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The Lamp

The Lamp

Ethics 2:4


Hillel said; “Don’t separate yourself from the community, and do not believe that you can’t make a mistake until you die…” (Avot 2:4)

"Growing involved in his studies, he squinted to see the page better."
"Growing involved in his studies, he squinted to see the page better."
Rabbi Ishmael was sitting in his house, deeply engrossed in his study of the Torah. He sighed with pleasure. It was Shabbat, the Day of Rest. A time when Jews everywhere could put aside their weekday labors, and devote themselves to G‑d, and the study of His holy Torah.

On the table beside Rabbi Ishmael was an oil lamp. He thought to himself, "The Sages have taught that a person should not study alone by lamp light.

"Perhaps the flame will get dim, and he will tip the lamp, bringing more oil on the wick, so that the flame will be brighter.

"But I will not forget myself," thought Rabbi Ishmael, "I will not tilt the lamp. I know it is Shabbat. I love Shabbat!"

And so he continued studying until deep into the night. Growing deeply involved in his studies, he squinted to see the page better. Without even realizing it, he moved his hand to tilt the lamp! Suddenly he stopped himself in mid-air. “What am I doing?” he exclaimed. “I almost tilted the lamp and violated the Shabbat!

“How great are the teaching of the Sages! They knew that anyone can forget, as I did. Thank G‑d, I caught myself in time.”

Some say that Rabbi Ishmael did not in fact remember in time. According to Rabbi Nattan, he did actually tilt the lamp, and only then did he realize his mistake.

When Shabbat was over, he took a piece of paper and wrote, "I, Ishmael ben Elisha, read by lamp light and tilted the lamp on Shabbat. When the Holy Temple is rebuilt – may it be very soon, Amen – I hereby promise to bring a sin offering to the Temple as an atonement."

Courtesy of Tzivos Hashem and the archives of The Moshiach Times children's magazine. If you would like to subscribe to The Moshiach Times, click here to contact Tzivos Hashem.
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Ethics of the Fathers is a tractate of the Mishna that details the Torah's views on ethics and interpersonal relationships. Enjoy insights, audio classes and stories on these fascinating topics.