Parshas Tzav: The Eternal Flame
This article has been generously sponsored anonymously in the zechus of a refuah shleima for Aharon Meir ben Yael Miriam.
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"The fire on the altar shall remain aflame on it, it shall not be extinguished; and the Priest shall kindle wood upon it morning after morning… A constant fire shall burn upon the Altar; it shall never go out.” (Vayikra 6:5-6). We are commanded to ensure that the flame on the Mizbeach is never extinguished. Every morning a Kohen would place new firewood on the Mizbeach, in order to maintain the fire from the previous day. Though we no longer have the Mishkan and the Beis HaMikdash the lessons of these halachos are timeless. They apply to us as much today as they did thousands of years ago. What are the lessons we can learn from this halacha and apply to our daily lives? The Power of Passion "I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious." -Albert Einstein The great ones don't necessarily have more talent but they nearly always have more passion. They are driven to succeed and ultimately success comes from those that work the hardest. But what defines success? If we are in a sales meeting and we are making a pitch to a customer, success is defined by making the sale. What does success look like in Judaism? If we did more Mitzvos and less Aveiros are we more successful today then we were yesterday? The easy answer is yes but is that what Judaism really teaches? Is Judaism just about performance? The Navi Yeshaya (1:11) says “Why do I need your numerous sacrifices? Says Hashem… I do not desire the blood of bulls, sheep and goats.” As in any relationship our performance is important but it does not create the relationship. If a spouse cooks dinner for us that is meaningful but without passion they may as well just be a cook. What makes the performance meaningful is the passion it is done with. God is infinite. From the perspective of the infinite, 1000 Mitzvos and 100 Mitzvos are exactly the same. What makes our performance of Mitzvos special is that we did them with love, enthusiasm and excitement. The fire of our passions must burn brightly when given the opportunity to perform His Mitzvos. This is what the Mishna in Menachos (13:10) means when it says, Rachmana Liba Bai, Hashem desires our heart. Korban does not just mean sacrifice, it means to draw close. Passion is what bridges the gap when two people are distant from one another. Absence makes the heart grow fonder because it is precisely those feelings that bring us back together. Though we are never truly distant from God, the human condition is that we often feel that way. Serving Hashem with deep feeling helps us draw closer to the reality that we are essentially one with God. The Power of Consistency “It's not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives. It's what we do consistently.” - Tony Robbins "A constant fire shall burn upon the Altar; it shall never go out.” The Kohen must place wood on the Mizbeach every single day. In order for our passions to be lit they need to have an energy source to feed off of. And that energy source is consistency! The Medrash (quoted in the introduction to the Ein Yaakov) quotes four opinions as to which pasuk best sums up the ultimate message of the Torah. The Medrash concludes that Shimon Ben Pazi had it correct when he said that the pasuk that best captures the essence of the Torah is "One sheep you shall offer in the morning and the second sheep in the afternoon." (Bamidbar 28:4) But does this pasuk really capture the essence of the entire Torah? Bringing the Korban Tamid is a meaningful and important avodah in the Beis HaMikdash but it is difficult to see this as mission critical. Passion is critical to our relationships but ultimately they must lead to consistent devotion. In good times and in bad we must continue to serve Hashem. Service without passion is a body without a soul but passion without service is a soul without a body. We need both to be in a complete relationship. If we want to keep that fire lit we need to consistently bring the wood to keep our flame alive. Chazal say, the main thing is action. At the end of the day, we are here to serve God. How we feel about our service is important but it should not mean that if we are not feeling excited about our Judaism we should no longer be loyal. In a famous scene from Fiddler on the Roof Tevye asks Golde, do you love me? Her response is, "Do I love you? For twenty-five years, I've washed your clothes, cooked your meals, cleaned your house, given you children, milked the cow... For twenty-five years, I've lived with him, fought with him, starved with him... If that's not love, what is?" Passion is important but it does not define love. Consistent service, while it may not be the most romantic of sentiments, is ultimately at the core of all relationships. It Is Never Over But what if we have lost our passion? What if we have lost our consistency? Rav Moshe Wolfson explains that there are two dimensions to every relationship. Above ground and below ground. When a relationship is above ground it means that the relationship is pulsating, vibrant and alive. When a relationship is subterranean it means that the relationship is dead. But just because it is dead doesn't mean it is over. Avraham Avinu purchased Meara HaMachpeila so that he would have a place to bury his late wife Sarah. This sale becomes the source for marriage in Judaism. Of all places to learn marriage from, is the purchase of Sarah's burial plot really the best source? It seems like a set up for a bad marriage joke. Rav Wolfson explains that the Torah is teaching us a valuable lesson. Our relationships are not formed, they are revealed. Before we are born a bas kol calls out that so and so will marry so and so. Marriage is the revelation of that original bas kol. Our connection to our spouse begins before we are born and doesn't end just because a spouse has passed on. We learn about how the marriage process is meant to work from the burial of Sarah for that very reason. Avraham Avinu continued to loyally support Sarah even in her death because the union of their souls continued on. And if it is true about the creation of marriage then it is true about marriage itself. Just as the creation of marriage occurs before we are born and is not diminished after death so too our marriage is not over just because it seems like it is dead. Perhaps we no longer feel the feelings we once felt. Maybe our service is severely lacking. But the marriage can still be saved. The essential bond of the soul can never be diminished. The flame on the Mizbeach is eternal. Just because the love appears to be gone, just because our service leaves much to be desired, doesn't mean that our relationship with Hashem is over. True love cannot be extinguished. Our soul is a piece of Him, so to speak. The spark may be dim but it has not been extinguished. I imagine a person who feels so distant from God, with so many troubles in their life, and they decide to make a pilgrimage to Yerushalayim. Perhaps in the place where the world began they will find the answer they have been looking for to the challenges they face. But they wonder to themselves, "Does God really care about me? Can He be a source of comfort, inspiration and hope even though I have not been the Jew I know I ought to be?" And then they see the Kohen performing his daily service. As he walks up to the Mizbeach and places the wood on the Altar, that Jew sees that the flame of their relationship with God continues to burn. God has not given up on us and we should not give up on Him. What an inspiring sight it must have been. May we blessed to see it again speedily in our days.