The Torah portion of Tzav renders a detailed account of the Temple service. Nearly all the tasks associated with the Temple and its maintenance were performed by the descendants of the priestly family, the Kohanim. It would seem, then, that the majority of the information presented has little relevance to the average person, who is not of priestly lineage. However, all the Jewish people are, in truth, considered Kohanim, as the verse states: “And you shall be unto me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” Each detail of the Temple service is actually an instruction for us in how to conduct our lives and draw closer to the Divine.
One of the priestly services performed in the Holy Temple involved clearing the excess ashes which accumulated upon the altar. First, the priest would remove a shovelful of ashes from the interior of the altar and place it on the east of the ramp which led to the top of the altar. That would conclude the service of “haramas hadeshen,” or “lifting of the ashes,” which was the opening ritual of the new day’s service in the Temple. Afterwards, the priest would change out of his priestly garments, into other, less distinguished ones, and remove the rest of the ashes to the outside of the camp, to a pure place.
To address this question, Rashi offers an illustration: A servant would not wear the same clothes to cook a meal for his master as he would to pour him wine. When a servant is in his master’s presence, a greater degree of deportment and formality is expected of him. Similarly, the Torah wishes to draw a distinction between service performed in the Holy Temple, in direct proximity to the Divine presence, and service performed outside its boundaries, where G-d’s presence is not as manifest.
In keeping with Rashi’s illustration, it would seem more appropriate to have another kohen altogether perform the task of bringing the ashes to the outskirts of the camp. After all, in a royal household, wouldn’t cook and valet usually be two distinct positions filled by two separate individuals? The fact that the very same kohen performed both duties gives us an insight into the true meaning of Divine service.
Yet the true Divine servant knows how to master both these tasks. He can shift effortlessly between the distinguished service within the Holy Temple, where the divine presence is so palpably manifest, to the more mundane task of clearing the ashes, which involves removing oneself from the arena of holiness and entering the ordinary world. He can perform both with the same fervor, for he understands that both roles are equally important in the fulfillment of the Divine will. His personal drive for ego gratification takes a back seat to G-d’s desire for a dwelling place on Earth.
Yet as a true “priestly nation,” it is precisely these individuals whose company we should seek out and attempt to befriend. G-d relates to each of us in a reciprocal fashion. The more we are willing to “step down” on behalf of another person, the more G-d bends from His lofty dimension to interest Himself in our needs, as we will experience in the very near future, when G-d will personally lead each individual by the hand out of our personal exile, towards the complete Redemption.
Based on Likkutei Sichos, Shabbos Parshas Tzav, vol. 37, pp. 1-6. Essay by Chaya Shuchat.
. Yisro 19:6.
. Tzav 6,3-4.
. Rashi on Tzav 6:4.