It’s time for a hot take.
While angry fighting is discouraged all week long, it is especially important for families to avoid machlokes on Shabbos (Mishnah B’rurah 262:9). This idea has been connected to the beginning of Parshas VaYakhel: “You shall not kindle a fire in any of your dwelling places on the day of Sabbath” (Sh’mos 35:3). The simple and literal understanding of this pasuk is that one may not strike a match on Shabbos. However, the Zohar extracts a deeper message as well: You shall not ignite a “fiery” temper in your house on Shabbos (Tikunei HaZohar 48).
The Akeidas Yitzchak (Rabbi Yitzchak Arama, 1420-1494) explains why the Torah has a special warning against fighting on Shabbos even though anger and strife are most unwelcome in our homes on any day of the week. During the week, everyone is busy with work or errands, operating on different schedules, and absorbed by technology – there is no time to bicker! It is often on Shabbos, when everyone is home and spending many hours together, that the fireworks erupt. Especially after several years of quarantines and constant feelings of being cooped up, things can really boil over once Shabbos arrives and the phone distractions are shut off. Given the propensity for short fuses and heated confrontations over the course of these 25 hours, the Torah provides an extra reminder to keep our cool: You shall not kindle a fire in any of your dwelling places on the day of Sabbath.
Easier said than done, right?
But perhaps, instead of trying to avoid the fire, we can find a way to use it constructively, to fuel our homes with energy. Interestingly, it is fire itself that we use to welcome the onset of Shabbos. The very purpose of the Shabbos candles is to spark shalom bayis (Shabbos 23b), as they brighten our homes and allow us to enjoy a festive meal with loved ones. Similarly, when Shabbos is over, we again strike a match and gather closely to benefit from the flame of Havdalah. The blazing symbolism can serve as a flash of inspiration. We bookend each Shabbos with reminders that fire doesn’t have to inflame and incinerate: We can use it to ignite light and warmth in our homes. Hashem is teaching us to channel our burning feelings into mitzvos and actions that bring the family together, instead of driving them apart.
In practical terms, improving communication, adjusting expectations, and anticipating recurring issues can all go a long way toward reducing family tension. So can taking a lot of deep breaths. On the positive side, taking time to appreciate those around us and proactively organizing meaningful interactions can allow us to take advantage of the precious time spent together each week.
May Hashem grant us the patience and understanding to extinguish the fires of machlokes, and kindle the warm flames of shalom bayis!