Parshat Tzav: The sacrificial offerings of love

“And the fire on the altar shall be kept burning thereby, it shall not go out (…).” (Leviticus 6:5)

In our other commentaries on this portion we have referred to fire as a multifaceted element, as essential as water, air and earth; but more powerful because of its transforming quality that gives sense and meaning to the diverse sacrificial offerings God commanded the children of Israel to be presented to Him.

The Torah indicates that sacrificial offerings are means to help us transform the negative traits and expressions of consciousness into positive ones, and also to enhance and strengthen our bond with God. Thus we learn that the diverse kinds of offerings represent particular aspects we need to transform in order to refine the character traits that conduct our discernment, thoughts, emotions, feelings, passions and instincts.

Sins and transgressions, along with guilt, must be turned into parts of the learning process we call life in this world. In this sense, the sacrificial offerings are the recognition of the change needed to move forward to embrace goodness as the reason and purpose of life, free from attachments, obsessions and addictions that make us transgress the goodness we came to live here.

As we refer to transformation as the purpose of the sacrificial offerings, we understand why these were burnt in the ritual performed by the priests in the Temple of Jerusalem. Chemistry helps us understand the function of fire, defined as a catalyst that turns one state of matter into another. A similar process we see in the words the Torah narrates the sacrificial offerings.

Our Sages tell us that in order to consummate the ritual of the offerings two fires were needed. One fire from us, commanded more than once to be continually burning; and the other from God, which actually was the fire that consumed the offering.

“Fire shall be kept burning on the altar continually, it shall not go out.” (6:6)

We said that the offerings represent specific aspects of our consciousness that need to be transformed or enhanced, but we must reflect on what causes the change. Our Sages related to fire in diverse ways that can be even contradictory. From anger and destruction to intense elevating passionate love that brings us closer to our Creator. Hence we realize that anger is a form of fire as it is love.

“For love is strong as death, jealousy is hard as the grave. Its flames are flames of fire that is the flame of God.”
(Song of Songs 8:6)

Thus we also realize that the two fires are the two loves bonding with each other in order to make goodness prevail in all aspects, facets and expressions of life. This is the kind of love that implies the exclusivity we also know as jealousy. In its intensity we know that love is stronger than death.

This verse presents both as equal in strength, as equal contenders, but in their confrontation ultimately one must prevail over the other. The quality that makes love prevail is its transmuting and transforming power as it happens with fire. The fire of our love must be continually burning to embrace God’s love, both united as the catalyst for elevating our hearts and souls to Him.

About the Author
Ariel Ben Avraham was born in Colombia (1958) from a family with Sephardic ancestry. He studied Cultural Anthropology in Bogota, and lived twenty years in Chicago working as a radio and television producer and writer. He emigrated to Israel in 2004, and for the last fourteen years has been studying the Chassidic mystic tradition, about which he writes and teaches. Based on his studies, he wrote his first book "God's Love" in 2009. He currently lives in Zefat.
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