Fire shall be kept burning upon the altar continually; it shall not go out.
On this verse, the Jerusalem Talmud comments, “Continually–even on Shabbos; continually–even in a state of impurity.”
Every aspect of the physical Sanctuary has its counterpart in the inward Sanctuary within the soul of the Jew. In his Likkutei Torah (Devarim, 78d) Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains that the altar is the heart of the Jew. And corresponding to the two Altars of the Sanctuary, the outer and the inner, are the outer and inner levels of the heart, its surface personality and its essential core.
The Altar on which the continual fire was to be set was the outer one. And for the Jew this means that the fire of his love for Gâ€‘d must be outward, open, and revealed. It is not a private possession to be cherished subconsciously. It must show in the face he sets towards the world.
And The Separated
The concept of Shabbos is that of rest and withdrawal from the weekday world. Everyday acts are forbidden. But Shabbos is not only a day of the week; it is a state of mind. It is, in the dimensions of the soul, the state of contemplation and understanding. Its connection with Shabbos lies in the verse (Yeshayah 58:13): “And you shall call the Shabbos a delight.” On Shabbos, the perception of Gâ€‘d is more intense, more open. And this leads the mind to a withdrawal from the secular and the mundane.
But to reach this level is to become prone to a temptation. One might think that to have reached so far in perceiving the presence of Gâ€‘d is to have passed beyond passion to the realm of impassive contemplation. The mind asserts its superiority over the emotions. He has, he tells himself, no need for the fire of love. This is the man to whom the Talmud says: The fire “shall not go out–even on Shabbos.”
There is an opposite extreme: the man who has traveled so far on the path of separation that he feels he has now no link with Gâ€‘d. To him the Talmud says, “It shall not go out–even in a state of impurity.” For the fire does not go out. A spark always burns in the recesses of the heart. It can be fanned into a flame. And if it is fed with the fuel of love, it will burn continually. The Maggid of Mezeritch said that instead of reading the phrase as “It shall not be put out,” we can read it as “It will put out the ‘not.’” The fire of love extinguishes the negative. It takes the Jew past the threshold of commitment where he stands in hesitation and says no.
The remark of the Maggid stresses the fact that to put out the “no,” the fire must be continual. It must be fed by a constant attachment to Torah and to mitzvos. “Once” or “occasionally” or “not long ago” are not enough. The fire dies down, coldness supersedes, and the “no” is given its dominion.
This explains the commandment “Remember what Amalek did to you by the way as you came out of Egypt: How he met you (korcha) on the wayÂ .Â .Â .” (Devarim 25:17—18). Amalek is the symbol of coldness in religious life. The word korcha, as well as meaning “he met you” also means “he made you cold.” The historical Amalek “smote the hindmost of you, all those who were enfeebled in your rear, when you were faint and weary: And he did not fear Gâ€‘d” (ibid.). The Amalek within attempts to do the same. It is the voice which says no when the love of Gâ€‘d grows faint and weary. It is the voice which does not fear Gâ€‘d. And we are commanded every day to remember Amalek. That is, never to let coldness enter and take hold of the heart. And that means that the fire of love must never be allowed to die down.
Fire From Below
And Fire From Above
The continual fire, which was man-made, was the preparation in the Sanctuary for the fire which descended from Heaven. On this the Talmud (Yoma 21b) says: “Although fire comes down from Heaven, it is a commandment also for man to bring fire.” It was the awakening from below that brought an answering response from Gâ€‘d. But it brought this response only when the fire was perfect, without defect.
This is made clear in this and next week’s parashios. During the days when the Sanctuary was consecrated, it and its vessels were ready, Moshe and Aharon were present, and sacrifices were being offered. But the Divine presence did not descend on it. A lingering trace of the sin of the Golden Calf remained. Only on the eighth day, when the continual fire was perfected, was the sin effaced, the no extinguished. “Fire came forth from before Gâ€‘d” and “the glory of Gâ€‘d appeared to all the people” (Vayikra 9:23—24; Rashi).
What was this fire from Heaven? Why did it require the perfection of the earthly fire?
Man is a created being. He is finite, and there are limits to what he can achieve on his own. His acts are bounded by time. To become eternal, something Divine must intervene.
This is why, during the seven days of consecration, the Sanctuary was continually being constructed and taken apart. As the work of man, it could not be lasting. But on the eighth day, the Divine presence descended, and only then did it become permanent.
The seven days were a week, the measure of earthly time. The eighth was the day beyond human time, the number which signifies eternity. And hence it was the day of the Heavenly fire, which was the response of an infinite Gâ€‘d.
Although man cannot aspire to infinity himself, the fire of infinity descends upon him–but only when he has perfected his own fire and gone to the limits of his spiritual possibilities. Man is answered by Gâ€‘d, not when he resigns himself to passivity or despair, but when he has reached the frontier of his own capabilities.
This is suggested by the word continual in the description of the fire. What is continual is infinite, for it has no end in time. Time, though, is composed of finite parts: seconds, minutes, hours. And even an infinite succession of them is still limited to a single dimension. But by the perfection of our time-bounded lives, we join ourselves to the timelessness of Gâ€‘d, so that time itself becomes eternal and nature itself becomes supernatural. Because the reward of our service to Gâ€‘d is the blessing of a success within the natural world which goes beyond the natural order.
Fire In The Service
The essential implication of this is that every Jew constitutes a Sanctuary to Gâ€‘d. And even if he studies Torah and fulfills the commandments, if the continual fire is missing, the Divine presence will not dwell within him. For his service is without life. And a trace of that distant sin of the Golden Calf may remain: the no which is the voice of coldness.
The Jew must bring life, involvement, fire, to the three aspects of his religious existence: “Torah, service of Gâ€‘d, and the practice of charity” (Pirkei Avos 1:2).
Torah learning should not be something done merely to discharge an obligation and kept to the minimum required. Words of Torah should never be absent from the mouth of a Jew. And they should be words spoken with fire. It is told in the Talmud (Eiruvin 54a) that “Beruriah once discovered a student who was learning in an undertone. Rebuking him she said: Is it not written, ‘Ordered in all things and sure.’ If it (the Torah) is ‘ordered’ in your 248 limbs, it will be ‘sure.’ Otherwise it will not.” In other words, Torah should penetrate every facet of his being until he can say: “All my bones shall say, ‘Lâ€‘rd, who is like You?’” (Tehillim 35:10).
“Service of Gâ€‘d” means prayer, and of this Avos says, “Do not regard your prayer as a fixed mechanical task, but as an appeal for mercy and grace before the All-Present” (2:13).
The practice of charity includes the fulfillment of the commandments. And these again are not to be performed merely out of conscientiousness, but with an inner warmth that manifests itself outwardly in a desire to fulfill them with as much beauty as possible.
These are the places where the fire is lit. And this human fire brings down the fire from Heaven. It brings Gâ€‘d into the world, and draws infinity into the dimensions of the finite. v
From Torah Studies (Kehot 1986), an adaptation of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s talks by Dr. Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of Great Britain. Published with permission of Chabad.org. Find weekly Torah articles for the entire family at www.chabad.org/parshah.