“From Inside the Fire”

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

Torah’s inclusion of any idea indicates its significance. If repeated, greater stress is intended. And if an idea is found 8 times in Torah—let alone in a single parsha—how much greater importance must this idea share?

In Vaueschanan, Moses repeats 8 times that God’s words emanated on Mt. Sinai’s inferno, “from inside the fire; mitoch ha’aish.” What is this crucial message? The Jews experienced many miracles; how does this miracle stand apart?

Biological life exists in all elements: in air, water, ice, gases and earth, from the greatest altitudes to the deepest depths of the seas. But in one element, all life perishes: fire. Through creating a voice of the 10 Commands emanating from fire, God taught that He is not biological; He is not of this planet. He is the Creator of the planet, and the universe. As God is unaffected by fire, He is the one who created fire. He is the Creator, who is unaffected by His creations. What is the intent of this message? It is this: God, who gave us Torah from amidst the flames, is the same Creator of the universe and mankind. He knows what man is, and therefore, He knows what is the best life, and He gave us Torah to attain that life of goodness.

The message is that a Torah life, where one engages God’s wisdom for the joy of learning itself—lishma—is the only life that offers man true and sustained happiness. It takes effort for one to detach from society that praises wealth, idolizes fame and values success, and prefer instead isolated or sometimes shared Torah study. Such activity doesn’t cater to one’s instinctual desire for socializing and accumulating wealth. But as King Solomon taught, ego and success are illusory, they are fantasies. They only temporarily offer “pleasure” but not happiness. The greatest minds valued the enjoyment of the mind over all else. It is wise to study the wise men, who followed God’s advice, and not blindly follow today’s ignorant societies who follow hollow emotions.