Hebrew Vision News Exclusive
by Miykael Qorbanyahu aka The End Time Scribe
In fact the fire that ‘must always burn’ is the fear of [Elohim], but the wood that ‘he shall burn upon it each morning’ is love, the ‘thread of [favor]’ that we are taught is drawn forth each day. ‘[Elohim] commands His favor by day, and at night His song is with me’ (Ps. 42.9) – that is the fire that ‘burns upon its altar all the night.’
The order is present with us each day, as the light of Torah works in the person, burning and consuming improper thoughts. All this takes place through Torah, which is called fire. There is fire that gives light – this refers to the 248 positive commandments of Torah, [performed] out of love. And there is a fire that burns – [these are] the 365 prohibitions, (observed) from fear of heaven.
Sefat Emet. Sefer Va-Yikra, Parashat Tsav. pg. 154
And the fire on the altar is kept burning on it, it is not put out. And the priest shall burn wood on it every morning, and arrange the burnt offering on it, and shall burn on it the fat of the peace offerings – fire is continually kept burning on the altar, it is not put out.
Fire (esh/אֵשׁ) to the ancient Hebrew mind was conceived of as the emanating power [aleph] of wisdom [shin] unto the consummation and unification of life through the process of gathering unto itself the perfection of all the aspects of being that were let out to attain perfect knowledge and expression. With this concept it was prophetically innerstood that fire provided a source of purification and refinement through its intense heat which allowed for a more pristine and sublime state of being, or substance, to appear through the removal of whatever contaminants and impediments were present which, as a result of their impurity, were unable to endure the conflagration. Given this concept, it is the purpose of this reflection to demonstrate how the system of offerings was symbolic to the process of the refinement, transformation and elevation of one’s entire being (e.g., spirit, soul and body) as a result of completely placing oneself in the perpetual flame of Torah which is able to consume all impurities that can hinder one from becoming the perfect expression of wisdom in the embodiment of the Torah’s knowledge, as it is written,
And I shall turn My hand against you, and shall refine your dross as with lye, and shall remove all your alloy. And I shall give back your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning. After this you shall be called the city of righteousness, a steadfast city. Tsiyon shall be redeemed with right-ruling, and her returning ones with righteousness.
Preliminarily, it should be bore in mind that the element of fire is both a source of chaos and vitality. As a chaotic principal, when unbridled and out of control, fire is a most destructive element capable of consuming entirely everything in its unquenchable path. Yet, when fire is harnessed and utilized to provide power and warmth, it serves as a most conducive element to both enhance and preserve life. In this light it is interesting to note that in the context of spirituality the dual capacities of fire are necessary to maintain the vitality of life in the scope of manifesting the principles of righteousness and set-apartness, or holiness. This state of being is achieved by both destroying and refining ideas, language and behavior unto moral perfection.
With parashat Tsav, which means command, we continue to be informed about the priestly duties as relates to the Levitical sacrificial system. While Vayiqra provided us with the specific types of qorbanot that were to be offered on the altar, Tsav further provides us with details of the regulations surrounding the various qorbanot. In addition, the process of priestly ordination is also elaborated upon in this sidrah by which the priesthood was to be instituted. Yet, it is the matter of the law of the burnt offering and perpetual altar fire which contains a lesson, in principle, that alludes to a process which is able to mold and shape a nature within humanity which empowers and inspires us to sustain and intensify our relationship with both Creator and creation. In fact, the Smith’s Bible dictionary states that fire was a symbol of fierce passion, which is a needed motivating force to accomplish this most lofty and necessary goal. And it is this type of passion which is required to cause us to be drawn and attached to the Presence of יְהֹוָה. Of this, the Sefat Emet states,
In the soul of every [Yahudi] there lies a hidden point that is aflame with [love of Elohim], a fire that cannot be put out. Even though ‘it may not go out’ here (Lev. 6.12) refers to a prohibition, it is also a promise. Thus our sages said: ‘Even though fire descends from the heavens, it is a commandment to bring it from a common [i.e., human] source.’ The same is true of the human soul: there needs to burn in it a fiery longing to worship the Creator, and this longing has be renewed each day, as we read: ‘The priest shall burn wood upon it each morning, each morning.’ Everyone who worships [Elohim] may be called a priest, and this arousal of love in Israel’s hearts is the Service of the Heart, that which takes place of sacrificial offerings.
When this fiery love is present, any distracting thought that enters the heart is consumed. Thus the holy Zohar says that the evil thought is ‘the burnt-offering upon its altar.’ That in fact is the true purpose of all those thoughts that rise up within the heart: they are there to be overpowered in the fire of worship. In this way those distracting thoughts are purified and uplifted…
We long for a perfect act of worship, one in which there is no distraction, no doubt, no holding back, no wandering of the mind, nothing but the pure gift of love. But we miss the point! Our worship is all about struggle, an ongoing inner process of transformation. Indeed there is pure fire of love in our hearts, but it is there in order to meet and consume our lower passions, our distractions, all those thoughts that seem such unwelcome guests in our hearts when we try to pray. But their presence is the very point of prayer. They – or the ‘we,’ the self who is represented by them – come to us in that moment in order to be consumed, to be taken up into that secret fire that burns within us.
Sefat Emet. Sefer Va’Yikra, Parashat Tsav. pgs. 155-156
It was this type of zealous fire that burned within the hearts of men like Abraham, Azaryah, Hananyah and Mishael, who were assailed by the political powers of their day, that caused them to withstand the intense flames of furnaces into which they were thrown because of their fiery love for Elohim and vehement rejection of idol worship. In fact, we are able to conclude in regards to these episodes that their contempt and disdain to entertain such a notion as offering themselves to foreign powers was a thought not even worth entering into their hearts, let alone act upon. So much was the prospect of doing such a deplorable act utterly detestable to them that they would rather have suffered the anguish of being entirely burned in a furnace rather than reject the beloved One of their soul for material gain and social status. We can also logically deduce that the reason why they were able to withstand such an intense inferno is because they became one with the element due to their intimate attachment to יְהֹוָה. As objects that are brought into contact with fire takes on the characteristics of the flame, it is a spiritual reality that the soul which is consumed by the fire of the Spirit too takes on the characteristics of the Spirit. This is a matter which requires much reflection, as it stands to reason, conversely, that when we find ourselves allowing less threatening, idolatrous thoughts to creep into our hearts and take root, thereby committing spiritual adultery against יְהֹוָה, we dim the fires of purity that have been ignited in our soul. Of this matter, rav Shaul writes do not quench the Ruach HaQodesh. This fire of which we speak, as has been stated earlier, is the love and fear of Elohim.
It is at this juncture that we must now ask of ourselves two most crucial questions; what is the love of Elohim, and how does this relate to the altar’s perpetual flame? The reason for this question is simple; when answered, it provides us with a most valuable insight that will allow us to completely dedicate our life to the service of Elohim, as living sacrifices, which restores to us our original heavenly nature in order to bring forth the manifest Presence of יְהֹוָה, which is the Shekinah. To answer this simple yet profound question we turn to the book Duties of the Heart, by Bachya ben Yoseph ibn Pakuda, an 11th century Moorish Israelite who lived and died in Spain. In its pages we read the following,
The love of [Elohim] is the demonstration of the soul’s longing and inherent affinity for the Creator that gives it the capacity to cling to His supernal light. For the soul is a simple spiritual [and pure] entity that is drawn to other, like spiritual entities and naturally repelled by coarse bodies, which are opposite. However, since the Creator attached the soul to a coarse body in order to test it in its interactions with it, He persuaded it to have compassion for that body and to act on its behalf, since they will be partners and associates from childhood. So when the soul senses the presence of something that would benefit and improve the lot of the body, it focuses its thoughts on that thing and longs for it, in the hopes that that thing will allow the soul to enjoy a respite from the body’s ailments and afflictions (like the patient who wants his doctor to provide him with someone to attend to him and be concerned with him). But when the soul senses the presence of something that could augment its own light and power, it focuses its attention upon it, clings to it in thought, dwells on it, and desires and yearns for it. And that is an instance of pure love. Since that is so; since the body always demands so much to satisfy it; and since the soul cannot help but pay attention to the body’s needs because it cannot enjoy peace or rest when it senses the body suffering, the soul is therefore more occupied with the needs of the body than with the things it loves (and which should preoccupy it), that are unique to it, and help it achieve eternal rest.
But when the light of reason radiates upon it and reveals how repulsive the things are that it was inclined to lovingly and drawn to in its fantasies, instead of the things that could save it in both dwelling places, the soul turns around, relinquishes everything to the merciful Creator, and directs its attention to being rescued from the things that trap and test it so. It then withdraws from the world and its attractions, and scorns physicality, all its desires and the like. Its eyes open, it sees clearly rather than through a cloud of ignorance of [Elohim] and of His Torah, and it distinguishes between truth and falsehood. And many aspects of its Creator and Mentor become clear to it by then. It begins to perceive [Elohim]’s abilities and His utter supremacy, and surrenders itself and prostrates before Him in fear, dread, and terror in the face of His Essence and greatness. It does not stop until the Creator reassures it and relieves it of its fears and anxieties. And it then longs to drink from the cup of the love of [Elohim], to dedicate its heart to Him alone, to love Him, trust Him and yearn for Him. It occupies itself with nothing but the service of [Elohim], nothing but the thoughts of Him cross its mind, it thinks of nothing else. It does not move a limb other than to fulfill a wish of His, and does not move its tongue other than to mention, praise, acknowledge, and laud Him in love, and in the hope of pleasing Him. If [Elohim] bestows a favor upon it, it thanks Him. If He afflicts it, it endures that and only increases its love and trust of Him.
Duties of the Heart, pgs. 441-442
That love is a most intense and consuming forces is proven in the many instances of life where both hell and high water have been defeated in order for the object of one’s affection to be secured. What is less discernable, however, is that humanity is composed of the element of fire, which is apparent by the Hebrew word ish (אִישׁ). Signifying not man as mortal flesh, but as the active spirit of fire, both man and woman (ishah/אִשָּׁה) are from the root word of fire and share in unity the fire aspects of יְהֹוָה who is the Source of life. To further demonstrate this point, the word ish is formed by adding a yod between the letters aleph and shin, suggesting that the there is a transmission by the infinite point of the insights of the almighty power of the eternal flame within man’s flesh. Ishah, on the other hand, suggests the idea of one who fans the fires, thereby warming, sustaining and causing to grow in the expansion of Spirit unto illumination through the interior actions of wisdom that brings forth the fullness of life. The word ishah is formed by adding a hei at the end of the word fire, connoting that woman is the expression in thought, word and action of fire. Taken together, we arrive at the idea of man and woman in their true role in existence is to serve as the consummation of wisdom which analyzes and consumes the principles of the Torah’s teachings unto the purification of life.
In conclusion, what we are take away from this week’s parashat is that the altar’s perpetual fire corresponds to the reality that we are to nurture and daily tend to in that we are to have a continual flame ignited within for our Father and King which is the dynamic principle that parashat Tsav contains. This process is accomplished by daily fanning the flames of truth within through study, prayer, meditation, fasting and obedience to Torah. It is then that the Torah serves as a catalyzing agent in the transformative process of human nature. The process is further initiated by living experiences and the decisions made in light of the standards that are typified by the commandments, statutes, ordinances, right-rulings and instructions of the Torah. The end result of this matter is the perfection of the soul born in and through the fires of trial and tribulation. This is what is known as refinement. The Hebrew word for refinement is tsaraph (צָרַף) and implicates testing the nature of a material or substance. This is exactly what our experiences do and ultimately it is the desire of the Most High to refine the people of the covenant through fire and cause us to become a living fire empowered with the capability to refine the entire earth and all of humanity as it is written,
And I shall bring the third into fire, and refine them as silver is refined, and try them as gold is tried. They shall call on My Name, and I shall answer them. I shall say, ‘This is My people,’ while they say, ‘יהוה is my Elohim.’
Continued readings on the element of fire: