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The Arrows and Ox of Fire
by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh

>>> Listen to Audio Lecture here (length: 28:31min) 

Fire is ever present in our surroundings and in our souls. It is our challenge to control fire and to transform it to positive power. In this meditation on the image of fire, Rabbi Ginsburgh guides us through a transformation of fire from a potentially destructive force to the positive eternal flame that binds souls together.

This week's Torah portion, Mishpatim, deals with many laws, including the laws of damages. One of the four categories of damages is fire. In the Talmud, there is a difference of opinion between Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish as to their visualization of fire and its legal ramifications.


Visualization   As Relates to Kindler of Flame Responsibility for Damage Potential for Damage
Arrow Direct extension of kindler Responsible for both primary and secondary damage All damage covered
Ox Possession of kindler Responsible for primary damage only
Damage only partially covered

As we know, whenever two great sages of the Talmud differ in opinion each one is saying the truth, each one in his own dimension. (Even though when we pronounce the halacha "Jewish law" only one view can actually be accepted).

Therefore, in order to meditate on fire we need to identify both dimensions of fire ("arrow" and "ox") and incorporate their positive, inherent truths in our lives.
  • Arrow and Ox: War and Peace

The arrow is a warlike image. Conversely, the ox is symbolic of agriculture and peace, as in the verse in Isaiah, "And they will beat their swords into plowshares."

However, in a case where the fire has gotten out of control, it is specifically the "peace" image that is more damaging. The person who kindled the fire that is visualized as arrows is responsible for all damage that ensues. However, the damage caused by the peaceful image of the fire is not fully covered, leaving the victim to bear the burden of part of the destruction.
  • The Ox of Sustenance

The positive image of the ox (which is referred to in the singular in the discussion in the Talmud) is as the bearer of sustenance. By plowing the fields, he produces plenty. In our own lives, this is expressed as our practical caring for our loved ones; supporting their physical needs. Maintenance of this caring over time is a product of the fire of love that one has for his loved ones.
  • The Arrows of Love and Wisdom

The positive images of the arrows (which are referred to in the discussion in the Talmud as plural; two unless otherwise specified) are of love and insight.

On the emotional level, this is the arrow of love, propelled from the heart of the dispatcher to the heart of his beloved. Metaphorically, the deeper the dispatcher pulls the bow in the direction of his own heart, the more power the arrow will have to penetrate the depths of the heart of his beloved. This is the deepest expression of the fire of love, which impregnates the heart. 

On the intellectual level, the arrow represents the lightening (fire) flash of insight. God's arrows are described in the Torah as flashes of lightening. Kabbalah explains that chochmah, "wisdom," is expressed as a lightening flash of insight.

Interestingly, "Love of Israel," ahavat Yisrael, has the numerical value of 949, which is 13 (ahavah--"love") times 73 (chochmah--"wisdom"). Love is at the emotional level, while "Israel," Yisrael, is an acronym for li rosh, which means, "I have a head (intellect)."

By meditating on all facets of the image of fire on the physical, emotional and intellectual levels, we can transform its potential damage to the eternal flame that bonds two souls together.


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