“אֵשׁ תָּמִיד תּוּקַד עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּחַ לֹא תִכְבֶּה/A perpetual fire shall burn on the altar, it may not be extinguished.” Chazal address the difficult language of this pasuk. If the intent is to teach us that a fire shall burn continuously, then the wording should be “אֵשׁ תּוּקַד תָּמִיד/A fire shall burn continuously” The wording “אֵשׁ תָּמִיד תּוּקַד/A perpetual fire shall burn,” seems to be teaching us something about the fire itself.
The Zohar explains that the perpetual fire in this pasuk alludes to the Torah since the Torah is compared to fire and we are required to learn it perpetually. The pasuk is telling us that sins cannot extinguish the fire of Torah – the spiritual gains that a person attained from learning Torah. This implies that sins can extinguish the spiritual gains attained from doing mitzvos. Here’s why. Mitzvos connect us to God. When a person sins he severs that connection. In the words of the Zohar, the sin extinguishes the mitzvah. However, when one learns Torah, he accepts the Torah; it enters him and becomes a part of him. Even if such a person sins, his Torah cannot be extinguished since it is a part of him.
The Sfas Emes explains that we can raise our performance of mitzvos to a level on which sins cannot extinguish them either. The Zohar teaches that not only Torah but also a Talmid Chacham’s mitzvos cannot be extinguished. How is the Talmid Chacham’s mitzvos on the level of his Torah learning?
Rashi explains that “אֵשׁ תָּמִיד/A perpetual fire” alludes to the menorah whose light is described as “נֵר תָּמִיד/a perpetual lamp.” The Torah is teaching us that the lamps of the menorah must be lit from the altar’s fire. The lamps of the menorah suggest mitzvos as in the pasuk in Mishlei, “... נֵר מִצְוָה וְתּוֹרָה אוֹר/… mitzvah is a lamp and Torah is light…” The Sfas Emes explains that this pasuk teaches us the relationship between the Torah and mitzvos. The Torah is light. Light needs a vessel to contain it, otherwise it dissipates. Mitzvos are the vessels that hold the light of the Torah in the physical world. Just like the fire of the altar lights the lamps of the menorah, the Torah lights up the mitzvah, as it were.
When a Talmid Chacham performs a mitzvah, he understands that the light in his mitzvah is the light of the Torah. When he does the mitzvah, he accepts this light into him. The effect of the mitzvah is more than connecting him to God. It becomes part of him just like the Torah that he learns. This is exemplified not in the way the Talmid Chacham performs the mitzvah. The act of the mitzvah is the same regardless of who does it. It is exemplified rather by how he makes the brachah preceding the mitzvah. The brachah is where we relate the mitzvah to its source, the Torah. When the Talmid Chacham says, “וְצִוָנוּ/and He commanded us,” he is acknowledging that the Torah is the source of the mitzvah. He is acknowledging that the light of the Torah fills the mitzvah. He is accepting that spiritual light into him and is becoming one with it. A mitzvah performed with these thoughts in mind cannot be extinguished by sin.
The Sfas Emes teaches us that we can all raise our mitzvah performance to the level of the Talmid Chacham’s. How? How do we overcome the temptation to perform mitzvos in a ritualistic manner? Many times a person does a mitzvah for ulterior motives. Sometimes a person may perform a mitzvah without really wanting to. These mitzvos connect us to God to be sure, however, sins will sever that connection. How, then, can we overcome these thoughts so that our mitzvos afford us eternal spiritual achievements that sins cannot extinguish?
The answer comes from a Zohar at the beginning of this week’s parsha. The Zohar explains the pasuk from the beginning of the parsha, “... הִוא הָעֹלָה עַל מוֹקְדָה עַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ .../… it is the burnt offering on the flame of the altar …” The literal translation of “עֹלָה/burnt offering” is, “rise up.” The Zohar explains that this refers to evil thoughts that arise in one’s mind confusing him and steering him off the true path. The way to rid oneself of these thoughts is made clear by the words which follow, “עַל מוֹקְדָה/… on the flame.” They must be burnt out.
How do we burn away those thoughts which prevent us from performing mitzvos with the proper intent and focus? The Sfas Emes explains that when we contemplate the kindness that God does for each and every Jew every moment, a burning desire to serve Him arises in our hearts. This burning desire pushes the confusion out of our minds. This is what the Zohar means when it says that we must burn out the evil thoughts.
This idea is hinted at a few p’sukim later, “וּבִעֵר עָלֶיהָ הַכֹהֵן ... בַּבֹּקֶר בַּבֹּקֶר/the priest shall kindle on (the altar) … every morning.” The Zohar explains that priests, whose work in the Beis HaMikdash brings us closer to God, represent kindness. We also find that the morning is associated with kindness (e.g. “לְהַגִיד בַּבֹּקֶר חַסְדֶךָ/to tell your kindnesses in the morning.”) So, the priest, representing God’s kindness, burns away evil on the altar each morning, a time especially associated with kindness. By emulating the priests, concentrating on God’s kindness, we burn away the evil.
Our job, then, entails cultivating a healthy recognition of God’s kindness. Being constantly aware of God’s kindnesses in our lives creates in us a burning desire to serve Him. The awareness itself will affect the way in which we perform mitzvos and lead our lives.
 The Zohar expounds on the concept of connection through mitzvos and severance because of sins. A person’s soul comprises three primary components which vary in their level of spirituality. The Nefesh HaChaim uses the metaphor of a string which stretches from the physical body, the lowest spiritual level, to the soul’s source, the highest level of spirituality. When a person performs a mitzvah, he strengthens the connection between the components and between the soul and it’s source which ultimately is God Himself. When a person sins, the connection is weakened and in some cases actually broken.