. Those who dwell in it are to be as priests, the functions that take
place in it are as sacred as an altar service.
The offerings of that sacred
service are: control of the profane fire in the hearts of husband and wife;
avoidance of quarrels; mutual loving-kindness and support. Employment of
nature’s flame only as permitted, in fulfillment of Divine commandment and to
maintain the world; the rearing of generations sanctified from birth; and a
loving willingness to bear the burdens of home – be they of child-rearing, of
neighborliness, of charity.
No offerings are as dear to G-d as these. Homes
where such offerings are consistently made are in truth sanctuaries, from which
he who will lead Israel to salvation may emerge.
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