Straight From the Heart
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
"The continual fire shall burn upon the altar; it shall never go out."
Rav Chiyah said: The fire is Yitzchak's, as it is written, "Behold, here is
the fire and the wood ..." (Bereishis 22:7); the wood is Avraham's, as it
says, "The priest shall burn wood on it every morning ..." (VaYikrah 6:5;
The first verse is talking about the fire on the altar in the time of the
Mishkan. Rav Chiyah's reference to Yitzchak's fire and Avraham's wood is
from the time of the Akeida (Binding of Yitzchak) 363 years earlier. The
implication is simple: the service of the Mishkan is a continuation of
whatever began with Avraham and Yitzchak at the time of the Akeida, and
represented the same spiritual reality.
This is not the only connection of the sacrifices in the Mishkan to the
time of Avraham. When G-d had commanded Avraham to bring his own sacrifices
in response to his query about future ownership of the land of Israel, He
"Bring Me three heifers, three goats, three rams, a dove, and a young
pigeon." (Bereishis 15:9)
Rashi explains as follows:
"Three heifers" alludes to ... the heifer brought on Yom Kippur, the heifer
brought for the unwitting national error, and the heifer brought in the
case of the unknown murderer; "three goats" [alludes to] the goat offered
on the Inside, the additional goat offered on the holidays, and the goat
brought by the individual transgressor; "three rams" [alludes to] the
Definite Transgression-Offering, the Doubtful Transgression-Offering, and
the sheep that was brought by the individual for a sin, etc. (Rashi)
If you add to this the following statement ...
Rava said, and some say Rav Ashi said: Avraham Avinu kept [the entire
Torah] ... as it says, "My laws"; referring to the Written Law and to the
Oral Law. (Yoma 28b)
Then, it is clear that Avraham was already doing that which would not be
commanded of us until hundreds of years later, at Har Sinai. However, Rav
Chiyah is telling us more than this, for he specifically draws a connection
between the Akeida and the burning of the fire continuously on the altar.
The question is, what is alluding to?
The "fire of Yitzchak" refers to far more than the physical fire that was
brought up that day in anticipation of the slaughter and burning of
Avraham's son. If not, then the fire should also be called, "Avraham's
fire," since it was he who brought both the wood and the fire to Har
HaMoriah at that time.
Instead, "Yitzchak's fire" can refer to the spiritual reality and
commitment he personally "ignited" that day when he, recognizing that he
was to be the sacrifice, abandoned himself completely to the will of His
Father in Heaven, and his father on earth. This, the commentators explains,
is the meaning of the verse:
" ... And they walked together as one."
That is, with a single heart (Rashi) ... even after the realization that
the "missing sacrifice" that Yitzchak had asked about was in fact not
missing at all, but was he himself.
What is the "wood of Avraham"? Wood is fuel for the fire, and this is what
Avraham had provided his son. It had been Avraham's test to bring Yitzchak
up as an offering to G-d; who had set up the situation so that Yitzchak
could choose to be bound and offered to G-d. This is the ultimate "gift" a
parent can give to a child: the opportunity to know G-d, to love G-d, and
to choose His way.
It is this that is supposed to burn continuously on the altar of the Jewish
people. Firstly, there is the commitment of each generation to set up the
appropriate spiritual opportunity for the next generation to intimately
know truth, G-d's truth. Secondly, there is the commitment of the
subsequent generations to seize that opportunity, and to use it to their
best spiritual advantage. In this respect, even after the Mishkan and
Temples are no longer here physically, the fire of the altar can still burn
continuously throughout all the generations.
One of the Offerings mentioned in this week's parsha is the Mincha
(Meal)-Offering. This offering did not involve an animal, but was made up
of flour that was burnt on the altar. Altogether, there are thirteen
different types of menachos mentioned in the Torah.
With respect to this simple offering, the Talmud states:
Rav Yitzchak said: Why is there only a reference to "nefesh" (soul) with
respect to the Mincha? The Holy One, Blessed is He said, "Who usually
brings a Mincha-Offering? The poor person [who can't afford to offer up an
animal]! Yet, I look at it as if he has offered his very soul before Me!"
Rav Yitzchak [also] said: What is unique about the Mincha that these five
kinds [that require oil; Rashi] are mentioned? It can be compared to a
human king, for whom a beloved subject made a meal. Knowing he was poor, he
[the king] told him, "Make me five kinds of fried dishes so that I can take
pleasure from you." (Menachos 104b)
In other words, G-d, to honor the poor person, glorified the
Mincha-Offering by making various types.
In our eyes, the Mincha-Offering is one of the less-dramatic of all the
offerings enumerated in the Torah. A handful of doughy substance scooped up
by the kohen was burned on the altar, as opposed to the dramatic procedure
performed by many kohanim, carried out when an animal was offered up. Yet,
the Talmud is telling us that this is not the way a Mincha-Offering
appeared before G-d.
The explanation for this is implied in the following statement:
[What matters is not] whether one brings a lot, or a little, but that he
directs his heart to Heaven. (Menachos 110a)
In other words, even though the Torah prescribes different kinds of
sacrifices to accomplish different tasks, the bottom line is what is going
on in our lives and hearts at the time of serving G-d. Someone can offer to
G-d the most glorious animal offering, but if his heart is not in it, then
it counts for very little. On the other hand, a person may offer a small
offering but with a lot of love and desire to be close to G-d, and it will
count for everything. The same applies to every mitzvah we do, be it light
Shabbos candles, donning tefillin, or praying to G-d, or even the learning
A mitzvah is a vehicle, a conduit, so-to-speak, to channel our spiritual
energies. It is a catalyst, designed by G-d to inspire us to reach deep
down into our very being and tap hidden sources of energy. How much more so
is this the case when it comes to laws and specifics dealing with the
This can help to explain why the parsha begins with the word "tzav" which
means to command ("Command Aharon and his sons ..."). Rashi explains the
usage of this word:
The expression "Command!" always implies urging on to carry out a command,
implying too that it is effective immediately and binding on all
But what about the generations that are forced to live without a Temple,
during times when the kohanim are powerless to carry out this law? What
about in the time of Moshiach, when, according to the Talmud, mitzvos will
no longer be effective? (Niddah 61b)
Effective, no, but active, yes! Whether it is before Moshiach comes, or
after he comes, it is our hearts, ultimately, that we sacrifice to G-d.
Hence, the word "tzav" informs us that, imbedded in the sacrifices are
concepts that can always apply, even when there is no longer a Temple.
"If so," a person once asked me, "then who needs the mitzvos now?! Why not
merely bless G-d the way I want to ... in my heart?"
The answer is, until Moshiach comes, and until the time that our yetzer
haros will cease to have an effect on our decision-making process, we will
require every last detail of the mitzvos to guide us into tapping, and then
channeling our spiritual energy in the direct of G-d. Without such direct,
even the best of intentions can end in the worse of situations, as we have
However, after Moshiach comes, when we will know the day spoken about in
"On that day, G-d will be One, and His Name One."
We will no longer be misguided by the negative thoughts of our hearts, and
we will automatically become the very best sacrifice we could ever bring.
Then, all our hearts will want to do is to serve G-d and become
increasingly closer to Him, the way it was meant to be achieved.
Anyone who "involves" himself in Torah is like one who offered a
Burnt-Offering, a Mincha-Offering, a Sin-Offering, and a
Transgression-Offering. (Menachos 110a)
What's the difference between being "involved" with Torah and "studying"
it? To study something is to observe it in a detached way, like a
scientist. To be involved with something is to have an ongoing relationship
In life, there are some who study Torah, but do not have a deep
relationship with Torah, evident by a certain lack of respect for Torah and
the way they perform mitzvos. Yet, there are others who have barely learned
Torah, and have already exhibited a profound sense of respect for Torah's
importance, and do the best they can to sincerely live according to what
they know of Torah. It is the latter approach that the Talmud is
We see a similar admonition later in the Chumash, when G-d is warning the
Jewish people to adhere to Torah:
"If you walk in My statutes and guard My mitzvos to do them ..." (VaYikrah
From "If you walk in My statutes ..." one might thinks that this denotes
the fulfillment of the commandments; but when the Torah states, "and guard
My mitzvos to do them ..." it is clear that this statement refers to this.
How then do we understand "in My statutes"? As a warning to toil in Torah
Those who explain Rashi focus on his choice of words, which imply that
studying Torah is not enough to avoid the Divine wrath. One has to be
"involved" with Torah, so that Torah imbues every moment of one's life with
a level of holiness, even in the most mundane matters. If not, then Torah
becomes an external way of life only, and G-d hates such falsehood.
Hence, the Talmud writes:
One is not [truly] called modest until he is modest [even] in the bathroom.
Even in a bathroom? Even in our most private moments, we have to act in a
Torah-fashion ... as if ... as if G-d is watching us there, too?
The answer is, yes, if you believe you were made in the image of G-d, you
do. If you believe that Torah is of a Divine origin, you do. The answer is,
if you believe that Torah is a manual to cultivate self-dignity, to help
raise us to live in the Divine "image" in which we created, then we must.
Living life this way cannot result from merely studying Torah; it is the
result of living Torah, and of become a living Torah. When this is the
case, the Talmud teaches, then one's whole life is looked upon as a holy
offering to G-d, and is treated accordingly, and it was for this, as we
learn from the Haggadah, that we were taken out of Egyptian slavery.
He [Moshe] slaughtered it; Moshe took some of its blood, and put it on the
tip of Aharon's right ear ... (VaYikrah 8:23)
The above verse refers to part of the procedure Moshe performed, as
commanded by G-d, to initiate Aharon and his sons, Nadav, Avihu, Elazar,
and Itamar, into their priestly positions. However, as glorious a moment as
this may have been for Moshe and his brother's family, as well as for all
of the Jewish people, storm clouds of disappointment lingered off in the
horizon: soon Nadav and Avihu will offer their "strange fire" and die at
the hand of G-d.
Perhaps there is a hint of this upcoming tragedy, even in the verse
mentioned above. As most people are familiar, the weekly public Torah
reading is not merely read, but sung also, according to special notes
(called "Trupp") that, traditionally, go back to Moshe at Mt. Sinai. One
such note, which is rarely used, is called the "shalshelet" (literally:
chain) which sounds like someone practicing a full scale of notes up and
down, three times in a row, and it gives a sense of hesitation.
For example, appropriately, this note appears over the word "and he
hesitated" (Bereishis 19:16) in the story of Lot and S'dom. As the angels
pressed Lot to flee S'dom before G-d rained down destruction on the
spiritually bankrupt city people, Lot had difficulty making the break. The
note to which this word is read, the shalshelet, allows us to feel Lot's
Again, much later in time, when Yosef was trying to flee the Egyptian
temptress, the wife of Potiphar, the note is again used. This time, the
word is, "and he refused" (Bereishis 39:8); the note again is the
shalshelet, and it gives the impression that Yosef's refusal had not been
an easy one, as if there had been some hesitation in his decision to avoid
his master's wife. Indeed, the Talmud explains why this was so.
However, this time the shalshelet appears over the word, "he slaughtered."
However, what hesitation could there have been in Moshe's slaughtering of
the animal necessary for the initiation of his beloved brother and nephews?
Perhaps, this time, the usage of this rare but telling note is the Torah's
way of foreshadowing that the initiation of two of the kohanim present was
to be a temporary one. G-d willing, next week, we will look at why this was
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author teaches at both Neve
Yerushalyim (Jerusalem) and Neveh
Rabbi Winston has authored fourteen books on Jewish philosophy
(hashkofa). If you enjoy Rabbi Winston's Perceptions on the
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