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Leviticus 6:1 – 8:36


In my approach to Torah, I see the text as myth, as spiritual parables, not reality. As such, the stories speak of universal archetypes relating to the human journey, and I often seek to unpack the deeper meaning of the text as if I were interpreting a dream or a vision. Such is the case with this passage in this week’s Torah portion:

               “The burnt offering shall remain where it is burned upon the altar all night until morning, while the fire on the altar is kept aflame…The Kohen shall…remove the ashes to which the fire has reduced the burnt offering on the altar and place them next to the altar. He shall then…carry the ashes outside the camp to a pure place. The fire on the altar shall be kept burning, it shall not be extinguished; and the Kohen shall kindle wood upon it every morning….” (Lev. 6:2-5)

Let’s imagine that the burnt offering represents the waking hours of our day and relates to how we “burn up” our time and energy. If lived mindfully, every day of our lives can become an offering of the best we have to give. Each day lived to the fullest is a day when we didn’t hold back—a day when we stepped into the “fire” of life fully and with great gusto, sharing the choicest aspect of our self regardless of our circumstances. The playwright George Bernard Shaw could well have been reflecting on these verses when he said, “I want to be thoroughly used up when I die.”

Menachem M. Schneerson, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, taught that “every aspect of the physical Sanctuary has its counterpart in the inward Sanctuary.” That is to say, every aspect of the outer Tabernacle described in Torah represents an aspect of our inner being. For the Rebbe, the human “heart is the Altar.” (Torah Studies: Tzav). Our offering, therefore, has to be “burned upon the” heart. The teaching here is that if we want our actions in the world to be pure expressions of our True Self, they have to come from the heart space. These kinds of actions cannot be reasoned, premeditated, or calculated. They arise spontaneously of their own when we are radically present to the moment as it unfolds.

Furthermore, Torah seems to be saying that as we practice acting from the radically present heart, the shadow of our subconscious and the limitations of our deeply rooted conditioning begin to dissolve. What is being “burned upon the altar” is “all night,” i.e., all the dark aspects of our self. And this continues “until morning,” until the dawn of the Light of Being that eventually outshines our inner darkness. There is a caveat, however, to this process. We “shall…remove the ashes…and…carry [them] outside the camp to a pure place.” Every day we have to let go of the ashes of that day’s burning , releasing both the good and the bad of what was, letting go of whatever keeps us entangled to the past, whether for good or ill. This doesn’t mean we deny the past; whatever happened, happened. But as we break free from its hold on us, we carry our past “outside the camp to a pure place,” so that it no longer clouds our way and blocks our evolution. In the words of a Chasidic master, “The commandment here to remove the ashes hints that as we burn up the waste in our lives we are uplifted each day, and then we are given new light” (Yehuda Leib Alter of Ger, Emet Commentary, Tzav).

This “new light” is the opportunity we have to “kindle [new] wood… every morning.” Every morning a fresh start with a heart clear of the ashes of yesterday, ready to live every moment in the radical fullness of the present. May the light of our heart shine in the most beautiful ways.