"Fire shall be kept burning upon the altar continually; it shall not go out” Leviticus 6:6


The curse “May you live in interesting times”, first cited by Sir Austen Chamberlain (the statesman and Conservative politician), seems to resonate particularly forcefully at present. 

When advice concerning the spread of Covid-19 changes on an almost daily basis and the situation morphs and evolves with shocking celerity, calm, collected living becomes elusive. Today, permanence and constancy is acutely needed, for as human beings, we crave reliability and consistency.

In this week’s portion we learn of the esh tamid, the perpetual light upon the altar. It was never to be extinguished. Nearby was the ner tamid, the flame that flickered constantly atop the menorah. These flames signify the unremitting duty of Jews in all climes and of all backgrounds to be a “light unto the nations” in our faith and conduct. 

They also symbolise the divine spark within us all, which must be persistently nourished and kept refulgent by performance of good deeds and adherence to God’s law. 

The message is that our service of God should not vacillate between faithful adherence to God’s precepts on one day and wilful abrogation on the next. Our religiosity should be consistent and embrace all our life; in the synagogue and at work, on Yom Kippur and on a quotidian weekday. 

The great German-Jewish sage, Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, observes that although producing lamps and wicks for the menorah was the realm of priests, the actual lighting might be performed by a layman. Judaic practise is not limited to a priestly caste nor to certain times or places; it is the perpetual shared heritage of all Israel. 

Amid the panic and disquiet felt during these times of insecurity, we can find stability in the ancient moral code cherished throughout the centuries, in eras of both prosperity and calamity. 

Whether we are physically isolated or living with understandable anxiety, the fact that we have an All-Present Father, who listens to our concerns no matter who we are or where we may be, should be of comfort. 

To paraphrase the Psalmist, though we may feel that darkness will surely envelop us, even then God’s hand leads us, His right hand holds us tight and the darkness is as light. Let us all pray that we are imminently approaching the day when “‘the sun of righteousness shall arise, with healing in its wings” for ourselves and for all humanity.


Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive