Tzav / Shabbat Hagadol

April 2, 2020

From the Rabbi
Tzav / Shabbat Hagadol
Our Internal Altars, Always Lit

Our Torah reading this week describes the consecration of the first priests into service. The Tabernacle is complete and we have seen palpable evidence of a divine presence there, hovering overhead as a cloud, at times filling the interior space and, in the most intimate moments of service, reverberating between the wings of the cherubim stretched toward one another in yearning. The perpetual lamp has been lit, incense wafts from the interior bringing the scent of God out of the secret place and into the community.

Now the People are instructed to light the fire of the altar and to keep this fire, too, burning perpetually, a fire that keeps the altar ready for the korbanot (from the same Hebrew root as karov, “close”), the offerings that rise bringing the People close to their god. The priests will tend this flame.

Since the destruction of our brick and mortar Temple, we’ve become empowered, as a kingdom of priests, to tend to our internal sanctuaries for the sake of connecting with Spirit and for the sake of finding intimate divine accompaniment. The challenge is to remember to keep our internal fires lit, committing to refuel with good self-care so that we can turn inward when the external world feels unsafe.

Still, there is the grace of the eternal light, symbolizing God’s innate presence, regardless of our stewardship of the flame. The Gerer Rebbe says that in the soul of every person lies a hidden point that is aflame with love of Spirit, a fire that (quoting our parsha) “cannot go out.” We hold two truths: that the light is eternal, and that we must tend the fire. As priests of our own temples we’re responsible to maintain internal vitality, serving the health of the sanctuaries we, each, are, and at the same time, there is the safety net of grace – the gift of God’s indwelling light, aflame in us even when we’re too distracted, or too fragile, or too numb to tend our alters.

There’s a challenge and there’s a blessing in our parsha’s image of the altar fire perpetually maintained, always ready for the korban – the drawing near. The challenge is to exercise our bodies, eat well, nourish our intellects, connect with loved ones, notice beauty, feel gratitude, and feed our spirits so that our flames remain bright and our internal resources remain dynamic. (This is no small challenge as we self-isolate during a pandemic.) And the balancing blessing is to know that part of our very humanity is the gift of a soul. Even when we are depleted, even when we forego self-nurturance, a flame, however diminished, burns in us, available to be renewed, and harnessed to warm us, hold us, and raise us up.

May we keep the fire “burning through the night to morning” as our parsha instructs. The natural order of Creation is that “there is evening, and there is morning.” May our dark night open to new dawn. May our internal flames see us through. May the sanctuaries that we are be filled with the sweet aroma of what we kindle, and may that aroma, like the incense wafting from the interior of the Tabernacle, filter from within us to permeate a bitter time with as much sweetness as possible.