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Rabbi Robinson’s Sermon March 27, 2024

arashat Tzav 2024 Plaut P. 688 

Source Sheet by Yair Robinson 

 It’s that time of year–with the end of March comes the return of b’nai mitzvah season, and I’m excited we get to begin with Andrew the weekend of his birthday, not the least because it’s my birthday! And my bar mitzvah portion! And while Andrew will read from Chapter 8, I’m going to impose on you what I recited at age 13.   

It’s not the easiest text: it is very much the ‘full Leviticus’ experience, describing the maintenance of the various offerings performed by the kohanim, the priests of old, in the Temple of old; it resembles very little of our own Jewish experience. We might skip over it, except for this phrase:  

 וְהָאֵ֨שׁ עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֤חַ תּֽוּקַד־בּוֹ֙ לֹ֣א תִכְבֶּ֔ה 

The fire shall be kept burning on the altar, not to go out.  

 Okay fine. Nothing really special there, except the phrase seems to repeat:  

 אֵ֗שׁ תָּמִ֛יד תּוּקַ֥ד עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֖חַ לֹ֥א תִכְבֶּֽה׃ {ס} 

A perpetual fire shall be kept burning on the altar, not to go out. 

 It’s similar to the first phrase, but subtley different, because now the word perpetual or eternal, ‘tamid’, has now been added.  

 Why do we need this repetition, and why the addition of that word ‘tamid’? We know God doesn’t waste ink, so why is it there? One medieval commentator (Ibn Ezra) suggests that this repetition exists only to include the word perpetual.  Clearly there is something about the idea of keeping that fire lit at all times that was important. Perhaps it was purely practical: it’s hard to keep burning up sacrificial offerings if you let the fire go out, so keeping it going becomes a necessity. But the Talmud tells us (Taanit 27a) that were it not for the fire kept perpetually on the altar the world itself would have been destroyed. Now, no one hyperboles like the rabbis–it’s their favorite past-time–but even this seems like a stretch. Because, the fire has gone out. There hasn’t been an altar, never mind fire, in over 2000 years!  

 Unless the text is telling us something else. We are taught that our homes are supposed to be mikdashei me’at, little sanctuaries, and our tables are altars in microcosm. What if the fire isn’t the literal fire fed by the priests of old, but the fire we stoke by maintaining our values, by living our values, by demonstrating our connection to God and Torah through our actions? What if every time we speak up for the voiceless, we support the downtrodden, we care for the sick and hungry and lonely–and yes, what if every time we come together in community and lift up our voices in song and prayer, every time we parse over the meaning of these ancient words, we maintain the fires? What if the fire perpetuates through how we live our lives, aligned with Torah?  


The world feels dark these days, and cold. There’s a lot of anger, a lot of need, a lot of sadness in our world, and frequently it feels like we are hurtling out of control, and there’s not much we can do. But there are things we can do. Keep the fires burning on the altars perpetually, continuously, eternally–in our homes, in our lives, in our hearts, in our actions. And through that fire, bring the warmth of holiness into the world. May it be so. Amen.  



Leviticus 6:1-6 

(1) יהוה spoke to Moses, saying: (2) Command Aaron and his sons thus: This is the ritual of the burnt offering: The burnt offering itself shall remain where it is burned upon the altar all night until morning, while the fire on the altar is kept going on it. (3) The priest shall dress in linen raiment, with linen breeches next to his body; and he shall take up the ashes to which the fire has reduced the burnt offering on the altar and place them beside the altar. (4) He shall then take off his vestments and put on other vestments, and carry the ashes outside the camp to a pure place. (5) The fire on the altar shall be kept burning, not to go out: every morning the priest shall feed wood to it, lay out the burnt offering on it, and turn into smoke the fat parts of the offerings of well-being. (6) A perpetual fire shall be kept burning on the altar, not to go out. 


ויקרא ו׳:א׳-ו׳ 

(א) וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר יְהֹוָ֖ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר׃ (ב) צַ֤ו אֶֽת־אַהֲרֹן֙ וְאֶת־בָּנָ֣יו לֵאמֹ֔ר זֹ֥את תּוֹרַ֖ת הָעֹלָ֑ה הִ֣וא הָעֹלָ֡ה עַל֩ מוֹקְדָ֨הֿ עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֤חַ כׇּל־הַלַּ֙יְלָה֙ עַד־הַבֹּ֔קֶר וְאֵ֥שׁ הַמִּזְבֵּ֖חַ תּ֥וּקַד בּֽוֹ׃ (ג) וְלָבַ֨שׁ הַכֹּהֵ֜ן מִדּ֣וֹ בַ֗ד וּמִֽכְנְסֵי־בַד֮ יִלְבַּ֣שׁ עַל־בְּשָׂרוֹ֒ וְהֵרִ֣ים אֶת־הַדֶּ֗שֶׁן אֲשֶׁ֨ר תֹּאכַ֥ל הָאֵ֛שׁ אֶת־הָעֹלָ֖ה עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֑חַ וְשָׂמ֕וֹ אֵ֖צֶל הַמִּזְבֵּֽחַ׃ (ד) וּפָשַׁט֙ אֶת־בְּגָדָ֔יו וְלָבַ֖שׁ בְּגָדִ֣ים אֲחֵרִ֑ים וְהוֹצִ֤יא אֶת־הַדֶּ֙שֶׁן֙ אֶל־מִח֣וּץ לַֽמַּחֲנֶ֔ה אֶל־מָק֖וֹם טָהֽוֹר׃ (ה) וְהָאֵ֨שׁ עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֤חַ תּֽוּקַד־בּוֹ֙ לֹ֣א תִכְבֶּ֔ה וּבִעֵ֨ר עָלֶ֧יהָ הַכֹּהֵ֛ן עֵצִ֖ים בַּבֹּ֣קֶר בַּבֹּ֑קֶר וְעָרַ֤ךְ עָלֶ֙יהָ֙ הָֽעֹלָ֔ה וְהִקְטִ֥יר עָלֶ֖יהָ חֶלְבֵ֥י הַשְּׁלָמִֽים׃ (ו) אֵ֗שׁ תָּמִ֛יד תּוּקַ֥ד עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֖חַ לֹ֥א תִכְבֶּֽה׃ {ס}