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Two Minutes of Torah: Tzav - Keeping the Flame Burning

When we think about the synagogue and the various symbols and items that we see in every synagogue across the world, we might think of the Aron HaKodesh, the Ark which houses the Torah.  We might think of the bimah, although there are different styles, from which the service is led.  But most centrally, we often think about the Ner Tamid, the everlasting light, that is a requirement in every single synagogue. 

All synagogues have this eternal light, despite the fact that they may look different and may even be lit differently.  Once upon a time it probably would have been a wick in oil that was burning.  Today the Ner Tamid is usually electric and, in some cases, is even solar powered.  Providing new ways of fulfilling an old commandment.  

The Ner Tamid is generally related to the Menorah, the seven branch candelabra that was kept burning continuously in the Temple.  But we might also think about another flame that was in the Tabernacle as we read in this week’s Torah portion.

As we continue with the instructions for the Tabernacle and for the priesthood we are told about the ritual of the burnt offering and we’re told that the fire on the altar shall be kept burning, not to go out.  Every morning, the priest shall feed wood to it, lay out the burnt offering on it and turn into smoke the fat parts of the offerings of well being.  A perpetual fire shall be kept burning on the altar - not to go out.  It is not a Ner Tamid in this case, it is a Esh Tamud.

The text makes it clear that if you want the fire to keep burning, you have to continue feeding the fire.  One of the interesting things about fires are that they burn up the source of their energy and their power so that eventually a candle must extinguish itself when there is no more wick left to burn and it is the same for all fires, eventually they are extinguished. The priests therefore, had the responsibility for insuring that the fire kept on burning.  

Today the Ner Tamid insures that the fire of the candelabra of the menorah still burns. But what of the Esch Tamud, the fire of the altar?  

We no longer have sacrifices, but how can we continue that tradition of the priest and keep that fire burning?  

Our sacrifices have been replaced by our prayers and the words that we recite, but do these words have fire?  For the words to really be a descendant of the Esh Tamid, it is important that they are not simply words but they are words that are accompanied by actions.  The prayers that we recite in the synagogue, the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts, should inspire us to act in the world and should motivate the way that we live.  When we do this, we truly can see the way that we can continue the work of the priest and insure that the Esh Tamid, the eternal fire keeps on burning in each one of us and in our world.

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