This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Tzav (5761)
If you ever noticed, in almost every synagogue there is a ‘Continual Light’. Sometimes it is a small lamp hanging from the ceiling in front of the ‘ark’, or just a fluorescent on the wall, but it’s always there.
Did you know that the source of this custom comes from a sentence in this week’s Torah Portion?
“A continual fire should burn on the Altar, it shall not be extinguished” (6:6).
Now really this sentence refers to the bonfire(s) on the altar in the time of the Temple, so it seems to be about 2000 years obsolete.
Also it also seems a bit redundant to boot; if the fire must be continual, isn’t it obvious that we shouldn’t extinguish it?
But really it is neither obsolete nor redundant.
To explain this here is a story about Rabbi Mendel Futerfass.
Rabbi Mendel spent several years of his life at hard labor in a Russian Concentration camp, but, being a Chassid, he tried to learn from everything he heard or saw, how to serve HaShem better.
And some of his best classes came from very unusual teachers.
For instance, one of the prisoners there claimed to be a tightrope walker.
Rav Mendel didn’t believe him because he couldn’t imagine why a person would waste his time walking on a rope and risk falling on his head, when he could just walk on the ground like everyone else.
But when the evil Stalin died and the government eased up the pressure on the camps, some of the inmates decided to make a celebration and the tightrope walker saw his chance to prove himself.
He found a long thick rope somewhere in the camp, attached it, first to the outside of one building about ten feet above the ground and then stretched it to another building about fifteen yards away and attached it there at the same height. For several hours he was up on a ladder pulling, testing and fastening until everything was finally ready.
A crowd gathered around, he removed his shoes and gingerly but unceremoniously climbed up the ladder onto the rope.
Rav Mendel was one of the first to get interested, and he explained what happened:
“First he climbed up onto the rope, took a few steps, lost his balance and fell. But he knew how to fall; like a cat. He waited a few seconds and climbed up again and fell again the same way. But eventually he got accustomed and started walking, and then dancing from one foot to the other to the rhythm of the clapping onlookers.
“Then he got to the end, turned around danced back to where he started and climbed down amidst the applause and cheering of the crowd.
“After shaking everyone’s hand he walked over to me and said with a satisfied smile on his face.
‘Well Rabbi, what do you think now?’
“I told him I was impressed, but I couldn’t help wondering how he did it, how could he walk on such a thin rope without falling off? He told me to guess and I threw out a few suggestions until finally he revealed the secret:
‘I always keep an eye on where I’m going and never even think about falling’.
“He waited a few seconds for me to digest the answer, and then asked. ‘And do you know what was the hardest trick I did?’ When I shrugged my shoulders he triumphantly answered; ‘Turning around! When you turn around you loose sight of the goal for a second! It takes a long time to learn to turn around!”
“I immediately got the point” concluded Rav Mendel.
“If you want to serve G-d, and not fall down, you have to keep your mind on the goal. And” he added, “The goal is to do what the Rebbe wants; bring Moshiach.”
Now we can see how our sentence is very relevant and every word is important.
The Baal Shem Tov explained it like this: “A continual fire should burn on the Altar, it shall not be extinguished”
If “A continual fire”, (a constant burning desire to serve HaShem,) “burns on the Altar” (should always burn in your mind and heart). It shall ‘NOT’ (then all the 'NOTs' i.e. the negative things, will automatically) be extinguished.
In other words, the sentence is telling us the message of the tightrope walker; if we constantly have our minds and hearts on the goal; to want to see G-d revealed here in the world (as He was when the world was first created, at Mt. Sinai, in the Holy Temple, and will be in the days of Moshiach) then we won’t fall: our desire will automatically extinguish all the bad and negative forces not only in our personalities but eventually in the entire world!! (There is nothing more timely and practical than that!)
Then a continual light will really illuminate not just the Synagogue, but all creation….. With the arrival of
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