"The burnt offering is to remain on the altar hearth throughout the night, till morning, and the fire must be kept burning on the altar.'" - Leviticus 6:9
The Torah portion for this week is Tzav, which means "command," from Leviticus 6:1-8:36, and the Haftorah is from Jeremiah 7:21-28; 9:22-23.
More than likely, you have heard about the benefits of positive thinking. It improves our physical health, emotional well-being, and mental capabilities. Likewise, in Judaism, it is believed that thinking good thoughts produces a good outcome. As the well-known Rabbi of Lubavitch once said, "Think good and it will be good." However, many of us struggle with keeping ourselves from thinking negative thoughts. Is it really possible to control our thoughts?
This week's Torah portion provides an answer, but first, some background.
In the first section of our reading, we learn about the commandments surrounding the "burnt offering." Now, in the original Hebrew, this offering is referred to as the korban olah, or "sacrifice of ascent," korban meaning "sacrifice" and olah meaning "ascending." Since the sacrifice was completely burned and none eaten by the priests, it all ascended to heaven, completely given over to God.
However, there is another understanding of why this offering is known as the "sacrifice of ascent." According to Jewish tradition, this sacrifice was brought when a person had a sinful thought. The person hadn't necessarily done anything wrong, but what he or she thought was wrong. After the offering was brought and accepted by God, the mind ascended, the soul ascended. The bad thought had brought the worshiper down, but through the sacrifice, that person's soul and mind were restored to a higher level. He or she experienced an ascent.
So, the burnt offering has a lot to do with getting rid of bad thoughts and coming back to a place of thinking good ones. Here is where the helpful guidance comes in. The verse says: "The burnt offering is to remain on the altar hearth throughout the night . . . and the fire must be kept burning." Fire can be both a source of light and a source of destruction. When we keep the light of the fire burning at all times - when we fill our minds with only good thoughts - then the bad thoughts won't be able to enter. They will be "burned" and destroyed by the flames of our positive thinking.
The good news is that a person cannot think two thoughts at the same time. We only have the capacity to think one thing at any moment. So if we keep ourselves occupied with thoughts like "everything is for the best," and "God loves me," or "God has a good plan for my future," we won't even be able to entertain the opposite notion.
This week, choose to think good thoughts. Keep them alive and burning in your heart and mind. When you feel a sinful or negative thought coming on, ignite that fire of good thoughts right away. Keep the fire burning, and your life will be filled with its light.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President