Sitting around a campfire requires a lot of effort. Someone must arrange the logs, poke the logs, and add more logs to keep the fire lit. I find it tiresome and prefer to sit at other people’s campfires. Yet, I enjoy sitting outdoors, watching the flames jump. And I luxuriate in the light and warmth. I’ve looked at campfires from both sides now!
In Leviticus, the priests are instructed to keep the fire of the altar going. Whether or not an offering is burning, the altar fire must be stoked. Faith-stoking religious leaders use this metaphor of fire to urge you to perpetually sustain your burning desire for God.
The blaze under the altar began with a fire sent by God. Flames roasted the sacred offerings. Some slabs of meat roasted all night long. But not every night. The fire continued to burn with the Preists’ help. The duty to continue the fire is a metaphor for faith. We must maintain that flame sent by God. But in what form? Perhaps it is a burning desire for the Divine, which requires a lot of effort to sustain.
Rather our relationship with God might be more like sitting around a campfire. It begins with some effort, like that to create and sustain a good fire. For a while, we relax and delight in the flames. We appreciate the warmth, but only if from a safe distance from the firepit. Looking around us, we see our companions’ faces shining with the fire’s light. However, our appreciation is short-lived. Sometimes we are just working, replenishing the fire with more wood. For a long time after, the coals continue to keep us warm. They dwindle but keep burning as embers even as we head back into the house.
Your personal experience of Judaism might be more like visiting a campfire than a perpetual flame under an altar tended to by the priests. We gather, albeit periodically, to feel warmed and enlightened. Perhaps, to keep the metaphor burning, rabbis and cantors and leaders have the priestly duty to bring the heat.
After a while, we light another campfire to warm us and enlighten us. That is the mission of the Jewish Studio. We offer events that ignite excitement, meaning, and joy. Then we let the fire die down. The embers will last in our hearts until we rekindle the fire again. All we ask of you is to keep the passion burning until the next time we meet.
Rabbi Evan J. Krame