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Woman, Man, and Fire

by Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov


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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 Akiba.  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.”1

“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 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 well.

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
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.

From "A Jew and His Home" by Eliyahu Kitov, published by Feldheim.

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  • 1. Talmud tractate Sotah 17a


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Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
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.