The Temple sanctuary is a microcosm of our spiritual life. The altar that serves as the focal point of the sanctuary represents the heart, with the fire beneath it being its passion. Therefore, it is interesting that this fire can be stoked on Shabbat, a huge exception in halakhah, since anything connected with lighting or tending fire on Shabbat is strictly and explicitly prohibited by the Torah. In another interesting exception, priests (Kohanim) in a state of ritual impurity are generally prohibited from performing Temple services, but if no other priests are available, even a ritually impure priest may keep the fire going (among other Temple functions).
The fire beneath the altar had to be kept lit 24-7, rain or shine. This teaches us that an “emotional fire” in the heart should permeate everything we do, throughout all the highs and lows of life. During the highs – represented by Shabbat, a day that is beyond time – the challenge is that we might become too detached from reality, from the purpose of giving our inspiration a grounded, earthly expression. During the lows – represented by the impure priest, a man of holiness who has (temporarily) become defiled and separated from his function – the challenge is that we might get pessimistic and think our failures, whether real or perceived, and negative spiritual or emotional baggage preclude us from living passionate lives and living up to our potential.
The Torah teaches us that throughout life, during the highest highs and the lowest lows (and everything in between), we have the ability and the right to keep the fire of the heart alive and the faith in one’s self, one’s creator and one’s purpose in this world burning strong. This is one of the traits of successful, resilient individuals. And this is part of the secret of the unique survival and thriving of our people.