Continuing the theme of Vayikra, the Rebbe traces further parallels between the Sanctuary that was built by the Israelites in the wilderness, and the Sanctuary which every Jew has within himself. This Sidra mentions the continual fire that was to be kept burning on the outer altar. What is its importance? What is it a defense against?

1. Continual Fire

“Fire shall be kept burning upon the altar continually; it shall not go out.”1 On this verse the Jerusalem Talmud comments, “continually—even on Shabbat; continually—even in a state of impurity.”2

As has been mentioned before,3 every aspect of the physical Sanctuary has its counterpart in the inward Sanctuary within the soul of the Jew.

His heart is the altar. And corresponding to the two altars of the Sanctuary, the outer and the inner, are the outer and inner levels of the heart, its surface personality and its essential core.4

The altar on which the continual fire was to be set was the outer one. And for the Jew this means that the fire of his love for G‑d must be outward, open and revealed. It is not a private possession, to be cherished subconsciously. It must show in the face he sets towards the world.

2. The Withdrawn and the Separated

The concept of Shabbat is that of rest and withdrawal from the weekday world. Everyday acts are forbidden. But Shabbat is not only a day of the week. It is a state of mind. It is, in the dimensions of the soul, the state of contemplation and understanding. Its connection with Shabbat lies in the verse,5 “And you shall call the Shabbat a delight.” On Shabbat, the perception of G‑d is more intense, more open. And this leads the mind to a withdrawal from the secular and the mundane.

But to reach this level is to become prone to a temptation. One might think that to have reached so far in perceiving the presence of G‑d is to have passed beyond passion to the realm of impassive contemplation. The mind asserts its superiority over the emotions. He has, he tells himself, no need for the fire of love. This is the man to whom the Talmud says, the fire “shall not go out—even on Shabbat.”

There is an opposite extreme: The man who has traveled so far on the path of separation that he feels he has now no link with G‑d. To him the Talmud says, “it shall not go out—even in a state of impurity.” For the fire does not go out. A spark always burns in the recesses of the heart. It can be fanned into flame. And if it is fed with the fuel of love, it will burn continually. The Maggid of Mezeritch said6 that instead of reading the phrase, “It shall not be put out,” we can read it, “It will put out the ‘not.’” The fire of love extinguishes the negative. It takes the Jew past the threshold of commitment where he stands in hesitation and says “No.”

3. Coldness

The remark of the Maggid stresses the fact that to put out the “No,” the fire must be continual. It must be fed by a constant attachment to Torah and to Mitzvot. “Once” or “occasionally” or “not long ago” are not enough. The fire dies down, coldness supersedes, and the “No” is given its dominion.

This explains the commandment:7 “Remember what Amalek did to you by the way as you came out of Egypt: How he met you (korcha) on the way….”8 Amalek is the symbol of coldness in the religious life. “Korcha,” as well as meaning “he met you” also means “he made you cold.” The historical Amalek “smote the hindmost of you, all those who were enfeebled in your rear, when you were faint and weary: And he did not fear G‑d.” The Amalek within the Jew attempts to do the same. It is the voice which says “No” when the love of G‑d grows faint and weary. It is the voice which does not fear G‑d. And we are commanded every day to remember Amalek. That is, never to let coldness enter and take hold of the heart. And that means that the fire of love must never be allowed to die down.

4. Fire From Below and Fire From Above

The continual fire, which was man-made, was the preparation in the Sanctuary for the fire which descended from Heaven. On this the Talmud9 says: “Although fire comes down from Heaven, it is a commandment also for man to bring fire.” It was the awakening from below that brought an answering response from G‑d. But it brought this response only when the fire was perfect, without defect.

This is made clear in this and next week’s Sidrot. During the days when the Sanctuary was consecrated, it and its vessels were ready, Moses and Aaron were present, and sacrifices were being offered. But the Divine presence did not descend on it. A lingering trace of the sin of the Golden Calf remained. Only on the eighth day, when the continual fire was perfected, was the sin effaced, the “No” extinguished, “fire came forth from before the L-rd”10 and “the glory of the L-rd appeared to all the people.”11

What was this fire from Heaven? Why did it require the perfection of the earthly fire?

Man is a created being. He is finite. And there are limits to what he can achieve on his own. His acts are bounded by time. To become eternal, something Divine must intervene.

This is why, during the seven days of consecration, the Sanctuary was continually being constructed and taken apart. As the work of man, it could not be lasting. But on the eighth day the Divine presence descended, and only then did it become permanent.

The seven days were a week, the measure of earthly time. The eighth was the day beyond human time, the number which signifies eternity. And hence it was the day of the heavenly fire, which was the response of an infinite G‑d.12

5. Limits

Although man cannot aspire to infinity himself, the fire of infinity descends upon him. But only when he has perfected his own fire, and gone to the limits of his spiritual possibilities. Man is answered by G‑d, not when he resigns himself to passivity or despair, but when he has reached the frontier of his own capabilities.

This is suggested by the word “continual” in the description of the fire. What is continual is infinite, for it has no end in time. Time, though, is composed of finite parts, seconds, minutes, hours. And even an infinite succession of them is still limited to a single dimension.13 But by the perfection of our timebounded lives we join ourselves to the timelessness of G‑d, so that time itself becomes eternal. And nature itself becomes supernatural. Because the reward of our service to G‑d is the blessing of a success within the natural world which goes beyond the natural order.

6. Fire in the Service of Man

The essential implication of this is that every Jew constitutes a Sanctuary to G‑d. And even if he learns Torah and fulfills the commandments, if the continual fire is missing, the Divine presence will not dwell within him. For his service is without life. And a trace of that distant sin of the Golden Calf may remain: The “No” which is the voice of coldness.

The Jew must bring life, involvement, fire, to the three aspects of his religious existence: Torah, service and the practice of charity.14

Learning should not be something done merely to discharge an obligation, and kept to the minimum required. Words of Torah should never leave the mouth of a Jew. And they should be words spoken with fire. It is told in the Talmud15 that “Beruriah once discovered a student who was learning in an undertone. Rebuking him she said: Is it not written, ‘Ordered in all things and sure.’ If it (the Torah) is ‘ordered’ in your two hundred and forty-eight limbs, it will be ‘sure.’ Otherwise it will not.” In other words, Torah should penetrate every facet of his being until he can say: “All my bones shall say, L-rd, who is like You?”16

Service means prayer and of this Pirkei Avot says, “Do not regard your prayer as a fixed mechanical task, but as an appeal for mercy and grace before the All-Present.”17

The practice of charity includes the fulfillment of the commandments. And these again are not to be performed merely out of conscientiousness, but with an inner warmth that manifests itself outwardly in a desire to fulfill them with as much beauty as possible.

These are the places where the fire is lit. And this human fire brings down the fire from heaven. It brings G‑d into the world, and draws infinity into the dimensions of the finite.

(Source: Likkutei Sichot, Vol. I pp. 217-219)