Home > Hemdat Yamim > Archive
Shabbat Parashat Tzav| 5767
Ready, Aim, Fire!
The provisions for the service of the Mishkan involved different elements, preparatory and actual service. The utensils were formed as a preparatory step so that they could be used in various services. The services included bringing various offerings, whether animal sacrifice, meal offerings, or ketoret (incense). Toward the beginning of our parasha, the Torah discusses the fire that would remain lit on the mizbeach (altar), upon which offerings were burnt. We would tend to consider the fire merely a preparatory necessity. However, the writings of our rabbis indicate that this is an inaccurate portrayal.
Firstly, the fire was not needed to burn the sacrifices, as that was done by the miraculous fire that descended from the heavens (Yoma 21b). The Chinuch (#132) explains that the human fire was necessary to partially conceal the miracle, as we find regarding other miracles. Yet, continues the Chinuch, the fire on the mizbeach represents an additional purpose in the spiritual sphere.
In classical philosophy, fire is considered one of the four elements of the physical world. In the case of man, it is the main element and represents his ability to function. The fire on the mizbeach served as a source of beracha for man’s activity. This fire must be properly balanced. If it is insufficient, man will lack the ability to function properly. If it is beyond what it should be, a person can be burnt up. This, writes the Chinuch, happened to Nadav and Avihu, who brought a “foreign fire” which caused them to be burnt to death by a fire from the heavens.
The fire then served two functions, to burn the sacrifices and to spiritually help sustain human energy. It is logical, then, that just as the humanly provided fire interacted with the heavenly fire in the first regard, so did it do in regard to the second. Let us reiterate the Chinuch’s concept in these terms. The human spirit’s real sustenance is from the Divine fire, which had a physical manifestation in the Mikdash. However, Hashem wants man to contribute by providing fire anyway. When man does his share, Hashem brings the fire that allows his success.
The interaction of these fires should proceed in a specific manner. We mentioned that Nadav and Avihu’s downfall had to do with bringing foreign fire. The Rashbam (Vayikra 10:1) explains that, on the inaugural day of the Mishkan, they were supposed to wait for the initial fire to come down from the heavens. Yet, they decided not to wait and provide the fire themselves. They did not realize how serious their misunderstanding of the proper order of the fire was.
In our daily, mundane and holy, activities, Hashem wants us to be proactive and provide our own fire. One who understands what really happens is aware that the fire is only used as a necessary cover for the Divine fire. At times, we are instructed to hold back and demonstrate our understanding that we are to follow Hashem’s lead and not imagine we can accomplish things all by ourselves.
Top of page
Print this page
Send to friend
More articles from this issue: