The ambiguous nature of fire

The Torah itself can also be a consuming fire

March 25, 2015 12:09
4 minute read.
Pepe Fainberg

Painting by Pepe Fainberg. (photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)


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CHAIM POTOK’S 1981 book “The Book of Lights” plays with metaphors of fire and light. His main character, Gershon Loran, a rabbinical student, then a chaplain with the US Army in Korea, is preoccupied with their enigmatic nature. He engages throughout the novel in the study of Kabbalah: the Zohar, the 13th century work embodying Kabbalistic teachings, can be translated as the “Book of Light.”

Through his character’s musings, Potok highlights the nature of fire and light as sources of both creativity and destruction in the world. Fires burn in Brooklyn, destroying old buildings; fire destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Fire also keeps Loran alive in the freezing winter of Korea, even on Shabbat, thanks to his non-Jewish assistant who relights a fire extinguished on Shabbat, a fire the young rabbi cannot rekindle because of the biblical injunction against doing so on the holy day.


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