Trekking through Big Cypress National Preserve was quite an experience. About 30 miles of the Florida National Scenic Trail meander through the preserve and almost every mile is swamp. Every step I took was anywhere from ankle to knee-deep in water. So of course my boots and socks were thoroughly soaked when I reached the slightly higher (and drier) ground at the end of each day where I would set up for the night.
My first task upon reaching each campsite was to collect kindling and firewood, set them up in the ring or pit provided, and start a fire. I would then remove my boots and socks and put on my flip-flips to air out my poor prune-like, macerated feet. Finally, I would wring out my socks as best I could and place them and my boots as close to the fire as possible without causing damage to them.
As the flames would begin to fade, I would attempt to harness the heat of the embers, hoping to get my boots and socks as dry as possible before retiring for the night. But in the end, I would check my boots and socks to find they weren’t nearly as dry I would have hoped. I began to wonder why I even bothered trying when I was just going to get them wet again tomorrow.
In this week’s Torah portion, Tzav, G-d gives Moses a list of duties he is to then instruct his brother Aaron and the other priests regarding their service in the Sanctuary. Among them is an obligation not to let the altar fire go out. “The fire burning on the Altar must not be allowed to go out, the priest must kindle wood upon it every morning … the fire shall be kept burning continuously, it must not go out.” (Leviticus 6:5-6)
Every one of us is vessel, a sanctuary if you will, for the Divine, however you might perceive it. For me, it’s an inner flame that drives me to experience the most I can out of life. When we feel defeated or pessimistic, our inner flame starts to dim and we must add more fuel to the fire to keep it burning. I was feeling that way every morning I had to put on still wet socks and boots. But just as the priest had to add fresh wood to the fire every morning, so too did I.
Cultivating an upbeat attitude is absolutely essential to long distance backpacking. You’re going to have both negative and positive experiences. It’s how you handle them that sets the tone for the rest of your hike. As I put on my socks and boots, I would remind myself how much I enjoyed the sunrise that morning or how I felt when I saw the night sky my first night in the preserve. Even though it isn’t the kind of heat that dries drenched footwear, keeping an intentionally positive perspective can help keep your inner flame aglow.
True, positive thinking isn’t always going to work. Occasionally we need one another to help fuel our inner fires. I experienced that first hand when I recently discovered just how lonely I felt hiking by myself. Even the flame of the great menorah in the Sanctuary had to be relighted from the altar fire each day. In the end, it’s recognizing that our inner fire must be tended that is the most important lesson to be learned.
May we always be mindful of our need to have our inner flame refueled and how best to fuel it. Shabbat Shalom.