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The parsha deals initially with the concept of an eternal flame or light that would continually be present on the holy altar in the Mishkan/Tabernacle. This is not the sole instance in the Torah where this concept of an eternal flame, fire or light is discussed. The great golden candelabra in the Mishkan/Tabernacle was also to have one light that was to be deemed an eternal light that was never to be extinguished. Millennia later, our synagogues commemorate this concept of an eternal light in the holy house of prayer with the presence of a ner tamid fixture over the holy ark of the Torah scrolls.

The question arises as to the symbolism and meaning of this eternal fire. Who and what does it represent and what is its message to our society and world. The simple explanation of the eternity of this flame is that it symbolizes God’s constant and unending presence in our lives and in the national life of the Jewish people. He is always present even if He is unseen, unrecognized and even purposely ignored by His creatures.
The eternal fire reflects the eternity of the Creator, the eternity of Torah and of the people of Israel. In a world where little today is held to be lasting let alone eternal, the reminder of an eternal flame is necessary and vital. There have been myriad temporary gods that have bedeviled humankind over the ages. The entire pantheon of paganism was built upon differing and constantly changing gods. Only Israel had the vision of a universal, unchanging and eternal God.
But, perhaps there is an even more cogent message from the eternal flame to us. Many times in life we make sacrifices in order to achieve ends that we desire. This is certainly true in the material sphere of our lives. Long hours and great exertion are the norm of our workday lives. Not always are our sacrifices rewarded with social, professional or monetary success and achievement.
We tend then to view them - our efforts and sacrifices - as being in vain and a wasted effort. However we may feel about those material spheres of our lives, this does not hold true for our spiritual efforts and pursuits. No effort, even if it appears to us to be unsuccessful and even inconsequential, is wasted. The spirit remains eternal.
The rabbis in Avot taught us that according to the effort so is the reward. There are a number of interpretations of this cryptic phrase. One meaning is that the effort will be rewarded even if the goal of that effort has not yet been achieved. For effort on behalf of spiritual matters – charity, Torah study, the welfare of the Jewish people, etc. – is blessed with an eternal quality that survives because it becomes part of our eternal soul. The sacrifices made on behalf of our souls live on as part of our Godly nature, the eternal flame that the Creator has placed within us all.
Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Berel Wein

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