Former Shalaich in Manhattan
The Torah Begins Parashat Tzav with the description of the Sanctuary Work. As we all know, during the time of the Beit Hamikdash, the center of the Sanctuary Work was the offering of sacrifices, known to us as Avodat Hamikdash. Sure enough, the parasha begins with the orders given to Aharon and his sons regarding the most fundamental part of Avodat Hamikdash – the offering of sacrifices upon the Altar of Burnt-Offering.
The Altar has been a central part of the divine worship ever since the early days of mankind. According to the Talmud (Tractate Chullin 60a), Adam offered a sacrifice as gratitude to Hashem for creating the world and as atonement for the sins he and his wife committed in the Garden of Eden. Known to have a sweet savor, our forefathers continued to offer sacrifices as a part of their relationship with Hashem. In times of Hashem’s rage towards Bnei Yisrael due to their sins, the sacrifice and its sweet savor served as a statement of repentance and atonement, changing the rage into the love Hashem would generally show towards Bnei Yisrael.
The first version of a sanctuary alter was built while Bnei Yisrael were traveling in the desert, when they were ordered to build the Tabernacle. It was known as the Copper Altar due to it being surrounded by copper. When time came, Shelomo built a Copper Altar for the Beit Hamikdash, which although was rather larger than the previous one, it still served the same purpose. During the Second Beit Hamikdash another altar was built, only to be modified in later years by the Chashmonaim after the famous rebel against the Greek Empire.
The Torah describes three different fires that were placed on the Altar. One fire was for the use of offering sacrifices, one was for the incense and finally the last one was for a continuing burning fire. The obligation of the last fire, stated on our parash (6:6) was quite clear – a fire must burn at all times, and may not extinguish.
This Mitzva was quoted as one of the six hundred and thirteen Mitzvot, and Seifer Hachinuch describes the unique side of this Mitzva. On the one hand the Cohanim were required to bring two planks of wood to the Altar every morning and evening, yet on the other hand, the Talmud (Tractate Yuma 21b) tells us that the fire was divine and came down from the sky. Knowing very well that every Halachik requirement has a logical basis to it, we must seek the logic hiding behind the continues burning of the fire on the Altar. If the fire was divine, why were the Cohanim obligated to re-light it every morning.
It seems that one may understand this Mitzva when we remind ourselves of the obligation man has in this world. During Pesach this coming week, as we read the chapters of the Hallel we will notice that we sing that the Heaven is Hashem’s domain, yet the life upon the universe was given to the people (“Hashmaim shamaim laHashem veharetz natan livnei adam”). Although, the world was created for us to live in, we are partners in the on-going creation of this world. We have a duty to maintain this world, to upkeep it, and to pass it on to the next generation better than the way we got it. The only way, a person may carry out this requirement is by the full knowledge of the responsibility he has in this world.
One of the main attributes of Pesach is the concept of Vehigadeta Levinchah – teaching your children. The Halacha sets forth the nature of the Seider by telling us that its concept should be all about teaching our children who we are as Jewish people, celebrating our freedom, while still remembering the slavery our forefathers had to go through in order to reach that freedom.
We are asked to teach our children that although the concept of Avodat Hashem is not simple, it is a task that we can tackle. The message that we may derive from this week’s parasha is that the fire on the Altar day and night may never extinguish, but the desirable result may be obtained only by mutual effort of relighting it every day.
Our lives are quite the same. We must be persistent in relighting the spark of Avodat Hashem, which lies in side each and every one of us every day. The fire is always there, and all we have to do is to maintain the fire and make sure it never extinguishes. As we are reminded during Hallel of the joint effort needed for the creation and maintenance of this world, we may remind ourselves that the Avodat Hashem that we would like to teach our children is also due to joint efforts. The requirement is, that just as the Cohanim had to carry the wood to the Altar every day as a resemblance of Bnei Yisrael and Hashem’s dual commitment, we too can use this coming Pesach as an opportunity to fulfill the obligation of Vehigadeta Levinchah, by teaching our children that we are expected to maintain the fire inside each and every one of us so that it never extinguishes.