Keeping the fire burning- Parshat Tzav
In this week’s parsha Tzav the Torah continues to teach us about the building of the Mishkan. One of the things it touches upon is the Aish Hatamid, the continual fire. The Torah states “the Fire shall be kept burning upon the altar continually; it shall not go out”. The Talmud Yerushalmi adds “continually – even on Shabbat; continually – even in a state of impurity”. This shows the importance of the continual fire, or eternal flame, that it has to be kept burning even on Shabbat and when one is impure.
Why is this fire so special that one must go through challenges to make sure it is kept going?
Every physical aspect of the Mishkan has its counterpart within the soul of a Jew. We can relate the fire to the Jewish heart. Just like the Mishkan’s two outer and inner altars the heart has two physical chambers. It can also represent our outer surface personality and it’s more private inner core. The altar where the continual fire was kept represents the outer part of the Jewish heart. The heart must always show its love for G-d. This applies to the outer part, rather than the inner, because a Jew must be open about revealing that love. Their love for G-d should be obvious and should be shown in their face as they encounter the world. Just as the fire should be kept burning continuously, the fire of a Jews love of G-d must be kept burning and open all the time. When they explore the world and meet new people, it must be apparent that they are Jewish and encounter the world with G-d on their side.
The Talmud Yerushalmi comments “continually- even in a state of impurity”. How is a fire kept burning when a person is spiritually impure?
Sometimes people travel so far off the path that they feel they have no link to G-d. This is who the Talmud Yerushalmi is talking about. To this the Talmud adds, “It shall not go out- even in a state of impurity”. Even when you travel so far from believing you still have a little spark that helps to keep you going. This spark is just waiting for you to add fuel to the fire again. In order for the spark to come back into a flame the spark must be continual. You must have the strength to say no to the negatives. This strength is fueled by a constant attachment to Torah and to Mitzvot. Only doing these things “once” or “sometimes” is not good enough, the fire will eventually die down and be nothing. You have to constantly be striving to have this fire in your life, it isn’t something handed to you. People in this physical world have to be constantly fighting to overcome their yetzer hara, and keep the fire of faith and Torah Mitzvot going.
The continual fire, which was man-made, is the place where Heaven descends. Even though this fire comes from Heaven, it needs man to bring it into this physical world and sustain it. In this world there are limits as to what man can achieve and do on his own. As humans our acts are bounded by time and physical boundaries. To become eternal something Divine must also be involved. As work of man the Mishkan was being constructed and taken apart, because it was work of man it could not last. But on the eighth day the Divine presence descended and then it became a permanent structure.
The flame is also a physical reminder of G-d, something that we can look at and not just have to imagine. This helps us as Jews concentrate on remembering the right things to do. It shows us that G-d is with us all the time, the same way that the fire never stops burning. In our service to G-d we must make sure that the continual fire is burning in us. We can learn Torah and fulfill mitzvoth but without the fire, the Divine presence will not dwell in us. We have to constantly fight the physical world and all the influences involved in it to make this connection with G-d. We have to keep this connection constant and make sure the fire never flickers, make sure it stands strong. This continual fire in a human brings down the fire from heaven; this in return brings G-d into the world, and draws the infinity into the dimensions of the finite.
Student Studying in Machon Maayan