[Index of all Weekly Divrei Torah pages]
Admittedly, its difficult to find inner meaning in this weeks Torah portion, Tzav. Thats because the Torah portion deals mostly with sacrifices, which just about anybody would have trouble understanding as something that has to do with our personal connection with the One above. And yet, not only is it personal, but sacrifices were the one and only way of serving G-d when the two Temples stood, which they did for over eight hundred years here in Jerusalem. After they were destroyed, prayer took the place of the sacrifices, and thats where the Chassidic movement has made tremendous strides in helping us to understand what sacrifices meant in terms of our own connection with the One above. Chassidic literature helps understand what the Torah meant when it told us to offer sacrifices.
In our portion, we are told (Lev. 6:5), The fire on the Altar should be kept burning it shouldnt go out. The Jerusalem Talmud (Yoma 4:6) elaborates, It shouldnt go out not on Shabbat, and not [even] if one is spiritually impure (tamei). The eternal fire that was burning in the Temple was not to extinguish at any time, not on Shabbat and even not when those who were brought it were impure.
When we look into Chassidic literature, we find that the altar, upon which was lit the eternal fire, represents the heart of the person. And just like there were two altars, one in the inner chamber of the Temple, and the other outside, so are there two or more levels to the heart. There is the inner chamber of the heart, wherein we find the persons innermost feelings and intimate emotions, and there is the outer heart, which are his more obvious desires and also his power of intellect. The eternal flame in the Temple burnt on the outer altar, which is also where the sacrifices were offered. In spiritual terms; that means we must experience not only inner, subconscious cleaving to G-d, but also conscious excitement and obvious desire for spirituality. In fact, we must be consumed, both inwardly and outwardly, with G-dliness.
The Jerusalem Talmud adds that this applies as well to Shabbat and to situations in which we find ourselves to be spiritually unclean. After weve gotten used to using our power of intellect to contemplate and meditate on G-dly concepts all week long (usually during the morning prayers shacharit), we might think such meditation applies only to the weekdays. On Shabbat, when there is a higher level of holiness permeating the world from Above, perhaps we neednt use our power of intellect to get closer to the One above. Perhaps the higher level of holiness is enough to lift us spiritually. Comes along the Jerusalem Talmud and adds, Even on Shabbat even when there is a higher influx of holiness in the world, we still have to use our own intellect. If we think and meditate on G-d even on Shabbat, then the higher level of holiness that is accessible on Shabbat becomes something that is not only present in the world, but penetrates inside of us as well. The fire of G-dliness remains on the outside altar of the heart even on Shabbat when a higher level of holiness is available.
On the other hand, sometimes a Jew can fall so far he doesnt think he deserves the fire of G-d to burn in his heart. The negative inclination sometimes gets the better of us and persuades us to transgress (G-d forbid), making us tamei spiritually impure. When that happens, we might think that the light has gone out and its no longer burning inside. Thats when the Jerusalem Talmud once again comes through with advice even when one is spiritually impure, on account of transgressions it doesnt mean that the eternal light in the soul was extinguished. It might be dim, it might be harder to find, but its not extinguished. Its there, and with tshuva and desire to return to the One above, it fans again into the full-fledged fire that it is meant to be, on the external altar of the heart.
Theres something else interesting about the eternal fire on the altar. It reflected mutual interaction between man in this world, and the fire that was sent to the altar by G-d himself. First, Moshe and the heads of the tribes did all that they could to prepare the altar, and only then did an unlimited fire come down from above. This wasnt easy to achieve. Even after everything was prepared, Moshe and Aharon were present and the sacrifices had been brought, there was no evidence of a holy fire from Above to consecrate the mishkan (tabernacle). This was a process that repeated itself for seven days, before finally on the eighth day, an unlimited fire came down from Above, and the shechina dwelt in the mishkan. Thats because only after man has done everything in his power does G-d do His part by responding with an unlimited fire from Above. The seven days represent the days of creation plus Shabbat, all of which fall into the category of spirituality in this physical world. The eighth day represents the world beyond, the world of unlimited spirituality that transcends this world. Only after Moshe and the tribes exerted all the effort that they could muster in this world did they succeed in bringing down the unlimited G-dliness that permeated the mishkan. As the sages said (Yoma 21B), Even though fire comes down from Above, it is still necessary to bring fire from below.
The obvious lesson for us is that there is no free lunch. We have to use our own talents, intellectual and emotional, to elevate ourselves as much as possible. But once having done so, the skys the limit. G-d responds from Above with unlimited spirituality. And thats a good way to go into Pesach. The entire period from Tishrei, including the high holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is all about our effort from below to Above. And now, with the advent of the month of Nissan, the first days of which the tribes brought their sacrifices to inaugurate the mishkan, the opposite is true we begin to see a response from Above. May we all merit to an unlimited response that will take us out of our individual and collective limitations and see true redemption even before Pesach arrives next week!
From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, ztzl, vol. 1, pp. 217-222
Rabbi David Sterne, Jerusalem Connection in the Old City of Jerusalem