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The Torah says (Vayikra 6:6):

אֵ֗שׁ תָּמִ֛יד תּוּקַ֥ד עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֖חַ לֹ֥א תִכְבֶּֽה׃

A perpetual fire shall be kept burning on the altar, not to go out.

Rashi brings the Gemara in Yoma 45a which says that the permanent fire includes the one in the outer alter.

Were there any special provisions made for when it rained? Preference goes to non-miraculous explanations of how the fire was maintained.

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    משנת ארץ ישראל אבות ה' לא כיבו גשמים את המערכה – המערכה היא המדורה של המזבח, ונקראת כך בגלל המינוח המקראי "וערך עליה העֹלה" (ויקרא ו ה). המזבח עמד חשוף לגשם, ובחורף עלול היה הגשם לנצח את האש. הדרך למנוע את כיבוי האש היא להדליק מדורה גדולה מעצים יבשים מבפנים. Feb 20, 2023 at 9:57
  • Have you ever gone camping?
    – Questor
    Feb 20, 2023 at 18:11
  • @Questor more than you can imagine!
    – bondonk
    Feb 21, 2023 at 11:02

3 Answers 3

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Preference goes to non-miraculous explanations of how the fire was maintained.

I feel like this question would be better suited to physics but giving a scientific explanation here.

What is fire?

Fire is an exothermic reaction between wood and oxygen refered to as "burning". Burning requires energy in order break the chemical bonds, but produces more energy then it consumes (hence exothermic), in what is called a "runaway reaction"

How does water put out fires?

it can do this one of 2 ways:

  1. The water goes thru a phase change taking a lot of energy from the fire which can lower the woods temperature bellow the point that wood burns. This stops the reaction
  2. Burning wood requires both wood and oxygen (Which limits the speed that wood burns). Water can prevent oxygen from coming into contact with wood, this prevents the reaction from occurring (this is how pouring sand, salt, and fire extinguishers smother a fire to "put it out").

What does this mean?

If the amount of water that you pour on a fire is small enough it will not put out the fire. The fire will be strong enough to evaporate the water without losing enough heat to stop burning.

Generally speaking, rain isn't a bucket of water poured at once from the heavens onto the ground... It is a bucket of water that is slowly dripped onto the ground over a long period of time.

So why is rain bad for fire then?

There is a 3rd way to kill a fire. Which is to starve it of fuel (wood, or other flammable material. When it rains, wood gets wet which makes it harder to burn. If it has been raining long enough, its possible that the wood will require more energy to dry out then it will release... (Or it will require more energy then your fire is capable of providing... Either way, wet wood makes it hard to start a fire/maintain a fire.

Special preparations needed for rain?

Have a supply of dry firewood. This doesn't come from historical sources, but from years camping out in the woods... Including rainy days/nights. If you have a large enough supply of dry wood, you ca keep a fire going in almost any rainstorm (Obviously not thru a hurricane, monsoon, or other major weather event).

The scientific method (Testing this for yourself)

Go camping (or somewhere you can build a fire outside). Build a small fire. Try slowly pouring water onto the fire... You will notices that the fire doesn't go out, you will get a lot of steam, but the fire will continue to burn. This is because the fire is evaporating the water as it lands onto the fire... Now take a bucket and dump the entire contents on the fire at once. You will notice that the fire went out. This is because the amount of water that you poured onto the fire out paced the fires capability to evaporate it and so it cooled the fire below the critical point of the exothermic reaction, halting the reaction.

Bonus facts.

Not only are fires strong enough to evaporate water from a light rain (and thus not burn out). But fires also heat up the air around the fire, this creates an updraft, which is a bunch of hot air rising. The updraft will deflect water droplets as they fall, preventing most of the water droplets from falling onto the fire in the first place. This is especially true if the rain is light, as opposed to heavy

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There are meforshim that explain that the clouds of glory would protect from rain.

See Tosfos Yom Tov on Avos 5:4:

And as for protecting them from the sun and rain, the Clouds of Glory certainly did not depart from them even as they were walking through the sea.

The Chizkuni seems to explain that the people needed to take precautions to keep the fire burning:

לא תכבה, “where it will not go out.” Even while the Israelites were journeying through the desert, G-d’s honour demanded that precautions be taken that this flame be kept going. According to Rabbi Yehudah in the Sifra. they used a kind of metal dome fixed above it to insure that it was kept going. [Seeing that the clouds of glory kept the people protected from rain, sandstorms and other inclemency of weather, this does not sound so exceptional. Ed.] Annotation by Rabbi Eliyahu Munk

Rav Hirsch (ad. loc אש תמיד תוקד) seems to explain that the protection was on the altar, and hence why the fire must remain all times on the altar itself. It could not be put everywhere else, except on the altar.

The Maharal in his commentary to the above-mentioned Mishnah in Avos explains that the term Mikdash implies that due to the holiness of it, it was separated from nature. So according to this explanation, the laws of nature did not affect the Mikdash, and thus the Altar on which the fire was lit.

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The Rabinu Bachayei says this was one of the miracles which was in the Beis Hamikdash and Mishkan https://mg.alhatorah.org/Dual/R._Bachya/Shemot/27.8#m7e0n6

ר' בחיי שמות כ"ז והנה בחלל המזבח הזה היו ממלאין אותו אדמה בשעת חנייתן כדי להקריב עליו, והוא מה שכתוב (שמות כ':כ"א) מזבח אדמה תעשה לי. ומזבח זה נס גדול היה נעשה בענינו שהאש דולקת בו ביום ובלילה ולא היה העץ נשרף ולא היה הנחשת נתך, ומן הנסים שהיו במקדש הוא שמעולם לא כבו גשמים אש של מזבח זה, והיה מונח בעזרה במקום מגולה כדמיון חצר המשכן במשכן,

Although it would rain, the fire would still burn.

As Joel pointed out this is based on Mishna Avos 5:5 https://mishna.alhatorah.org/Full/Avot/5.5#e0n6

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    Based on Avot 5:5
    – Joel K
    Feb 20, 2023 at 8:37

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