Oftentimes, a small lesson can become a giant paradigm shift.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi shared one such lesson that he’d learned from his master, the saintly Maggid of Mezeritch, based on the verse: “A constant fire shall be kept burning on the altar; it shall not be extinguished.”1

To bring an offering on the altar is insufficient, taught the Maggid. One needs to kindle a fire under the offering. And this fire will extinguish negativity. Lo tichbeh, which literally means “it shall not be extinguished,” was interpreted by the Maggid to read: “shall extinguish (tichbeh) the ‘no’ (lo)”—the negative.

Kabbalah explains that every person has a microcosmic altar upon which they make sacrifices for G‑d. But sacrifice itself is insufficient without fire. Discipline and commitment to self-growth, but without love, is inert. And so, the Torah advises us to keep a fire constantly burning on the altar.

The fire fueling the altar is so potent that it will raze any elements that may stand in its way. Passion has a way of dissolving problems. If you’re focused on loving G‑d, then you won’t need to focus that much on your character flaws and imperfections.If you’re focused on loving G‑d, you won’t need to focus that much on your imperfections

This concept reminds me of the story where the wind and the sun once competed to make the lonely man take off his jacket. The wind blew fiercely, but the man only clung to his jacket with more intensity. But then the sun began to project its warmth, and the man naturally removed his jacket.

Keep a constant fire burning on your altar, and lo tichbeh—the “no” will be extinguished; this vital paradigm shift was popularized by the chassidic masters.

There are two ways to deal with our inner demons and dysfunctions. The first, and most natural, would be to fight back. To criticize ourselves for our inadequacies and mistakes, and try to scare them from reappearing. But sometimes this head-on approach can work to our disadvantage, and the frustration that we invest in criticizing our character flaw will only aggravate it.

The second approach works by first generating a passion: a passion for G‑d and for spiritual development. With passionate energy circulating, there’s less energy to be had for dysfunctional tendencies and less focus put on them.

When you love life, you’re less likely to feel slighted or to be weighed down by your inadequacies. When you love your spouse, you’re less likely to be enraged by his or her flaws. At times, words of affection can be a more effective catalyst for change than scrutinizing the problems in a relationship. A teenager whose vivacity is channeled through noble pursuits may not fight to break rules.

Lo tichbeh—the negative becomes extinguished.

The Maggid also taught Rabbi Schneur Zalman about G‑d’s reaction to our self-generated fire. “Man’s action is an ‘awakening from below,’ which engenders an ‘awakening from Above.’ Our fire and passion attracts G‑d’s fire, for the nature of spirit is that ‘spirit elicits spirit ... ’ ”

Moses and Aaron knew this secret as well. They understood that for G‑d to dwell in the Tabernacle, the nation needed cleansing from the lingering impurity that remained from the sin of the golden calf. Finally, on the eighth day, their love was so fierce that their environment had become completely purifiedHowever, instead of demanding more repentance and self-scrutiny, for seven days Moses taught the Jews how to intensify their passionate devotion towards G‑d. For seven days Moses erected the Tabernacle and set everything in place—but G‑d’s fire, the manifestation of His Shechinah (Presence), was conspicuously absent. Each day Moses lit a fire on the altar, building up the intensity of the collective love of the people, so that it would work its wonder and burn away any residue of sin, “extinguish the no.”

Finally, on the eighth day, their love was so fierce that their environment had become completely cleansed and purified. A fire from heaven then descended upon the altar: G‑d had finally rested intimately with them. Now the Tabernacle would be eternally holy.

In our own personal Tabernacle, things operate in quite a similar fashion. We can erect walls and prepare vessels, but our personal flaws can seem to block our sense of G‑d’s presence in our life. The solution taught by Moses is to intensify the fire under the altar, to refuel and strengthen our love for G‑d. Heat is the most powerful cleansing agent and will naturally dissolve any negative energy in our environment. And G‑d is exceedingly attracted to our love and will always match it with a fire of His own.

And so sometimes, it’s about working smarter, not harder. Turn up your fire, says the Maggid, and your inner demons may just sizzle away.2