Containing the Fire

Friday, 16 August, 2013 - 1:00 pm

Firefighters are currently battling almost 40 major fires in the Western USA.  In Idaho alone, five major fires are causing much destruction and concern.  For example, the Pony Complex Fire, located 12 miles northeast of Mountain Home, is now estimated at 144,000 acres and is only 40% contained. To put that in perspective, that is an area nearly three times the size of Boise.

The stated goal of firefighters and forestry officials is containment. No one believes we can eliminate wildfires. Nor is it likely that we will extinguish all the flames of these major forest fires. In fact, officials are hoping to contain the 111,000-acre Elk Complex Fire near Pine, Idaho by October 1.


Sometimes we confront such powerful forces that we must choose a route other than pure defeat.  Victory, in these instances, is defined by preventing more wildfires and minimizing the damage of current ones.  In a word – it’s all about containment.

If we are successful in containing wildfires and preventing loss of life and serious damage, we may not consider wildfires to be the great enemy they are made out to be.

Actually, scientists have realized that forest fires deliver some critical benefits to our ecosystem.  Fires restore nutrients to the soil and allow sunlight to reach the forest floor.  Experience has shown that young, healthy trees often have a growth spurt after a forest fire.

Diverse species of plants and animals frequently emerge in the creative habitats developed by wildfires.  The powerful force of fire clears the forest of underbrush, preparing it for a new generation of native plants.

So long as we contain forest fires we can reap the benefits.


Fires of this scale might be best left to the professionals to battle. But we can put out our own “fires.”

In the beginning of this week’s parsha Ki Teitzei the Torah instructs of the proper conduct during warfare, including the capture of captives.  The founder of Chassidism, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, explained that from one's spiritual enemies, as well, one must "capture captives." Anything negative in man or in the world can be exploited for the good, if one can derive a lesson from it in the service of the Creator.

The most common spiritual enemy is the Yetzer Harah, the Evil Inclination, whose fire rages in our minds and hearts.  Though we may never free ourselves from its temptations, urges and trickery – we can indeed contain the animal within.  In fact, by refocusing its energies and harnessing its potency, the ugly creature inside can become a powerful force for good, a partner in our holy work.

And then, indeed, we will reap the benefits.

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