Tzav-Eternal Light

In our parsha (Tzav), we find a verse (Lev 6:6) that tells us, “A continuous fire should burn upon the altar – it should not become extinguished.”   Rashi comments: “The fire about which is mentioned ‘eternity’ is used to light the ‘eternal light’ – that fire is the one burning on the external altar.”  In the tabernacle as well as the holy Temple, the Menorah was lit from the eternal fire that was burning on the outer altar.  Both were eternal.

However, what is there in the simple meaning of the text that demands any explanation?  Why does Rashi find it necessary to comment, and especially why does he find it necessary to bring the menorah into the picture?  Rashi’s source is the rabbis of the Talmud (Yoma 45B), but still he would not have mentioned them if their comment did not have a direct bearing on the meaning of the verse.

The explanation is as follows:  The Menorah was first earlier mentioned in parshat Tezaveh, where Rashi explains that “eternal” means “every night and every day…as one finds regarding the ‘eternal’ offering that was sacrificed twice daily on the outer altar.”  That is, according to Rashi, “eternal” does not mean “at all times,” but rather “at regular intervals.” Without Rashi, we might have thought that “eternal” (tamid) in our verse means ” at all times – that’s why he explains that is not the case.  “Eternal” in our verse means “at regular intervals,” just as regarding the twice daily sacrifices (olah offerings) in the Temple.

However, the fire on the altar was kept burning at all times, even if the sacrifices were only brought twice a day.  And from that we learn how to bring something spiritual and infinite into our lives.  It is not necessary to keep the light inside of us burning at all moments.  It is sufficient to light it occasionally, but on a regular basis – twice as day, similar to saying the kriat shema, twice a day.  The fire that we light inside when we pray is sufficient to last us for the entire day.

There is also something to be learned from the origin of the fire from which the Menorah was lit – the priests used to take the fire from the outer altar (which was lit at all times) in order to light the Menorah, even though the Menorah represented a far higher spiritual level than did the sacrifices of the outer altar.

The message is as profound as it is clear: If you want to light up your spiritual life, you must include your mundane physical life as well.  You cannot ignite inside without also lighting up your corresponding physical life.  Only by performing acts of physical sanctification of the world do we also maintain our spiritual life within.  That is the message of the altar and the Menorah that comes to us from our parsha, Tzav.

For a longer more detailed version, go to

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol 17, pp 50-56

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