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"Consuming Fire of Loving-kindness"

Zohar, Tzav, p. 27a; translation and commentary by Simcha Treister

(From our sister-site, Kabbala Online)


Rabbi Acha opened his discourse with the verse:

"And the fire on the Altar shall be burning in it; it shall not be put out; and the priest shall add wood to make it flare up every morning" (Lev. 6:5)

What is the reason that there always has to be fire on the Altar and why should it be made to flare up every morning [when the sefira of chesed rules]? And why should it be the priest that is commanded to make fire?

Fire in every place it burns represents Judgment. The priest is from the right side [of the tree of the sefirot, the side of chesed], which is far removed from Judgment [the left side of the tree]. Fire is connected with anger [as the word furious attests.] A priest is never involved with harsh judgement, yet here [it is written that it is the priest who] must cause judgment [i.e. the consuming fire] to blaze up for the world, as is written: "…and the priest shall kindle upon it…." (Lev. 6:5)

The answer is as we have learnt - that a person who comes to sin before his Master sets his own bones ablaze with the fire of his evil inclination. The evil inclination is rooted in the impure spirit, which dwells upon a person who sins.

For example, according to the Sages, allowing oneself to become furious is compared to idolatry. A furious person is consumed by his burning anger to the point where he looses touch with reality.

Sometimes it is known and recognizable from the type of sacrifice that is required to be brought, as to which aspect it repairs.

A person must sacrifice an offering akin [to his sin]. Just as an impure spirit dwells on the person, so now he must burn an animal from the side of that spirit, in the flames of the Altar.

This impure spirit - whether of the sinner himself or of the [supernal] source from which it came - does not burn out or remove itself other than in the flames of the Altar. The flames burn out the impure spirit and all kinds of evil in the world [because it is a fire that consumes fire. As he tends the Altar,] the priest [who comes from the side of chesed] should have in mind to prepare a fire that will consume all kinds of evil in the world.

Now the reason that [the fire of the Altar] should not go out is so that its power and force should not be weakened in order that it should [still be able to] break the power of that other evil force [and drive it out] from the world. Thus the phrase: "…do not extinguish." (ibid.)

This represents the continual conscious struggle to recognize the holy and pure, keeping the flame of this consciousness always burning - even in the darkest moments.

The priest had to set up the fire on the Altar and make it flare up in the early morning each day, because that is specifically the time when his side [of the tree of sefirot, the side of chesed] reigns and is ascendant in the world. This is done in order to perfume the world, and the judgments will be subjugated and will not awaken in the world.

And this is what we have learned that there is a fire that eats fire. The higher fire eats the "other" fire. The fire of the Altar consumes the "other" fire. Thus, this fire must never be extinguished and it is precisely the priest [from the side of chesed] who must tend it daily.


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Shmuel-Simcha Treister is a lawyer from New Zealand who made aliya to Safed with his family in 1993 to study Zohar. He continues doing so to this day. He also works in the Ascent multi-media center.


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