“A continuous fire (burning on the altar)… shall not be extinguished.” (Tzav)

This biblical divine call to keep a continuous always-on fire burning on the altar reverberates in our lives today. It can be challenging to keep the fire going, to keep sustained passion going strong. The default nature is often prone to atrophy and attrition, it takes effort and fuel and ongoing investment and involvement to keep the fire going.

This is true of inspiration and love and enthusiasm in religious life, in relationships, at work or with study. Keeping the fire going isn’t easy, shouldn’t be taken for granted. It takes work, continued investment, and motivated dedication.

But the altar’s fire was a focused fire, it had a specific place and purpose. It was a managed fire. In fact, there were 3 different size fires going on the altar, each with its own function. It wasn’t the burn the house down kind of fire. It wasn’t overwhelming and out of control.  This differentiates good fire from bad fire.

I saw this poster online. It has two sides of the illustration, fire in both. One with a man holding a fire in his hand, the other a major all-encompassing conflagration that fills almost that whole side of the picture.

We’ll get back to fire in a second, but the same can be said of smart-phone use. It’s a good analogy and application for this idea. Smartphones, like fire, can be incredibly useful tools. Convenient, life-changing, in good ways. But that’s only if the phone is in our hands. We can set limits, we make boundaries. Like rocks around a fire, or whatever safeguards and systems we put into place. But sometimes our online life takes over. It gets way out of control, we can’t stop it. That’s bad fire zone. It’s not a tool anymore, it’s taken over our lives.

Wild fire is bad fire. It’s wild, unbridled, it has no constraints, no boundaries. And while the Torah encourages us to keep the fire going, never to be extinguished, that’s about Good Fire. It needs to be supported and nurtured, channeled and focused. That’s when it is productive and constructive.

“Smokey Bear” is a beloved, well-known long-standing mascot promoting fire-safety in the Great Outdoors. According to Wikipedia, Smokey is the longest continuous public service announcement in United States history. And his message hasn’t changed much since it started back in 1944.

Look, Smokey is not against fire. Fire is so useful! We use it to cook, to heat our homes, to illuminate darkness, to gather around. So much is thanks to fire. Smokey is fine with camp-fires! But fire is good when it is contained, controlled and focused. Fire is good when it is constructive, not destructive!

One change – and the updated version fits our message even better, is that Smokey Bear used to say: “Only YOU can prevent forest fires!” But now Smokey Bear’s message has changed to say: “Only YOU can prevent Wildfires!” This change reflects the many dangerous and destructive fires that aren’t in dense forests. The areas of concern and types of places have broadened and changed since Smokey’s early days.

Smokey Bear isn’t only at National Parks! His message speaks to all of us, on college campuses, in our social-networks, in our peer-groups and communities. Smokey reminds us that only we can prevent wild-fires. We have to do our part to ensure that the fire within, the fire we keep going, stays focused and constructive and meaningful, and doesn’t get carried away, blown by winds, and catch onto everything and become destructive.

One of the many things we learn living amongst students on campus is a new lingo, an evolving sub-language that keeps changing over time. This college-speak even has dialects, with some students using certain words much more than others do. We had an active student here some years ago, his name is Ari. B. and his go-to word for something he really liked was “Fire!”. He’d say it in person, he’d use in as an emoji in the chat, “Fire!” was his way of saying that something is awesome, beautiful, amazing, delicious, it was Fire! Some students still use it in that sense, maybe not as much, but yeh, it still has that fiery awesome connotation.

Our wish is that we keep the fire going, fueling it to go strong, but that it be the type of Fire, as in Fire! the good kind, the one that means and brings good things. And as Smokey, “Only YOU!” Only we can make that happen, it’s in our hands to keep it as good fire.