Rav Kook Torah

Tzav: The Purifying Fire of the Olah

“This is the law of the olah, the burnt offering. It is the burnt-offering which remains on the altar’s hearth all night, until morning.” (Lev. 6:2)

What is the significance of burning the olah offering throughout the night?

Elevating the Soul

The central ceremony when offering a korban is zerikat ha-dam, as blood from the offering is dashed around the foundation of the altar. What is the meaning of this ritual?

Blood corresponds to the nefesh — our soul, our life-force. “For blood is the nefesh” (Deut. Dashing the blood on the altar fulfills the primary goal of the offering, purifying the soul and expiating its offenses — “It is the blood that atones for the soul” (Lev. 17:11). This service elevates the foundations of the nefesh.

However, there is a level below the nefesh, a lower life-force residing closer to the body and its functions. This level of life also needs to be elevated. We seek to refine even our lowest physical tendencies and traits. This refinement is attained through a deep yearning to be close to God — an aspiration that flows through the entire nation by way of the holy avodah of the Temple.

For this reason, the verse emphasizes: hi ha-olah — “It is the [same] offering.” The same olah offering which elevates and ennobles the nefesh also refines our baser character traits. The soul is uplifted through zerikat ha-dam, when the blood is dashed around the altar. The lower life-force is elevated when the limbs of the offering are consumed in the altar’s fire. The holy fire refines and purifies our physical nature.

Why burn the offering at night?

During the night, the physical side is dominant and the soul’s higher light is hidden. During this time of spiritual dormancy, the altar’s fire burns and purifies the physical remains of the offering. This nocturnal service guards life from sinking into the depths of base materialism.

The offering is burnt until daybreak. With the arrival of morning, the soul awakens with all of its strength and light. It is ready to stand before God, alive and vibrant, in renewed splendor.

(Adapted from Olat Re’iyah vol. I, p. 122)

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