“Give Aaron and his sons this command: ‘These are the regulations for the burnt offering: 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.
When it’s cold outside, there’s nothing quite as warming and comforting as a roaring fire. But as anyone who has ever tried to light such a fire can attest, creating those picturesque fires is not so easy. If you simply set a lit match to logs, not much will happen. You first need to light smaller, more combustible elements like paper or tinder, and once they catch fire, it’s just a matter of time before the whole pile of logs is caught up in flames.
This week’s Torah portion is called Tzav, which means “command.” It comes from the second verse of the reading: “Give Aaron and his sons this command . . .” This reading is about the laws of the service of the priests – Aaron and his descendants.
The Jewish sages make two important points regarding this verse that help to unlock its deeper meaning. First, the word “command” is not what we may think. While the dictionary may define the word as “an order,” the sages explain that the word here means “encouragement.”
Moses was to encourage the priests to be passionate in their service of God and never to let that passion wane: “the fire must be kept burning.” As we begin to read about the many duties of the priests, it is appropriate to start with encouragement for them, so they don’t “burn out” but remain glowing with passion for God.
The second idea the sages point out is that the full intent of this commandment was not just for the priests, but for all the Israelites as well. If that’s the case, why was the commandment/encouragement given only to the priests?
The sages explain that if the priests would remain passionate about serving God, then the people would remain passionate, too. Just as it takes a few pieces of tinder to ignite a whole group of logs, so too, a few passionate people can ignite an entire nation. If just a small group of people can serve God with passion and enthusiasm, it’s just a matter of time before the people around them catch the flame.
I’m sure most of us agree that we would like to change the world, and we wish that everyone around us would serve God with passion and enthusiasm. But changing the world can seem too daunting, too large a task. In the wise words of Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” In other words, if you want to change the world, start with yourself. Start by igniting your own soul.
When we live with fire and passion for God, our flame will spread to those around us and then to those around them. In this way, we can ignite our own corner of the world for God.