Parshas Tzav: The Inextinguishable Fire

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Tzav, the Torah continues to instruct us regarding the role of the kohanim in the Mishkan, as well as the avodas korbanos (sacrificial rites and services) that they perform.  There are further halachos delineated regarding korbanos (such as pigul – korbanos brought with erroneous intent; forbidden fats and blood; and laws of tumah and taharah in the realm of korbanos).  The Torah tells us about the service that was performed during the seven days of milu’im (inauguration of the Mishkan), which culminates in next week’s parsha, Shemini, with the 8th day of the chanukas ha’Mishkan, on Rosh Chodesh Nissan.

In this week’s parsha, in regard to the mizbayach ha’necho’shes (the copper altar where the animal sacrifices were brought) the pasukim tell us:

וְהָאֵשׁ עַלהַמִּזְבֵּחַ תּוּקַדבּוֹ לֹא תִכְבֶּה, וּבִעֵר עָלֶיהָ הַכֹּהֵן עֵצִים בַּבֹּקֶר בַּבֹּקֶר; וְעָרַךְ עָלֶיהָ הָעֹלָה, וְהִקְטִיר עָלֶיהָ חֶלְבֵי הַשְּׁלָמִיםAnd the fire on the altar shall burn on it; it shall not go out. The kohen shall kindle wood upon it every morning, and upon it, he shall arrange the burnt offering and cause the fats of the peace offerings to [go up in] smoke upon it; אֵ֗שׁ תָּמִ֛יד תּוּקַ֥ד עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֖חַ לֹ֥א תִכְבֶּֽהA continuous fire shall burn upon the altar; it shall not go out (Vayikra 6:5-6).

Chazal teach that even though a heavenly fire descended onto the pyre on the top of the altar, nevertheless, it was a mitzvah for the Kohanim to light the fire themselves, and ensure it was never extinguished.  At the time of travel, the fire was covered with a special cover (like an overturned pot) and it crouched beneath the cover like a crouching lion.  It was truly a fire that was never extinguished.  In fact, the Sages teach us in Pirkei Avos that in the Beis Ha’Mikdash, one of the ten miracles was that וְלֹא כִבּוּ גְשָׁמִים אֵשׁ שֶׁל עֲצֵי הַמַּעֲרָכָהthe rains never extinguished the fire of the altar pyre (Mishna Avos 5:5).   The Bartenura (ibid) explains why this was such a great miracle: וְלֹא כִּבּוּ גְשָׁמִים אֵשׁ עֲצֵי הַמַּעֲרָכָה. וְאַף עַל פִּי שֶׁהַמִּזְבֵּחַ בְּמָקוֹם מְגֻלֶּה הָיָה, even though the altar for animal sacrifices was in an open (‘revealed’) space, and not under an awning or cover, nevertheless, the rains did not extinguish the flame.

The Rambam (ibid) similarly explains:

כבר ידעת שהמזבח היה באמצע העזרהוהיה מגולה לשמים ועם כל זה לא היו מכבין הגשמים אש המערכה ולא היה מפזר הרוח את עמוד העשן העולה מן הקרבנותit is known that the altar was in the middle of the courtyard, and it was open under the heavens, and despite this, the rains did not extinguish the altar fire on the pyre, and the wind did not disturb or displace the column of smoke that rose from the sacrifices.

B”H we all know the strength of winter rains in Jerusalem, so when we contemplate the winter weather, we can truly better appreciate how great this miracle was.  In the biggest downpour and torrential winter rains, the fire was never extinguished and the smoke never blew in any direction other than upwards!  This is an open and revealed miracle.

As korbanos are accepted by Hashem, Who in His great mercy, accepts a substitute instead of sinful man (see Ramban to Vayikra 1:9), what aspect of our own personal avodas Hashem (service of G-d) can we learn from continuous and constant fire of the mizbayach that was never extinguished?

When it comes to our relationship to Torah and mitzvos, our love for Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael, our thirst for always learning and growing more in chochmas ha’Torah (the wisdom of Torah), thereby coming closer to HKB”H, it is clear that the fire and passion of Yahadus – and all that it encompasses – must never be extinguished within ourselves  Even in the proverbial ‘rainy times’ in life, even when the world is storming and the ‘winter rains’ and ‘winter winds’ whip themselves into a frenzy around us, when nothing makes sense and it seems as if, chas v’shalom it can and never will be, Am Yisrael will be extinguished, our flame, our fire, our commitment to Torah, to the neshama, to our nation and Land, will never, ever be snuffed out.

If a korban is an offering instead of man, we must appreciate the Divine Mercy of Hashem, Who will always take us back and it is He Who ensures our eternal flame, which represents our eternal survival.

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the Rav, zt’l, teaches, “The Ramban writes, at the beginning of Vayikra (1:9), writes that when the Torah uses the word korban, it means human sacrifice and not that of an animal.  The Torah, of course, abhors and rejects human sacrifice – but only as far as its physical implementation is concerned.  Man belongs to G-d.  All our possessions, all our talents, all our thoughts, all our feelings – everything belongs to G-d.  There is not a single thing in human life which does not belong to Him.  There is not a single thing which G-d does not want man to offer Him, including man himself, including his own existence.  An animal is a very inadequate substitute for the real and genuine korban, which is human sacrifice.

“Yet the Torah says that man can substitute something else for his own being.  What the Torah is really out to achieve, of course, is observance of all the mitzvos.  G-d is interested not so much in human sacrifice as in human restraint, human control, human surrender, human submission.  If man is ready to sacrifice his life, and spiritually surrender to G-d, then he can bring a substitute for himself.  G-d knows man, his frailties, his weaknesses, his indecision, and his self-love; and because of His compassion, His middas ha’rachamim, G-d substituted animal sacrifice for human sacrifice.

“R’ Shimon ben Azzai observed that whenever the Torah speaks of korban there is no mention of Kel or Elokim (Elokim denotes G-d of Exacting Justice); only Hashem, the Tetragrammaton, in mentioned (Menachos 110a).  Shem Hashem means rachamim, mercy.  If G-d dealt with man in accordance with strict justice, He would require of man (one thing): himself” (Abraham’s Journey, p.69).

May we merit to witness the immediate redemption of our nation, our Land and our holy city, when the Beis HaMikdash will be rebuilt and we will offer korbanos from Har HaBayis once again, as a rei’ach ni’cho’ach lifnei Hashem.

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,


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