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Incantations, potions and spells have always been frowned upon by Rabbinic authorities. Torah, our total recipe for life, covers all needs and situations, leaving no room for superstition or legerdemain. Nevertheless, there is a tradition that particular pronouncements are helpful under certain conditions.
One of the great sages, the Shalah Hakodesh, writes of a strange prescription for moral excellence and freedom from transgression. He quotes the great mystic, Rav Moshe Kordovero, who recommended the regular recital of the pasuk in Tzav: "An eternal flame shall burn on the altar; it shall never be extinguished,"
The Kesav Sofer writes: Anyone whose heart burns with an eternal flame for Hashem and whose veins pulse with the desire to fulfill Hashem's will to the best of his abilities, Hashem helps him and rescues him from foreign thoughts and surely prevents him from actively sinning, as our sages said, "A mitzvah protects and saves." Behold, the altar is man himself an altar of earth...and, therefore, the fire will not be extinguished, He who seeks purification is assisted. He who sanctifies himself below is further sanctified by the heavenly fire of the altar above.
Rav Avraham Yitzchak Hakohan Kook, Z'tl, writes in his epic work Mussar Hakodesh:
It is forbidden to extinguish the Divine thirst that burns and storms with a powerful flame in the heart. If one who dares extinguish a coal on the physical altar (of the Temple) violates the prohibition of "...it shall never be extinguished," certainly one who extinguishes the lofty spiritual coal from the spiritual altar that fills the heart of a Jew with holiness (is guilty).
Rav Lapian, Zt"l, the late Rav of Kfar Chasidim, once invited a colleague of his to spend the night at his home. His guest rose early the next morning, knowing that the Rav went to pray at dawn. He hurried, washed his hands and face, and went into the kitchen. There the Rav was standing at the window and whispering to himself.
The guest heard the words, the Rav was saying, the verse, "You shall not bring an abomination into your house."
He was confused. What was this strange preparation before the morning prayers? Rav Lapian promised to explain later. They walked out into the street, into the semi-darkness. No one was in sight as they walked to shul.
Then they saw a wagon approaching. A Jew was bringing his farm produce to sell at the central market. Seeing Rav Lapian, he stopped his wagon and bowed. "Good morning, honorable Rabbi, good morning," he said.
Another wagon carrying milk passed. That driver, too, stopped his wagon, bowed, and said, "Good morning, honorable Rabbi, good morning."
When they entered the shul, all who were there rose from their seats, bowed, and said, "Good morning, honorable Rabbi, good morning."
On the way home, the Rav turned to his guest and said, "Now you understand why I repeat that verse each morning. You've seen the honor that is paid to me each morning. I must accept it as part of my obligation as Rav. Yet, I pray each morning to Hashem, 'Please let the fire of the altar burn within me, and let me not take these words and acts of homage into my house. Let me remain humble and bring the fires of the eternal flame and all of my people's offerings before Hashem.'''
Rabbi Elihu Marcus
Rabbi Marcus is Executive Assistant to the President, Touro College
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