OK, all you pyromaniacs out there, this week's parashah is for you.
Part of the priestly charge was to ensure a sufficient supply of wood for the altar at all times, so that the pyre would burn brightly, day and night, and never be allowed to go out. In fact, the original fire stayed lit for 889 years, from the time of Moses to the reign of the evil king Menasseh at the end of the First Temple period. Interesting historical factoid.
We are also taught that when an offering was placed upon the altar, a heavenly fire descended, lightning-bolt style, to consume the offering in its entirety, indicating Divine favor with the offering.
So...if the offering was consumed by the heavenly fire from above, what was the big deal about keeping the fire lit from below?
The Ba'al HaTurim helps us out. He points out that the Torah itself is likened to fire, and brings several verses to prove it.
So let's think that simile through.
Any idea is but an abstraction, every desire like a flickering flame. Both are ethereal. How is Torah like fire? It reflects Hashem's desire with regard to how we are to conduct our lives, how to treat one another, and the proper ways serve Him. So in that sense, Torah is a tzimtzum - an embodiment, a coalescence - of Gcd's will for mankind. That's what the Talmud means when it says that the "Torah" existed before Hashem created the universe - Gcd's will pre-dates the created universe.
Who got to light the first fire on the altar? Actually, the Divine lightning bolt lit the wood the very first time, during the week-long investiture of Aaron and his sons, as recorded in our parashah. Similarly does Torah, as Hashem's manifest will, come from on high to bring enlightenment to mankind.
But guess what? That fire doesn't stay lit by itself. It takes nurturing, attention and care by the flame keepers.
We Jews didn't start the fire, but we have the holy charge of keeping Gcd's light burning brightly in this (otherwise) very dark world.
From Haman to the Hellenes to the Romans to the Crusaders to the English expulsion to the Spanish expulsion to Chmielnicki to Kishinev to Hevron to the Grand Mufti to Hitler to Nasser to Arafat to Abu Mazen to Maalot to Mercaz HaRav to Hamas to Hezbollah to Khameni to BDS - they have all done their level best to extinguish that meddlesome Jewish flame.
Occasionally we stare down the rage and the hate. But mostly, we just shrug our shoulders and keep on keeping on.
Studying Torah. Teaching it to our children. Donning tefillin. Doing unrequited acts of kindness. Pouring our hearts out to Gcd in prayer. Creating new medicines and wonder technologies. Refining our thoughts and behaviors. Sharing a hug or a smile or a kind word. Building another Jewish home in Israel. And another. And another.
Tough work, but somebody has to do it.
The question is: what are you going to do today to nurture the flame?
May all who read this merit to see the Gcd's Supernal Light illuminate Israel; and through us, illuminate and elevate all of mankind, speedily in our days, amen.