Keep The Fire Burning

Parashat Tzav (Leviticus 6:1[8]-8:36)

In our second week of learning about the sacrificial system, we read about the laws of what is known as the korban tamid, or the daily offering. Our portion begins by telling us, “This is the law of the burnt offering” (Leviticus 6:2[9]). The burnt offerings in this passage are not voluntary burnt offerings brought by petitioners, but rather the continual (tamid) or daily offerings required to be brought at the beginning and end of every single day: “One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer toward the evening” (Exodus 29:39). These two offerings serve as bookends to the daily services of the Holy House. They also serve as the basis for the daily prayer times. The morning prayers (shacharit) and the afternoon prayers (minchah) correspond to these two daily offerings.

When discussing these particular korbanot (offerings), the Torah specifies that the fire that burns on the altar should never be allowed to be extinguished. It emphasizes this point three times in our portion:

The fire of the altar shall be kept burning on it. (Leviticus 6:2[9])

The fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it. (Leviticus 6:5[12])

Fire shall be kept burning on the altar continually; it shall not go out. (Leviticus 6:6[13])

From this repetition we learn that there were at least three fires burning on the altar: one for burning the offerings, one for the coals required to be used while burning the incense on the Golden Altar, and one simply to ensure that there is a continual flame on the altar in the event the others should ever fail. It is this last one that we will now draw our attention to.

There are a few applications we can derive from this command to keep the fire ablaze upon the altar. The first is the literal understanding. When there is a functioning Temple the fire on the altar must never go out. It must be tended to and stoked so that the flame of the altar should never be extinguished. The second application is that during a time when the Holy Temple is not functioning, the altar fire should be kept alive through our prayers. Every morning and afternoon during our daily prayers we recite the laws of the korban tamid that is placed upon the fire of the altar each and every day that the Holy House is functioning. Since we live in a time when the Holy Temple is not functioning, we metaphorically keep the fire burning upon the holy altar through this daily recitation.

The last application is that we must never allow the flame of Torah and mitzvot to be extinguished upon the altar of our hearts. We must continually find ways of keeping this flame alive. We must daily strive to increase our Torah learning and how we live out the commandments. Everything we do should be pointing toward the restoration of the Kingdom and the return of our King. However, we should not only strive to keep the flame of Torah and mitzvot alive within us, but to encourage others as well, because the Day is drawing near:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24–25)

When the disciples of Yeshua encountered him on the road to Emmaus, their hearts burned within them as he taught them Torah. They said, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32). Our hearts should also burn with the words of our rabbi, igniting a flame within us for Torah and mitzvot. However, we cannot expect that flame to last indefinitely without attendance, so we must work diligently to assure its survival. What will you do today to keep the holy fire continually burning on your altar? What will you do to insure that it is not extinguished? What will you do to help your brother attend the fire on the altar of his heart as well?