Keep the Fire Burning

During 5781, a group of Bayit builders, led by R. Cynthia Hoffman, is studying the writings of the Baal Shem Tov. First and foremost we’re studying “lishma,” for the sake of the learning itself. We’re also keeping an eye out for short teachings that might give rise to practices, tools, and spiritual technologies.

The italicized lines, below, are from the Baal Shem Tov (Ki Tisa Comment 1); the regular print is our own addition. — The Bayit BeShT Study Sandbox


Keep the Fire Burning:

A Teaching from the Baal Shem Tov About Community


“They shall give…” (Exodus 30:13

This verse from Torah is talking about how each person, counted in the census, should give a half-shekel to God / to support spiritual community.

Rashi cites a teaching (found in Midrash Tanchuma and Talmud) that God reached beneath the Throne of Glory and withdrew a coin of fire, saying to Moses, “they shall give like this.” 

So perhaps the “giving” isn’t so much about money. Perhaps this is really about some other kind of giving. Here comes a parable to illustrate that:

Once there was a man who learned his art from a smith. After the smith taught him the art, he wrote down for the student a list of the tasks involved — but he didn’t write down that one needs to start with a coal of fire. It’s the most important thing, and he thought it went without saying. But he made a mistake in not writing it down. The most important thing is that there be a spark of fire to ignite the heart. 

No matter what our work, we need to remember what actually fuels us: the “coal of fire,” the spark of inspiration (which hints at holy spirit), the fire of love that ignites the heart. In every mitzvah, there needs to be the fire of love igniting the heart. So too we need to cultivate that holy spark in every action we take to build sacred community.

Without a coal of fire, a smith literally can’t start the furnace. Without the fire of love and inspiration, we can’t do the work of building holy community. Whether at a budget or committee meeting, or taking out the trash, or leading a program, or planning for the future: to build holy community “right,” we need to keep that spark of love burning in our hearts.

Artwork by Steve Silbert, from Color the Omer (buy a copy now before Pesach begins!)