"A fire should continuously burn upon the altar; it shall not be extinguished." (Lev. 6:6)

The fire on the Altar must be kept burning even on the Sabbath, despite the fact that starting or stoking a fire is normally prohibited on the Sabbath. In addition, ritual defilement precludes someone from entering the Tabernacle and performing sacrificial rites. However, if there are no undefiled priests available, ritually defiled priests are allowed to enter and perform the rites, including tending the fire on the Altar.

The Divine fire within our hearts...must also be kept constantly stirred and alive.

The Divine fire within our hearts — our enthusiastic desire to cling to G‑d through studying His Torah, fulfilling His commandments, and revealing His presence in the world — must also be kept constantly stirred and alive. The law that the Altar fire must be kept lit even on the Sabbath and even in times of defilement teaches us the following lessons:

The essence of Shabbat is the ascent of consciousness from its active orientation toward transforming the world into G‑d's home into a passive orientation toward experiencing the world as already being G‑d's home. This is why we are forbidden to engage in weekday work on Shabbat: involvement with worldly work contravenes the higher reality of the Sabbath. Cognizant of this fact, we might think whenever we enter into a "Shabbat" experience — i.e. whenever our minds become entranced with G‑d's presence in our lives and we become absorbed in "basking" in this revelation — we are not only allowed to detach ourselves from the world but encouraged to do so, and we need not be concerned that this ascent of consciousness have any impact on our emotional involvement in our daily observance of the Torah's laws. The Torah therefore teaches us that the fire of the heart must be kept aflame even "on the Sabbath." Our connection with G‑d must never become a purely intellectual affair, but must always set our hearts aflame, as well.

At the other end of the spiritual spectrum, we may sometimes feel so distant from the Torah's expectations of us or encumbered by negative spiritual baggage that it is hard for us to imagine how we could even begin to live in accordance with such ideals. In times of such pessimism, we are told to keep our Divine fire burning also in times of "ritual defilement," even when we feel unqualified or otherwise unable to enter realms of holiness.

...the Divine flame within us will eventually burn away all impediments to joyful, holy living.

By keeping our enthusiasm fired even in such times, the Divine flame within us will eventually burn away all impediments to joyful, holy living. As the Maggid of Mezeritch, Rabbi DovBer, interpreted this verse, "If the [inner] fire [of the heart] is kept burning continuously, it will extinguish all negativity."

But the fire can only work its magic if it is kept burning continuously; any lapse in enthusiasm is an opportunity for pessimism to creep in. An intermittent fire or the memory of recent flames is therefore not enough; we must become adept at keeping our inner fires burning no matter how our moods may vary.

Adapted from Ha Yom Yom, 20-21 Adar II; Igros Hakodesh Mehorayatz, vol. 4, p.70; Ohr Torah, addendum 9; Likutei Sichot, vol. 1, p. 217
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