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In Havdalah, we bless “He who creates the illuminations of fire.” Why is "illuminations" plural?

by Rabbi Yossi Marcus

  

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Actually there is an opinion in the Mishnah, Beit Shammai, that says that the blessing should be “he who created the illumination of fire.” The version that we use is that of Beit Hillel.

The Talmud explains that the plural “illuminations” alludes to the various colors of fire. —Berachot 51b and 52b.

(In the Rebbe’s Haggadah the colors are described as red and green. Rashi writes “red, white and green.” Tikunei Zohar (tikkun 21, referred to in the Rebbe’s Haggadah) writes that there are five colors: white, red, green, black and blue.)

The Talmud explains that the plural “illuminations” alludes to the various colors of fire...The Vilna Gaon suggests that according to Beit Shammai we bless G-d for creating the original element of fire, which is only one color.
The Vilna Gaon suggests that according to Beit Shammai we bless G-d for creating the original element of fire, which is only one color. That’s why in Beit Shammai’s version it is “who created” in the past tense, referring to the past event when G-d created the element of fire.

According to Beit Hillel, on the other hand, the blessing refers to the fires that are constantly created and are multi-colored. That’s why Beit Hillel’s version has “who creates” in the present tense.

(It has been suggested that one of the recurring themes in the many arguments of Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel is whether to grant significance to the potential (in this case the original element of fire which is the potential for all fire) or to the actual.)


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Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Zohar
The most basic work of Jewish mysticism. Authored by Rabbi Shimeon bar Yochai in the 2nd century.
Rashi
Acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105). Legendary French scholar who authored the fundemental and widely accepted "Rashi commentary" on the entire Bible and Talmud.
Rebbe
A Chassidic master. A saintly person who inspires followers to increase their spiritual awareness.
Haggadah
Text read at the Passover Eve feasts. The Haggadah recounts in great detail the story of our Exodus from Egypt.
Mishnah
First written rendition of the Oral Law which G-d spoke to Moses. Rabbi Judah the Prince compiled the Mishna in the 2nd century lest the Oral law be forgotten due to the hardships of the Jewish exiles.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.