אש תמיד תוקד על המזבח לא תכבה (ו:ו).
“A constant fire you shall keep burning on the Altar, it shall not be extinguished” (6:6).
This verse dictates that a fire shall be burned on the Altar every day. Chazal (Yoma 21b) say that even though fire was be sent down from Heaven to consume the sacrifices, nevertheless, there was a commandment for the Kohanim to place wood and fire on the Altar on their own. This concept seems strange. Why would Hashem require us to light a flame ourselves if He sends one down from Heaven?
The Sefer HaChinuch shares an important principle to answer this question. He says that even the greatest miracles which Hashem performs are always done in a hidden manner. Hashem allows His great actions to appear as natural. Even by the Splitting of the Sea, which was a phenomenal miracle, the Torah tells us that Hashem sent a powerful eastern wind to blow strongly all night. Those that wanted to deny Hashem’s Handiwork would say that the wind caused the split. This is how Hashem works. This, explains the Chinuch, is the reason that we must provide wood and fire on the Altar, to cover up and prevent the miracle of the descending fire from being seen.
Why is it done this way, why does Hashem desire not to perform open miracles? The answer is in order to allow mankind to maintain their freewill. The viewer is never forced to believe. If his heart is filled with biases and perversion, he has the option of writing off everything as natural and coincidental. If one wishes to remain unmoved and uninspired, denial is possible. For those however who wish to see Hashem’s great acts, it is available before their very eyes. If one is striving for the truth, then he will see Hashem, the source of all, in everything that occurs and he will not be deterred by the mask of nature.
Rabbi Chaim Volozhin explains the same idea based on the doctrine of Chazal, “any place that you find Hashem’s greatness mentioned, you also find His great Humility expressed”. Hashem’s great kindness is that He hides Himself in this world in order to provide us with a battleground on earth in which we can fight to cling to Him, thus providing us with reward for what our efforts have earned for us.
Man’s challenge in every physical endeavor which he undertakes is to recognize that Hashem is the only One who can take him through. “Rabos machshavos blev ish vatsas Hashem he sakum, man has many plans, but only Hashem’s counsel will prevail (Mishlei 19:21).” Even though, to the human eye it seems as if one is taking a certain action and thereby accomplishing a project, we believe with complete faith that everything is done by Hashem! This is the perspective of a Jew. This is the message which the fire we light on the Altar expresses. Hashem doesn’t perform open miracles, rather He allows us to find Him in our daily life!
ולבש הכהן מדו בד (ו:ג). “The Kohen shall wear his fitted linen shirt” (6:3).
The Kohen’s clothes had to fit him well. Rashi quotes Chazal who learn from this verse that the Kohen’s clothing had to fit precisely. In fact, Chazal state that if a Kohen performed the service while wearing improperly fitting clothing, he was punishable by death from Heaven! How do we understand this?
The Vilna Goan teaches us that one’s clothing represents his Middos, traits. Hence, the Gemara dictates that a Talmid Chacham’s clothing must always be clean of dirt, meaning sin.
Applying this, I believe that there is something deep being stated regarding the Kohen serving before Hashem. One must be aware of who he is and where he stands. His clothes must fit. In life, we strive to grow. However, sometimes, we can fool ourselves and think that we can grow without effort. Sometimes we get discouraged and think that we’re not getting anywhere. Sometimes we take on a new practice, too quickly, which can cause us to burn out. When Yaakov Aveinu had his fundamental prophecy while asleep on the Makom HaMikdash, he saw a ladder. Why? Hashem was telling him, “go up, grow, but only one rung at a time.!”
The Kohen must wear clothing that fits him perfectly. The Torah desires for one to be in touch with himself. As the Mesillas Yesharim writes, every successful merchant knows his exact stock. He keeps precise track of his belongings, as his business depends on it. Our most important job on Earth is to care for our spiritual growth. Hence, we must train ourselves to take stock!
The Mishna in Sanhedrin (4:4) states a mind-boggling phenomena. It describes the sixty-nine Torah scholars who were on reserve if needed to sit on the Beis Din. If someone on the Sanhedrin would be absent, the most prominent of the reserve scholars would fill in for him. The Mishna states, “each one knew his exact place”. Imagine, they sat in their order of greatness and each person knew exactly which seat he belonged in!
We must be like the Kohen who serves before Hashem, clear on who we are and where we can grow, as perfect of a fit as possible.
Making Size Matter
I have always found it paradoxically amusing that the section in Shulchan Aruch (O”C 430) which describes Shabbos HaGadol (The Great Big Shabbos) is the shortest section in all of Halacha! What is this all about? Also, the Shabbos which is called “Big” falls out in what can be considered the busiest week of the year. Some people are so busy cleaning and preparing for Pesach that they may not even have time to read my explanation….
Hashem commanded the Jews to take Egypt’s god (the lamb) and slaughter it before them. It was miraculous that the Jews were able to make such a powerful statement and were not killed for it by the Egyptians. My question is: why is this event so stressed? Is not the Ten Makkos, the Exodus itself and the splitting of the Yam Suf far more important in earning our obligation to thank Hashem for?
The word “appreciate” has two definitions. 1- To be grateful for… (I appreciate…) 2- To go up in value (the gold appreciated). What is the connection? Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, an expert on positive psychology, points out scientifically that the way to happiness is through contemplating and recognizing the good which we have. When we think about the good that Hashem has bestowed upon us, the good becomes appreciated! When we savor the good, then we have connected with it. A Torah truth and masterpiece.
This I believe is the message here. We specifically take a minute detail of the Exodus and extrapolate upon it. When one thinks about all of the good which Hashem does for us, he is filled with happiness to see the great details, involvement and care that Hashem has for him.
Our job is to take a small Halacha, a busy Shabbos and easily neglected aspect of the Exodus and to make it BIG! That is Shabbos HaGadol! (By the way, I kept this thought short, but I feel that it is BIG!)
The Kohen’s clothes were required to be precisely fitting. “The Kohen shall wear his fitted linen shirt” (6:3). Chazal say that if a Kohen performed the service while wearing improperly fitting clothing, he was punished by death from Heaven!
The Vilna Goan in Mishlei states that the clothes that one wears represents his or her middos, character traits. The Gemara (Shabbos 114a) tells us that a Talmud Chacham is careful to always fix his inverted clothing. The Vilna Goan explains that this refers to the process of character refinement. He says that sometimes we have traits that are not so nice and they are backward. A person connected to Torah gathers his strength to put in the effort to improve and reverse the negative trait to become more appropriate.
Chazal (Shabbos 113a) tell us that Rabbi Yochanan would call his clothing, “my honor.” The simple understanding is that one who dresses in a respectable and dignified manner shows himself to be put together and worthy of respect. The deeper meaning based on the Vilna Goan’s explanation that clothing refers to character is quite powerful. Rabbi Yochanan expressed the importance of having middos. Only one who works to refine himself deserves honor and respect.
Indeed in Megillas Esther, the verse tells us that at the most important time in the Megillah where Esther was sent by Mordechai to go speak with Achashveirosh, “Esther dressed in royal clothing” (Esther 5:1). This means (Megillah 14b) that she dressed herself with Ruach HaKodesh, Divine Inspiration, in order to gain clarity and presence of mind at this vital junction. I suggest that it was only in the merit of Esther’s character development (her royal clothing) that she was granted the power from Hashem to dress in royal Divine Inspiration.
Indeed, Hashem placed her in the palace to save the Jews and the Vilna Goan explains how Esther was chosen by Achashveirosh. Esther (2:9) “She (Esther) found favor in his eyes and she expressed her kindness to him…” The Gra says that the verse expresses that Esther was appreciated for two things, her beauty and her kindness. This is what it means, “favor in his eyes” (beauty) and kindness (she had great middos)!
Just as the Kohen and Esther achieved greatness through good middos, may we merit to find success and fulfillment through great middos.