In this week’s Parsha, we have a description of the seemingly menial task of “Terumat Hadeshen”: “The Kohen shall don his fitted linen tunic, and his michnasaim on his flesh; he shall raise the ashes which the fire will consume of the Olah-offering on the Mizbe’ach, and place it next to the Mizbe’ach” (Vayikra Chpt.6 Verses 3-4).
The Sefer Hachinuch explains the laws of this Mitzva: Lifting off the ashes was one of the tasks in the Temple service of the Kohanim. The clothing of the Kohen in which they would remove the ash was inferior to the garments in which other tasks were done: for it is stated, ‘Then he shall put off his garments and put on other garments’. Although this verse was stated about taking the ashes out of the camp, nevertheless, we can also learn from it regarding the lifting off of the ash. That is to say, that when the ash is removed from the mizbe’ach and lowered to the floor near the mizbe’ach, it is not fitting to do this work in those garments in which one serves. About this it was said, by way of analogy: In the clothing in which he has cooked a pot of food for his master, one should not pour a cup of wine for his master. The ash was lifted up every day at dawn. During festivals and Yom Kippur the act was done earlier. The Kohen was chosen by lottery. Having undergone, tevilah in the mikveh, he would don the clothing required, and sanctify his hands and feet. He would take a silver censer, and go to the head of the mizbe’ach, moving the burning embers aside. He would then gather the burnt embers, and place on the ground close to the mizbe’ach. >From here it would be taken outside of the machane.
Chovot Halevavot explains, that this Mitzva comes to reduce the inner pride of the Oved Hashem. That when serving the Creator we must do what ever is required of us. We do not serve Hashem for glory, and if what is required is the removing of the ashes from the altar, then so be it. In-fact, if we take this idea a stage further, we can say, that this avodah is the first of the day, in order to emphasize to us that in our service of Hashem we must be prepared to do the most menial of tasks in the same way, and with the same enthusiasm that we are prepared to do the most glorious of tasks. At dawn, we are immediately humbled, we are immediately reminded who is the Creator and who are the created.
The Chatam Sofer similarly states that the lifting of the ashes is the essence of the burnt offering, and indeed the essence of all offerings. Throughout our lives there is a constant battle going on, is man god, or is G-d G-d. If man is in the center, and all revolves around him, then there is essentially “no room” for Hashem. When man sees himself as ashes, then he is able to “make room” for Hashem. The day in the Mikdash can only begin, if we see ourselves for what we really are. It is an essential ingredient to the service of Hashem, without which we may indeed offer up all that is required of us, but this service of Hashem, is superficial to say the least.
The Sefat Emet explains, that the burnt offering comes to atone for bad thoughts. These thoughts are , as it were, burnt to ashes on the altar. Yet once the offering has been reduced to ashes, there is a need to lift up those ashes.
Every act of descending is only in order to ascend. The lifting up of the ashes is therefore the essence of the sacrifice, since it signifies the ascending person after having been purified of his sin.
Rav Hirsch comments quite beautifully: Before the fire of the new day was laid and lit, the Terumat Hadeshen had to be performed. This act does not belong to the preparation of the mizbe’ach for the new day, that preparation is done by the taking out of the deshen described in verse four, not by the lifting of the deshen from the altar described in verse three. Terumat Hadeshen should rather be considered as the final conclusion of the service of the preceding day. It is an avodah in itself, and may only be done by a Kohen in complete priestly vestments. This lifting of the ashes acts as a remembrance of the devotion represented by the sacrifices of the past day to G-d. It brings the message that today brings no new mission, it has only to carry-out, ever afresh, the mission that yesterday too was to accomplish. The very last Jewish grandchild stands there, before G-d, with the same mission of life that his first ancestors bore. Every day adds to all its predecessors in the whole passing of the centuries, his contribution to the solution of the task given to all generations of The House of Israel. The Jewish “Today” has to take its mission from the hand of its “Yesterday”. It is not hard to see the strong connection between the words of Rav Hirsch, and the Festival of Pesach that we will celebrate this week, Be’ezrat Hashem. On our day of independence, on the day that we came out of Egypt, the emphasis is on the education of our children. The aim is to connect yesterday with today, and today with tomorrow. Not by changing the laws (Heaven forbid), but by beginning each new day as if today we came out of Mitzrayim. Our Torah is eternal, it is direct from Hashem, yet we need to apply the same enthusiasm today as we did at Har Sinai, all those years ago.
Let me conclude with the wonderful words of Rav Yosef Nechemia Kornitzer: Rav Yosef points out that the ashes disturb the fire from burning, and they must therefore be removed from the mizbe’ach. As educators it is the job of the Kohanim to remove from the people anything or anyone who disturbs them from their avodat Hashem. If we are talking of inanimate objects, the educator must work hard to enhance the atmosphere in which his talmidim can learn. He must remove the ashes from the altar. Unfortunately, however, the distractions can also come from friends who have not yet found their direction in life. Instead of facing up to their issues, they choose to pull their fellow man down – they cannot seem to remain alight, so they try to put the fire out. The educator is faced with no choice but to remove the “ashes” from the “fire”. Yet he must not throw the ashes out, he must leave them by the side of the mizbe’ach, with a hope that he will succeed in rekindling their fire. It is only the destructive wicked one, who removes himself from the people that must be taken out of the camp. The connection with Pesach is once again obvious. We are commanded to educate all of our sons. Yet we are warned that although in essence the answer is the same answer, it must be given in very different ways. Each of our children needs to be educated according to their needs and their requirements.
I hope and pray, that we will meet later on this week, at the site of the Bet Mikdash.
Chag Kasher Vesameach.