A Taste of Torah in Honor of Shabbat
by Rabbi Avi Weiss
Shabbat Parshat Tzav Shabbat
8 Nisan 5758, April 4, 1998
Our parsha informs us that the priests' first task of the day was to remove the ashes from
the offering sacrificed the previous day. (Leviticus 6:3) Is there any significance
to this being the priests first order of business with
which to start the day?
Samson Raphael Hirsch suggests that this mandate serves as a constant reminder that
service of the new day is connected to the service of the previous day. After all, it's
the ashes from the remains of yesterday's sacrifice that had to be removed. In one
word: even as we move forward in time and deal with new situations and conditions it is
crucial to remember all that is being done is anchored in a past steeped with religious
significance and commitment.
Another theme comes to mind. Just as a small portion of every food grown in Israel must be
given to the priest (terumah), so the priest is responsible to remove the last remains of
the sacrificial service (terumat ha-deshen). Thus, the entire eating and sacrificial
experience is sanctified through a beginning or ending ritual. Terumah elevates the food
as we give its first portion to the priest; terumat ha-deshen elevates the sacrifice as
the kohen maintains contact even with the remains of the sacrificial parts. Not
coincidentally, the portion given to the priest and the ashes removed by the priest are
given similar names -- terumah and terumat ha-deshen -- as the word terumah comes from the
word ruum, to lift.
One last thought. The priest begins the day by removing the ashes to illustrate the
importance of his remaining involved with the mundane. Too often, those who rise to
important lofty positions, separate themselves from the people and withdraw from the
everyday menial tasks. The Torah, through the laws of terumat ha-deshen, insists it
shouldn't be this way.
A story reflects this point. A few years ago a husband and wife appeared before
Rabbi Gifter, Rosh Yeshiva of Tels, asking him to rule on a family dispute. The
husband, a member of Rabbi Gifter's kollel (an all day Torah learning program) felt that
as one who studied Torah it was beneath his dignity to take out the garbage. His
wife felt otherwise. Rabbi Gifter concluded that while the husband should in fact
help his wife he had no religio-legal obligation to remove the refuse.
The next morning, before the early services, the Rosh Yeshiva knocked at the door of the
Startled, the young man invited Rabbi Gifter in.
No, responded Rabbi Gifter, I've not come to socialize but to take out your garbage.
You may believe it's beneath your dignity, but it's not beneath mine.
And that may be the deepest message of terumat ha-deshen.
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