This week’s parsha, Tzav, teaches us an important lesson about continuity.
Tzav continues the Book of Leviticus’s instructions about the Kohanim (Priests) and the holy services to be conducted in the Mishkan (Tabernacle), and later the Temple. God gives us instructions about several of the offerings made in the Mishkan. The last several passages are about the week-long inauguration of the Mishkan, when the Kohanim stayed there both day and night for seven days. (Judaism’s first “lock-in” event.)
The second sentence of the parsha tells us: “This is the law of the burnt-offering: It is the burnt-offering on the flame, on the Altar, all night until the morning, and the fire of the Altar should be kept aflame on it.” (Leviticus 6:2)
There are two lessons here. First, the burnt offering was to burn all night. Second, the fire on the Mizbeach (Altar) was to burn all night. The Kohanim had to place sufficient wood on the Mizbeach during the day so that the fire could burn all night. But the Kohanim did not light the fire, because the fire came from the Altar itself. (Midrash Rabbah, Tzav, Section 5). This eternal fire is linked to other fires in the Mishkan, including the fire on the Incense Altar, the light in the Western Wall and the Menorah. It is also the inspiration for the Ner Tamid, the Eternal Flame that hangs in front of the Holy Ark in every synagogue and temple.
Generations of rabbis have seen these constant lights as symbols of the Jewish people’s eternal connection to God, the Torah and our Judaism. Just as the Altar generated fire for the offerings, our Torah generates the life of our people.
Next time you look at the Ner Tamid, think about all the generations of Jews who came before you centuries ago.
Then realize that, if you do your part, Jews will be looking at a Ner Tamid centuries from now.