Fire is an important metaphor in the religious life; it stands for the warmth of religious emotion, for the light of religious truth. It also suggests passion and enthusiasm.
A London rabbi, my college teacher of homiletics, applied it to rabbis when he told us, “If you can’t put fire in your sermon, put your sermon in the fire”.
I recalled this advice when I read Kierkegaard’s essay, “Passion, Pleasure and Pain”. On many things Judaism and Kierkegaard part company, but we find resonance in his comment, “Other people may complain that the present age is wicked. I complain that it is wretched, because it lacks passion.”
It is truly a sign of wretchedness when a person cannot summon the passion to feel deeply about anything – indeed about life itself. The Jewish Tochechah speaks about the harm that is done when one does not serve God with simchah, which may very well be taken as meaning fervent, fiery passion.
Rashi seems to reinforce this interpretation when he takes the beginning of the parashah, Tzav et Aharon – “Command Aaron” (Lev. 6:2) – and remarks, Tzav means ziruz, enthusiasm.