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The Parasha opens with the fires on the altar that consumed the burnt offerings, which according to the Ramban atone for sinful thoughts:
This is law of the burnt offering… it continues to stay on the flame... until morning, so that the altar's fires should be kept burning on it…
The fire burning on the altar shall not be extinguished…
The word esh (fire) is focused on three times. Based on Yoma 45a, Rashi states that they refer to the three fires that were continually burning on the altar: one for consuming the offerings, one for use in igniting the ketoret (incense), and one for ensuring that the fires continued to be sustained with a ready supply of burning wood.
The Kli Yakar quotes Abarbanel in suggesting that the three fires corresponded to the then-future three daily prayers: starting from nightfall, Arvit, Shacharit, and Mincha. For example, being allowed to recite Arvit at any time during the night corresponded with the altar fires that were consuming the burnt offerings all night long.
In commenting on this remez (hint), the Kli Yakar observes that keeping the fires burning on the altar is expressed in three ways. The first time it is a positive precept only: "the altar's fires shall be kept burning on it". There is no accompanying prohibition. That hints that Arvit is essentially less rigorously enforced (though the practice today is otherwise). The second time it is framed within a prohibition: "the altar's fires shall not be extinguished", hinting that Shacharit is indeed compulsory. And the third time: "a permanent fire shall remain on the altar; it must not extinguished" in hinting at Mincha is doubly emphasized as both a positive precept and as a prohibition. This shows that Mincha needs special care, as it is easily overlooked through the constant pressure of the day's activities.
The Ramchal writes that Shacharit is much longer than Mincha is because it is in the morning when G-d's sustenance is renewed for the day as a whole. Mincha, he writes, looks forward to the latter portion of the day only which spiritually is also running on Shacharit's energy.
With this idea, "a permanent fire shall be on the altar, it must not be extinguished" hints that so great should be the kavana put into Shacharit when having more energy at the start of the day, that it is still a "burning fire, not to be extinguished" at Mincha time. That sets the tone for Mincha to addressed with suitable kavana, spiritual concentration and focus.
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
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