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Tzav 5765

By: Shprintzee Rappaport

In Parshat Tzav, we are told about a service done by the Kohanim which
is not actually a sacrifice. The Torah says (6:3) "And the Kohain
should put on his linen clothes and take out the ashes from the fire
upon the Altar and put them on the side of the Altar". This act was
know as "Terumat HaDeshen--taking out the ashes". The commentaries
remark on why this rather lowly task is mentioned as part of the
sacrificial service, which seems to afford it some kind of status. In
fact, R. Bunim makes the point that the Kohain Gadol (High Priest) began
the service on Yom Kippur with this act. As to why that is, R. Bunim
says "On the holiest day of the year, when the holiest person among the
Jews (the Kohain Gadol) goes into the holiest place on Earth (the Holy
of Holies in the Temple) and the world is imbued with added
spirituality, the Kohain Gadol might forget to pray for the financial
welfare and sustenance of the people. He might think that now is not
the time to worry about material matters. That is why the Kohain Gadol
is told to begin the holiest of services with something that seems
mundane, namely the Terumat HaDeshen. It is a reminder that no matter
how holy you are, you must tend to your material needs as well. This is
why Judaism does not advocate things like celibacy, excessive fasting or
other kinds of extreme abstinence. Being holy is not about forgetting
that you are physical. Being holy is about raising your physicality to
a higher, and thus holier, level.

Along the same lines, there is an episode in the Gemarra (Pesachim) of a
Kohain Gadol by the name of Yissachar from the village of Barkai, who
always wore gloves when he performed the service in the Temple because
he did not want to get his hands dirty with the blood and intestines of
the sacrifices. As a result of his disdain to dirty his hands with holy
work, Heaven decreed that he would lose both his hands. One day, the
King and Queen of the House of Chashmonayi were arguing over which meat
was tastier--goat or lamb. They decided to let the Kohain Gadol decide
this answer since he was involved with sacrifices all day and would
certainly be an expert on the topic. When Yissachar was asked the
question, he made a motion with his right hand as if to say "What a
ridiculous question." His verbal response was "Obviously lamb is
tastier because the Torah commanded us to bring two 'Tamid' offerings
every day and they are from lamb." The King took Yissachar's
hand-motion as an affront and ordered that Yissachar's right hand be cut
off. Yissachar realized that he was doomed but figured that at least he
would try to save his dexterity by convincing the executioner to cut off
his left hand instead of his right. The executioner did so.
Unfortunately, the King found out about this and was so angry that
Yissachar dared to get out of the decree that he ordered Yissachar's
right hand be cut off as well. That second decree was carried out as
well. Regarding this episode, R. Yosef says "Yissachar received the
appropriate punishment because he profaned Hashem's holy things in his
refusal to touch the sacrificial meat directly with his hands. Thus,
measure for measure, he lost his hands".

The lesson here is that no service that Hashem demands of us should be
deemed "too lowly" or "demeaning" to do. Even when it comes to other
"demeaning" things that Hashem demands of us like refraining from taking
revenge on someone who may have hurt your pride, going to work with a
Keepah on your head and being ridiculed for wearing a "beanie", waving
around palm branches with leaves hanging on both sides and a yellow
fruit during Succot, etc. Nothing that Hashem asks of us should be
viewed as too demeaning.

R. Menachem HaBavli explains "Terumat HaDeshen" in a slightly different
way. He says it is symbolic of how we are supposed to treat our fellow
Jew. He says "The ashes from the sacrifices represent sin since they
are the remains of an animal brought as a result of sin. These ashes
are removed when the new day of service begins. Similarly, when it
comes to a Jew who sinned and then did Teshuvah (repented) we must
remove his 'sinful' past completely from our minds and view him as a
'new' person".

R. Shamshon Raphael Hirsch says that Terumat HaDeshen is really symbolic
of how every Jew should view, not his fellow Jew, but himself. R.
Hirsch reminds us that every Jew has a mission in life to accomplish and
every day is a new opportunity to accomplish that mission. But
sometimes we get caught up in what we did the previous day, which
affects our ability to accomplish our mission the next day. If we do
something bad one day, we might become very discouraged and thus "give
up" the next day. Conversely, if we do something really good one day we
might become a bit too satisfied with ourselves and think that we don't
have to work so hard the next day. R. Hirsch says that the ashes of the
sacrifices represent our actions of the previous day and are removed so
that a person will begin his mission as if from scratch every day.
Thus, even if a person "slipped up" the day before, as long as he did
Teshuvah he begins each day with a "new" slate. At the same time, a
person should not be satisfied with what he did yesterday and thus slack
off today. Despite what he may have already achieved, he must view each
day as a clean slate and thus be ready to work harder and go higher than
he did before.

Shabbat Shalom and Purim Sameach,
Shprintza Herskovits