Often times, when we welcome a newborn into the world with a naming ceremony that involves candles. I have learned over the years that babies cannot take their eyes off the flames when they are lit.
Something that we light and then just kind of take for granted, seen through new eyes, becomes a truly wondrous phenomenon. Fire.
There are two types of fire in our Torah portion this week: The ner tamid—that’s our Eternal Light—the one we use to help symbolize God’s eternal presence in our midst. But the second? It is the Esh Tamid—the eternal fire.
The esh tamid is to be a fire that eternally burns in the Tabernacle. And, our Torah portion commands the Levites to keep the Esh Tamid lit.
Vayedaber Adonai El Moshe Lemor:
The Eternal spoke to Moses saying:
TZAV ET AHARON V’ET Banav…
Command Aaron and his sons …
ESH TAMID TuKad Al-Hamizbeach lo tichbeh
An eternal fire shall be kept burning on the altar, not to go out.
It then suggests how to make that happen—mainly the priest shall feed wood into it every morning. That’s right—this fire would otherwise go out if not for the thoughtful action of the priest who tended to it.
But you will notice that we don’t have an eternal fire anymore—we don’t have a Tabernacle or a sacrificial mount—all that was destroyed in the year 70. So, how do we follow this tzivah—this commandment—to keep an eternal fire?
Where is it and how does it burn?
I would like to suggest that now, the Esh Tamid, the eternal fire metaphorically is inside each of us—
A Jewish legend suggests that at creation within each of us, God placed a Divine spark. Some essence of God that symbolizes the very purest and best part of ourselves.
Each of us was given a spark of God and now we are charged with the task of nurturing our own fire each day. Like the Temple priest who would feed the Esh Tamid with wood every morning, we too, must find that which keeps that Divine Spark within us alive.