In this sidra we are introduced to the mitzvah that the fire on the altar was kept alight at all times. It was forbidden to put it out.
“A continuous fire shall burn upon the altar; it shall not go out.” (Vayikra 6:6)
Wood was added to the pyre every morning and evening. Although the pyre was in the open, vulnerable to all weathers, the Misha (Ethics of the Fathers 5:8, NS 555) states that it was one of the miracles of the Temple that the fire never went out. However, we were not allowed to rely on the miracle. Human action, adding wood to the fire, was required every day.
The Jerusalem Talmud (Yoma 4:6) observes that when the Israelites were in the desert for forty years, they still managed to keep the altar fire alight, even when they camp moved to travel to the next destination. A special cover, called a Pesachtor, was placed on the flame to prevent it going out.
The late and sainted Chief Rabbi Kook (1865-1935) writes that just as there was a physical fire in the Tabernacle and Temple, so too, there is a spiritual fire in the heart of every Jew. Like the Temple of old, that fire will never go out. There is a spark of holiness in the soul of every Jew, no matter how far they are removed from a connection to Jewish life.
Nevertheless we are charged to stoke our fires, to enable them to burn strongly, so that they can inspire others as well with their warmth and excitement. We need to engage with our heritage in a way that gives us the strength and commitment to feel confident in our Judaism, so that we can weather the challenges that life and society may pose to us.
As we approach Pesach in a few weeks’ time, let us make sure that we have the resources to inspire ourselves and others at the Seder. Find a Haggadah that speaks to you. Pesach is especially a time to pass the torch on to those around us and to the next generation. Keep the flame burning!