A SINGLE SCOOP
Like much of Parshat Tzav, the beginning of the portion is involved in the instructions to the Kohanim (priests) regarding their daily service in the Mishkan (Tabernacle).
Like much of Parshat Tzav, the beginning of the portion is involved in the instructions to the Kohanim (priests) regarding their daily service in the Mishkan (Tabernacle). The Torah appears to offer technical and practical advice on how to deal with the accumulation of ashes remaining on the altar from the offerings of the previous day: "[The priest] shall separate the ash of what the fire consumed of the elevation-offering on the altar, and place it next to the altar" (Leviticus 6:3). Since the ashes from the offerings will amass on the altar as each day passes, we need a method of clearing space to allow for the next day's services. Therefore, at first glance we would assume that the Torah is wisely recommending that we remove the ashes every morning.
Surprisingly, our sages understood this statement not as a requirement to clear the entire altar, but merely as an obligation to remove a single scoop of ashes every day and place it on the side of the altar. This nullifies the practical benefit of the separation since the rest of the ashes will remain on the altar until the accumulation makes further offerings impossible. Many commentators speculate about the significance of this obligatory separation which seems to have no practical benefit. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, the great 19th century commentator and leader of German Jewry, suggests that by taking a portion of yesterday's service and placing it on the side of the altar before continuing with today's service, the Kohen (priest) symbolizes a national declaration that today we will continue to serve Hashem as we did yesterday, according to the dictates of His will.
Rabbi Ze'ev Zechariah Breuer, a contemporary scholar in Israel and grandson of the above-mentioned Rabbi Hirsch, develops an alternate explanation along the same lines. This separation of the ashes begins the service in the Temple each day. When the Kohen reaches his place to start a new day of work, he stands before all of the remains from the previous days, piled high upon the altar. The ashes are symbolic of our past, complete with our many errors and mistakes. If it were possible for a person to begin every day fresh with a clean slate, without an accumulation of ashes, we would perceive the future to be free of any foreseeable failures, as if our mistakes in the past had never actually occurred.
The Torah, however, instructs us otherwise. The ashes of the past are still there. In fact, the expected future that life has in store for us cannot be accurately judged without our first reflecting upon the past. Every day, after waking up, our relationships with both our friends and Hashem remain the same as they were the night before. All of our relationships carry a certain amount of baggage and nothing eases that load over night. If we choose to ignore our problems from the past, then they will remain problems, obviating the relationship's continual growth. The Kohen therefore leaves most of the ashes on the altar.
However, we are certainly obligated to attempt to rectify matters and to correct our mistakes as much as we can. Just as we cannot sweep our problems under the carpet, so too we realize that our mistakes cannot be corrected all at once. We can, however, work on our faults, little by little. The lesson of the daily separation of the ashes is that when confronted with the buildup of remains from the past, we are expected to make corrections by removing a little ash everyday, gradually yet continuously.
This article has been an encore presentation from a previous volume of Torah from Dixie.
Micah Gimpel, a native Atlantan, is studying in an MBA program at Bar Ilan University in Israel.
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