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Parshat Tzav (5760)

This week we learn about the commandment of keeping the fire on the altar burning so that it never be extinguished (“Aish Tamid, a constant fire, Tukad al Ha Mizbaiachh, should burn on the altar, Lo SichhBeh, it should not stop”)

This, at first glance, is not very meaningful to us. What do we care what happened in the Holy Temple thousands of years ago?

To understand the eternal, practical meaning of this commandment… here is a story.

Once the Holy Baal Shem Tov sent one of his Chassidim (pupils) to learn how to serve G-d from a Jew called Zalman the Shoemaker who lived in Vitebsk. The Chassid traveled the two-day journey to Vitebsk and after quite a bit of searching and inquiring, found his new teacher. To his chagrin, however, this Zalman seemed to be anything other than a teacher. First he was very large and overweight and his clothes and hands were always stained and soiled. Second, he prayed very quickly, each prayer was no more than five minutes, and it was obvious that the man didn’t understand what he was saying. But most disappointing was that he ate constantly! After he ‘prayed’ in the morning he would wash his hands for bread and the entire day he would eat bread dipped in some oil, occasionally biting into an onion or something.

At first our Chassid thought that the shoemaker was a hidden Tzadik (Holy man) but after a week he realized that he was a very ordinary shoemaker and was beginning to think that perhaps he misunderstood what the Baal Shem told him, maybe it was ‘Kalman’ the ‘brew maker’ from some other city. In any case he couldn’t stay here any longer watching the fat shoemaker do the same thing every day, so he decided that the time had come to leave.

“Listen, Zalman” The Chassid finally announced, “Thank you for letting me sit here for a week…but I think I’ll be moving on.” “My pleasure,” answered he shoemaker “Anytime you want to come again, please be my guest. For the Holy Baal Shem, I’ll do anything!”

“Just one thing I’d like to ask you Zalman, if you don’t mind…Why are you always eating? You must finish five loaves of bread every day! Are you really so hungry? All the time!!?”

“No no” answered the shoemaker “I’m not hungry at all, the reason I eat is to keep myself strong! You see, once a few years ago a bunch of townspeople came and tried to drag me into the church to make me bow down or something, but I fought them off. Maybe they were drunk or their priest put them up to it, but anyway I fought them off and they left me alone. But now I’m always worried that they’ll try it again, so I always keep strong so they will never win.”

“Ahhhhh!” replied the Chassid “Now I know why the Baal Shem sent me to you! Zalman, my friend, you are serving G-d every second!”

That is the practical meaning of a ‘Constant Fire…should not stop’.

And the The Baal Shem added yet another dimension to the sentence, he explained that the words ‘Lo Sichbeh’ (Should not stop) can also be read: ‘Lo’ i.e. the negative things ‘Sichbeh’, it will stop.

Namely, if one thinks of The Creator, and constantly wonders how to serve Him better it will automatically do away with negative things. As the Chassidic saying goes: a little light pushes away a lot of darkness.

That is why, explained the Lubavitch Rebbe, the Moshiach must come immediately; in fact it is incomprehensible that he did not arrive already. The cumulative effect of all the good deeds that Jews have been doing, and all the G-dly light that they have been making for these thousands of years CERTIANLY is sufficient to dispel the darkness of exile and reveal the true light of redemption.

All that is lacking, concluded the Rebbe, is our desire; we must increase and deepen our desire that Moshiach arrive, and that desire must be like a constant fire.

Before we know it all the negative things will be removed and we will all be again rejoicing in our Bait HaMikdosh with…


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