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We’ve all had the experience of going to a shul or Temple and finding the “eternal light.” Usually, it’s located over the aron kodesh, or holy ark in the sanctuary. It is based upon the menorah that was in the Tabernacle, and subsequently in the holy Temple (Beit haMikdash), that was lit “at all times.” That, in turn, comes from our parshat hashavuah, “Tzav,” in which the verse (Lev. 6:6, regarding the altar) says, “A continuous fire should burn upon the altar – it shouldn’t be extinguished.” Rashi adds, “The fire about which is mentioned ‘eternity’ is used to light the ‘eternal light’ – that fire is the one burning on the external altar.” That is, in the tabernacle and holy temple, it was the fire of the altar that was used to light the fire of the menorah, and both were “eternal.”

We know that Rashi’s purpose is to explain the simple meaning of the verse. And yet, there is nothing in our verse (Lev 6:6) that needs explanation on the simple level. The verse tells us that the fire of the external altar, used to offer the sacrifices, should be kept burning at all times. Why does Rashi have to introduce the subject of the Menorah? It’s true that Rashi’s source is the rabbis in the Talmud (Yoma 45B), nevertheless, he wouldn’t have quoted them if they didn’t come to explain something in the simple meaning of the verse. As Rashi himself continues, in our verse, the words “it shouldn’t be extinguished” refer to the altar itself – so why is it necessary, according to the simple meaning of the verse, to introduce the subject of the menorah?

The explanation is as follows; when the subject of the menorah first came up in the Torah (in parshat Tezaveh), Rashi explained that “eternal” means “every night or every day…as one finds by the ‘eternal’ olah offering that was offered dailyŔ That is, according to Rashi (and proven by the text), “eternal” does not mean “at all times,” but “at regular intervals.” Therefore, it would pose a difficulty if the word “tamid” (eternal) in our verse means “at all times” (and indeed the fire on the altar was burning at all times). Therefore, Rashi explains that “tamid” (eternal) in our verse (Lev 6:6) refers not to the altar, but to the menorah. To our verse is applicable the conclusion, that states “it should not be extinguished,” meaning that the fire on the altar should burn “at all times.” However, this is not equivalent to “tamid,” which means “at regular intervals.”

And from this, we can learn how to bring a little bit of eternity into our fast-paced lives. It is not necessary to keep the light of spirituality burning at every instant of the day and night. It is sufficient if it is lit from time to time, at regular intervals. If we pray with intention in the morning, lighting the light of “love like fire” of G-d inside of ourselves, it leaves an impression for the entire day. The eternal light inside need only be renewed and re-ignited once or twice a day.

But there is something very interesting to be learned from where the light is to be lit – from the external altar. This is the altar to which the everyday offerings were brought, whether for reasons of thankfulness or of atonement or maintenance of the universe. We wouldn’t think that from this “external” place would come the source of spiritual light of the menorah. But, the Torah and Rashi explain exactly that – the light of the menorah was to be lit from the external altar. If you want to maintain your spiritual connection, you must light it from the everyday, mundane activities that you do – from the external altar. You cannot separate your inner spiritual life and your everyday activities, and even more; your inner light is ignited by your outer actions. You might want to sit, meditate, pray and study all day long, but such activity won’t have content unless it is complemented by G-dly actions in the physical world. Torah study and prayer is only complete when combined with helping others and being involved in elevating the outer world.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe ztz'l, vol. 17, pp. 50-56 Rabbi David Sterne, Jerusalem Connection in the Old city of Jerusalem