Why not turn on lights on the Sabbath?
And how can I read or do some activities on the Sabbath when it is dark, since you can not turn on the lights on the Sabbath?
You are asking a good question, but first let’s we’ll discuss the what, and then the why. It says in the torah Exodus 35-3, “Thou shall not make a fire on the Sabbath”, and when one turns on a light it makes a fire inside the bulb, such as with an incandescent bulb. Aside from that, we have a tradition handed down from Sinai that there are 39 different types of acts that we may not do on the Sabbath, called “avot melachot”, and one of them is to make a fire.
There is no problem with having a light on, on the Sabbath. We have many light on during the Sabbath, in fact it makes the atmosphere festive and happy when the lights are on. Therefore we turn the lights on before the Sabbath, or we use what is called a “Sabbath clock”, which is a time switch that is set before the Sabbath and it will turn the lights on and off, at whatever time we wish to set it. This way you can have as many lights on during the Sabbath as you like, whenever you like, without actually turning them on or off.
Regarding the rationale, why it is prohibited to make a fire on the Sabbath, this takes us to explore a little deeper just what is the Sabbath about. The torah states in the fourth commandment “For six days do your work, and the seventh day is for Hashem your God, don’t do any work. Because God created the world in six days and on the seventh day he rested”. Sabbath is the day that God commanded us to declare that this world belongs to Him, the world’s creator. How do we do this? God gave us dominion over the world, by giving us intellect and enabling us to manipulate the world, and develop it. For example by making a fire and cooking we are using our intellect and manipulating the world to produce a cooked food. Another example, when we plant seeds and grow vegetables from them, we are using our intellect and developing the world. God said, “I am allowing you to do all of these things in my world, for six days a week, but on the seventh day I want you to refrain from doing these acts, as a demonstration that I created the world and that the world belongs to me. (As a side point, God also said that when you will refrain from working on the seventh day and declare that the world is mine, I will bless you and the work you do the rest of the week, therefore you won’t lose out by not working on the Sabbath. This is part of the special blessing that there is in the Sabbath). Therefore the reason we don’t make fires on the Sabbath is as a show of belief in God and a show of allegiance to him. In short, it isn’t the actual fire that is the problem, but what the making the fire means.