(Link to something written last year, if anyone is interested: http://gallery.
The book we will be completing this Shabbat IYH, is referred to in English as “Leviticus” – fittingly so, since the majority of the book is dedicated to the service of the Kohanim (descendants of Levi). The Hebrew name, however is “Vayikra” – which certainly is the first word of the book – but what does Hashem’s “call[ing]” have to do with the book as a whole?
Fast-forward to the end of Sefer Vayikra, to this week’s parsha of B’chukotai. In Perek 26, we read the frightening passages of the Tochacha, which details the terrible fate that will befall the Jewish people if we fail to observe the mitzvot and forsake our covenant with Hashem.
He translates the word here as “hostile”. There are other suggestions: The Targum reads it as “harden yourselves”, Rashbam as “refuse”, Ibn Ezra as “overconfident”, Rav Saadia as “rebellious”.
We can now see the bridge between the beginning and end of Sefer Vayikra: The difference between mikra and mikreh – between history as G-d’s purposeful call versus history as one random event after another with no underlying purpose or meaning – is, in the Hebrew language, almost imperceptible. The words sound and appear almost identical, with one small difference; the aleph. The letter aleph is almost inaudible, and its appearance in a Sefer Torah at the beginning of Vayikra (the “small aleph“) is almost invisible.
Hashem is telling us in the Tochacha that if you believe that history is chance, then it will become exactly that for you.The fact that the Jewish people have been able to survive and endure (and proliferate) for centuries, despite being such a small, vulnerable, persecuted people, without a sovereign land to call our own – rebuilding after the Holocaust, winning wars for control over (at least parts of) Eretz Yisrael – is a testament to Hashem’s Divine hand in this world. Jewish survival isn’t mere happenstance.
Hashem promises to remember his covenant with Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, and then says He will also remember the Land.
If we regard Eretz Yisrael as something special (an important point missed by the Meraglim, as we’ll read in a few weeks), and appreciate what we’ve been given to this point, and yearn for what we still hope to achieve, then we will be answering the call of vayikra, and not missing the point by thinking it’s all mikreh. It can be extremely difficult to believe after an attack, a barrage of missiles, soldiers being killed or captured, chas v’shalom, that it’s all for some purpose and part of Hashem’s plan. But if we stay the course, and are machshiv the land, machshiv the kedoshim
[Based on a shiur given by Rav Moshe Taragin]
On the first passuk in Parshat B’har, Rashi quotes the very famous question posed by Toras Kohanim:
Mai inyan Shmitta eitzel Har Sinai?
1. Loyalty and adherence over time to the specific rules that direct us toward a general idea or goal :
2. Challenge of delving into the laws of a mitzvah that arises quickly or infrequently:
3. Challenge of delving into the laws of mitzvot that are not immediately performable/
The Gemara in Keddushin says that 61 years passed from time Bnei Yisrael learned the laws of Shmitta until the time they observed their first Shmittta year. When Bnei Yisrael learned about Shmitta on Har Sinai, they thought they were immediately going into the land, but unfortunately the Meraglim episode delayed entry by 40 years. Nevertheless, they were still expected to maintain the same level of intensity and interest, not only in generalities of Shmitta concepts, but also on a granular level.
At Sinai, the Jews received all aspects of Torah, including those they would not utilize right away. Despite lacking immediate practical significance, these laws with deferred application, are a part of one complete Torah that was received at Har Sinai.
Finally, the Brisker Rov (Chiddushei HaGriz) explains that mastering the laws of Shmitta is extremely difficult. Its laws are intricate and, on the surface, boring to the casual reader. Ma’amad Har Sinai, by contrast, was full of excitement. The drama and flair of the receiving of the Torah can garner far more interest and demand for elaboration. The bright lights, the “kolos u’vrakim…v’kol shofar” of Ma’amad Har Sinai should be studied with the same care and excitement as the precision we place on Halachic matters. Although some sections of Torah may sometimes seem like high-level bullet points, and other sections like a detailed tax code, l’havdil, it is one Torah, and the excitement and intensity we put forth, should be uniform throughout our study of the Torah’s component parts.
[based on ma’amarim by Rav Shimshon Dovid Pincus ztl, in Tiferet Shimshon]
Vayikra Perek 23 in Parshat Emor, discusses the moadim, among them is of course the upcoming holiday of Shavuos.
Why is the holiday called “weeks”? Unlike Pesach and Sukkot, why is Shavuot named for what happens before the holiday?
The Sefer HaChinuch, mitzvah 306 on the Omer, writes that the Jewish people were born for Torah. We were taken out of Mitzrayim to receive the Torah. To paraphrase, we count the Omer to show our excitement that X many days have passed, and we are that much closer to Matan Torah, and when we are excited we count up.
This last part seems odd — usually when we’re excited we count down. When someone gets engaged, for example, he/she usually counts down the days to the wedding. What is it about Torah and receiving the Torah that makes us count up instead of down?
Rav Pincus explains based on B’reishit 29:20:
וַיַּעֲבֹד יַעֲקֹב בְּרָחֵל שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים וַיִּהְיוּ בְעֵינָיו כְּיָמִים אֲחָדִים בְּאַהֲבָתוֹ אֹתָהּ
And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her.
The 7 years that Yaakov had to wait to marry Rachel seemed like they went quickly in his eyes. How can we understand, that waiting 7 long years to marry his beloved Rachel, seemed like it flew by? That’s not how it usually works…
The answer is that each day Yaakov got closer to becoming the person he would need to be, so that he could be a husband to Rachel and progenitor of Am Yisrael. Each day of that 7 (eventual 14) year period, he had a new tefisah.
If, however, a man is given something productive to work on, and every day for 100 days, he is given $10,000, then the days will FLY by. Ultimately, the man receives the same $1 million dollars, but the experiences are drastically different. Why? Because in this second mashal, every day is another chance to work at something, accomplish and gain something in the process. Before he knows it, the man will have $1 million.This, l’havdil, is the purpose of the Omer, and why we count UP, which may seem counterintuitive, given our excitement to get to the end. We’re eager for the end, but we’re not rushing there, because there is so much personal work we need to accomplish before we get there. Each day of the Omer is supposed to be used as a chance to prepare ourselves to receive the Torah on the 50th day; each day is meant to be used for work, preparation and growth. With each count, we are supposed to prepare ourselves to be koneh torah in another way. Whether that means learning more, working on middos to be a bigger kli for Torah, learning Pirkei Avos during the Omer, etc. The days are not obstacles standing in the way of the big Torah payday at the end; each one is a special, integral opportunity to prepare ourselves. Each day is another “$10,000”, and the final result is worth far more than $1 million.
If we look at Yitzchak’s role, we can understand the connection on another level: Yitzchak wasn’t the founder of monotheism, nor was he the father of the 12 tribes who really expanded nation. Yitzchak was the transition. He dug the same wells as Avraham. He stayed the course. He was given an idea and a new way of approaching the world and G-d, that he had to work on and bolster so that he could hand it off to Yaakov.
Finally, Rav Pincus ties in the significance of counting 49 days. As we know, Creation was 7 ‘days’. But after Creation, the world was simply a skeleton – an external framework. Nothing had been accomplished in the world other than its physical conception and existence.7 (i.e. Creation) multiplied by itself gives the world a certain depth, and this depth comes only from Torah. The world is not supposed to just be a picture, he explains. It is meant to be infused with action and righteousness, and that is what Torah brought to the world.
In the days leading up to Shavuot, we are supposed to fill ourselves with meaning and purpose. If I may humbly continue this thought – we are not supposed to be content simply “being free” after Pesach. On Pesach we were granted freedom; our bodies were given back to us, so to speak. But that can’t be the end of the story. As the Sefer HaChinuch writes, we were taken out of Mitzrayim for the purpose of receiving the Torah. On Pesach we were re-created, and stood in a similar fashion to Adam HaRishon after Creation, with merely the physical attributes of a human being. Between Pesach and Shavuot we are supposed to fill that vehicle and shape ourselves into something meaningful and worthy of receiving the greatest gift in the world.We are not supposed to just be satisfied, admiring a “picture” of ourselves, rather build ourselves into something substantial.
Sheva shabbatot temmimot t’hiyena (
— the idea being that we are supposed to use these days to build ourselves into something complete/shaleim/”tamim”, and be properly prepared to receive the Torah.
Shabbat Shalom, and a meaningful counting of the Omer
Rav Yosef Nechemia Kornitzer connects this passuk at the beginning of the the Parsha to the famous Mishna in Avos 3:1. In the Mishna, Akavya ben Mahalal’el states that if we look at 3 things then we will not come to sin: “Know where you came from, where you are going, and in front of whom you will stand in judgment.”
So looking at the questions in a more positive light:
U’le’an ata holech / Where are you going? A Jew is supposed to live a certain way and hopefully earn Olam HaBa. We believe this world is a pruzdor/hallway to the next world.The middle part of the pasuk is about Shabbos. Shabbos is referred to as me’in olam haba – a taste of the World to Come. All week we look forward to Shabbos. The question of ‘where are we going,’ can be answered that every new week we are going into Shabbos, and by doing so we are achieving a piece of Olam haba b’olam hazeh, and will B’ezrat Hashem merit the full Olam HaBa after 120 years. Shabbos must be observed to its fullest, and by keeping Shabbos we: (A) benefit from its incredible sweetness in this world and is a reminder of the sweetness that lies ahead for us in Olam HaBa, and (B) we help ourselves earn that very Olam HaBa.
אִישׁ אִמּוֹ וְאָבִיו תִּירָאוּ וְאֶת שַׁבְּתֹתַי תִּשְׁמֹרוּ אֲנִי ה’ אֱ-לֹקיכֶם
[Based on a dvar torah written by R’ David Silverberg on the VBM]
Parshat Acharei-Mot introduces the obligation of kisui ha-dam – covering the blood that spills out of birds or non-domesticated animals, when slaughtering them for consumption:
“And if any Israelite…who hunts down an animal or a bird that may be eaten, he shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth” (17:13).
A few approaches and explanations offered, with regard to the practice of kisui ha-dam:
1. The Rambam, in his Moreh Nevuchim (3:46), consistent with his general approach to mitzvot as intended to negate the pagan practices and beliefs of the ancients, explains the obligation of kisui ha-dam on the basis of the blood rituals reportedly practiced by the ancient pagans. The pagans considered blood to be food of the spirits, and therefore some sects would collect the blood of a slaughtered animal in a receptacle and eat the animal’s meat while sitting around the blood. By doing this, the pagans believed they were forging some sort of camaraderie with the “spirits,” because both the idolaters and the spirits would be feasting at the same time, on the animal and the animal’s blood, respectively.
The prevalence of this practice, according to the Rambam, gave rise to the Torah prohibition against eating blood, as well as to the prominent role of blood-sprinkling in the sacrificial process, which precluded the possibility of ritual gatherings around animal blood. The blood of birds and non-domesticated beasts, which, by and large, were not offered as sacrifices, had to be covered, so as to prevent ceremonial “spirit assemblies” near the site of spilt blood.
2. The Sefer Ha-chinukh (187) explains this obligation as aimed at preserving the refined character of the people. Should one grow accustomed to slaughtering animals and immediately proceed to partake of its meat as the blood remained exposed in a pool on the ground, he may develop a violent, heartless tendencies. Therefore, the Torah required covering the blood as a measure of self-respect and dignity.
In trying to connect this to the upcoming Pesach holiday and a nice idea for the Seder, I was reminded of an idea I heard from Rav Moshe Taragin –
The Korban Pesach was a blend of being a Korban for Hashem, as well as food for us to consume on the night of Yetziat Mitzrayim.
What is the significance of the blood of the lamb that was to be applied to the doorpost? The simple reading is that it was a sign for Hashem to identify the Jewish homes.
The Gemara in Psachim mentions another purpose, and says blood on the doorpost was zrikas hadam. According to the general laws of karbanot, since a lamb is a domesticated animal, its blood is not covered, rather it is elevated by being sprinkled on the Mizbeach. The Korban Pesach was the first korban of an entire nation, but we didn’t have a Mizbeach! How could there be a sacrifice with no Mizbeach?? He answers that the first Mizbeach was the doorposts — the home. So the home is a specifically a place for serving Hashem. We don’t only serve Hashem in a synagogue or Beis Medrash, rather we also serve Him with family in the home. Clearly, the home and the family unit (immediate and communal) are key elements of Leil HaSeder.
At the moment of the Jewish people becoming the Jewish nation, we highlight the importance of our difference from the animal kingdom – and the ideal of being controlled by our neshamot, rather than our physical, animalistic composition – and we elevate our homes into a Mikdash Me’at and a place ofavodas Hashem. In trying to mimic that first Seder night, we hopefully turn our own homes on Pesach (as a model for the rest of the year) into a place for family gathering, divrei torah, avodas Hashem andsimchas yomtov.
וצוה הכהן ולקח למטהר שתי צפרים חיות טהרות ועץ ארז ושני תולעת ואזב
The korban brought by one who speaks Lashon Hara is a unique one; a Metzora must bring, among other items, 2 birds to atone for his/her sin, however, only one of the birds is brought as a typical korban. The other bird is sent away in the field. No place else in the halachos of Kodshim is this sort of practice found (except something similar by the sei’ir l’azazel on Yom Kippur)
Rav Radinsky points out that in any action – good or bad – there are two critical elements:
Action and consequence. Often times, one can be a lot more significant than the other. For better or for worse…
In the case of Lashon Hara, there is a massive divide between the action and the consequence. The ma’aseh itself is nothing; speaking about someone else is a few moments of moving lips or typing on a keyboard. But the consequences/outcome can be devastating and permanent.
Once words are spoken we have no control over them. They are blasted out into the world and they can take on any form, go anywhere and be communicated to anyone.
The bird sent out into the field, represents the words that were spoken – words that we have no control over. The bird flies away and we don’t know where it will go; the same holds true for our damaging words.
There is a famous story about the Ben Ish Chai: A ba’al lashon hara came to him and said he wanted to do teshuva. The Ben Ish Chai replied, that if he wanted to do a tikkun of his actions, he should take a bag of feathers, scatter them in the wind, and then try to collect them all — ‘then you will have atoned for the Lashon Hara that you spoke’. Obviously this is impossible. The message is clear; it is lifelong mission to try and counteract the consequences of Lashon Hara. It is incredibly difficult to undue the effects of Lashon Hara. Atoning for the sin itself is fairly simple (just bring a bird as a korban), but to undo the outcome is impossible.
Based on an idea I saw by Rabbi Yochanan Zweig, I would like to humbly suggest another possibility regarding the purpose of the bird that is sent away. Rabbi Zweig notes that all human beings have positive and negative qualities, and when man speaks LH, he is focusing only on his victim’s negative qualities. Similarly, when one hears Lashon Hara, all the good qualities of the subject of the Lashon Hara, are eclipsed by the negative words being relayed. The speaker is essentially telling his listeners to ignore this person’s good qualities and instead focus on the person’s negative qualities. (Thus, as a midah k’neged midah, even one little patch of “infected” skin, renders the entire person a Metzora, who must leave the community until it is entirely gone. A tiny bit of negative has the devastating ability to ruin so much positive.) In this vein, perhaps the bird that is sent away represents the uncertainty or the lost potential for the victim of LH to be viewed in the future for his/her positive qualities. If Reuvein tells Shimon some juicy gossip about Levi, then Shimon’s view of Levi could be forever altered. Shimon may only know one thing about Levi, and it may be that one negative story he heard about him. Even if Shimon knows more than just that one bad thing Reuvein told him about Levi, he still may never look at Levi the same way.
The bird that is sent away in the field – likely never to return again – is that loss, suffered by the victim of the lashon hara, to be viewed by others in the future for his positive qualities. Undoubtedly, this person has good qualities, but they may never be visible to others, for the well has already been poisoned, so to speak. The perpetrator must acknowledge what he has set in motion. For had Reuvein not spoken LH about Levi, then Levi could have been known for his positive qualities. Instead, the speaker of LH chose to highlight his victim’s negative
יג: מי האיש החפץ חיים אהב ימים לראות טוב
יד: נצר לשונך מרע ושפתיך מדבר מרמה
טו: סור מרע ועשה טוב בקש שלום ורדפהו
13: Who is the man who desires life, and loves many days, that he may see good?
14: Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking guile.
15: Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.
One way of understanding the well-known psukim above, is that Dovid HaMelech is saying that the person who desires life must avoid speaking evil words about his fellow man. Speaking about other is tempting; avoiding doing so is a struggle experienced by the vast majority of human beings. But as difficult as avoiding speaking LH can be, it is still so much easier to not speak the LH in the first place, than trying to rectify it once the words have been spoken. When LH is spoken, then one must pursue and chase after shalom — the consequences of Lashon Hara are so destructive that it requires more than simple atonement; it also requires constant and active pursuit of peace and harmony.
The goal for how to interact with our fellow man, is to avoid a lifetime of “chasing feathers,” and instead use our time, and incredible gift of speech, to constantly be increasing shalom in the world.
The affliction of Tzara’at manifests itself in a number of different ways, one of which is referred to by the Torah as “Tzara’at noshenet,” or “old tzara’at.” (Vayikra 13:11). The skin becomes infected in the same manner as it does with standard Tzara’at, but in this case, a scab has begun forming within the infected area. The Torah declares such an infection as Tzara’at that had infected the skin earlier, and has since begun to slightly heal, thus accounting for the scab.
Based on a dvar torah written by R’ David Silverberg, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l teaches an important lesson from this manifestation of Tzara’at. Upon seeing the growth of new, restorative skin, the individual is led to believe that the infection does not constitute true Tzara’at. After all, the affected area has already begun healing. The Torah, however, tells us otherwise. For any amount of time as the infection has not completely healed, it cannot be dismissed; the individual is a metzora. Tzara’at noshenet symbolizes a situation in which we find “bright spots” or mitigating factors within our faults. We sometimes take a look at our actions and parts of our personalities and find negative qualities, but we are tempted to excuse these deficiencies as soon as we can identify some alleviating factor, justification, or even a positive byproduct of these shortcomings. The Torah teaches us that an infection remains an infection even when accompanied by some healthy skin. Faults are still faults, even if we can find some good associated therewith. The task, therefore, is to spend time working on ourselves, mining the root causes of any negative qualities that persist, and act in a way that is always purely intentioned and properly carried out.
Another interesting lesson learned from the laws of Tzara’at is found in Gemara Shabbos. Perek 13:45 in Tazria says:
וְהַצָּרוּעַ אֲשֶׁר-בּוֹ הַנֶּגַע בְּגָדָיו יִהְיוּ פְרֻמִים וְרֹאשׁוֹ יִהְיֶה פָרוּעַ וְעַל-שָׂפָם יַעְטֶה וְטָמֵא טָמֵא יִקְרָא
Gemara Shabbos 67a says:
וטמא טמא יקרא – צריך להודיע צערו לרבים ורבים יבקשו עליו רחמים
From the usage of “yikra”, the Gemara learns that when a person is afflicted with Tzara’at, the nation is to be made aware, and the people must subsequently pray for the afflicted individual.
Rav Shimshon Dovid Pincus references a concept in Gemara Brachos 12b (learned out from a passuk in Shmuel I):
כל שאפשר לו לבקש רחמים על חבירו ואינו מבקש – נקרא חוטא
Anyone who is able to ask for mercy for his friend, and does not ask, is called a ‘sinner’.
Being labeled a choteh/sinner is a rather serious thing. The importance of praying for a friend in need is underscored by the harsh outcome of not doing so. How interesting that specifically from the sin of lashon hara, which has the terrible potential to tear relationships and communities apart, chas v’shalom, we learn the requirement to pray for another; specifically an individual who committed the damaging act. We might think this is the last person who is deserving of collective prayer and concern, but in fact, it is just the opposite.
Given the enormity of the need to pray for the metzora, perhaps there is more than just one purpose for the collective prayer for this individual. The obvious reason to pray for the metzora so that he/she will be cured. Additionally, we pray not only for the “infection” of the skin to be physically cured, but also that the root cause of the lashon hara – jealousy, anger, insecurity, voyeurism, boredom, etc. – be cured as well. The cause of (and pervasiveness of) lashon hara, is obviously not isolated to this individual; everyone in the community is susceptible to fall victim to such pitfalls, and so the more we care about one another, the less likely we all are to speak ill of each other.
Furthermore, while the metzora must be taken outside the camp due to his/her transgression, ultimately our goal is not to exile a person indefinitely. There is a concept that every person in Klal Yisrael serves a special purpose, which only that individual capable of fulfilling. Despite the terrible sin of lashon hara that was committed, we pray for the person to be cured and rejoin the community, so that the community may once again be complete and benefit from all the positive qualities and value this person has to offer.
One final thought, going back to the beginning of the parsha which speaks about circumcising a baby boy on the eighth day from birth (Vayikra 12:3). I was tasked this week with trying to explain the merits of having a ritual circumcision to a Jewish co-worker of mine who is expecting his first child in a few months. Hopefully I was successful, but it reminded me of a story once read about Rav Chaim Berlin. Rav Chaim would often read Shir HaShirim on Chol HaMoed Pesach, and when he came to the 15th passuk in the first chapter, year after year, he would burst into tears. The verse reads:
He was once asked why that passuk caused such an intense response. In short, he said that when he was the rav in Moscow he was approached by a Jew to perform a circumcision for his son. This Jew had made a living selling Christian items, had zero affiliation with other Jews in Moscow, and could be killed if it was ever discovered that he was Jewish. Rav Chaim went to the home, which was filled with Christian relics and had no semblance of anything Jewish. A few days later, Rav Chaim asked that the father come see him to tell him how the child was doing. Rav Chaim asked the father why he was moser nefesh to perform a Bris Milah. The father broke down and said although he was no longer a practicing Jew, and that it seemed unlikely that his newborn son would ever be exposed to much Judaism, he at least had a chance to be connected to Judaism, because he grew up in a Jewish home. The father didn’t want to deprive his son of the opportunity to be a proper member of the community should the son decide to do so someday in the future.
Rav Chaim said that from this he understood the seemingly redundant wording in Shir HaShirim and how that connects to doves. Chazal explain the repetition of, “You are fair,” by saying that the first one refers to before we sin, and the second one refers to after we sin. What is the fairness/beauty after the sin? The answer is found in the next words, “Your eyes are as doves.” A dove, unlike other birds, will never fly so far away from her nest that she can’t navigate her way back. A Jew has this quality, that even when he sins and “flies” far from the Source (no matter how big/small the sin or how near/far he wanders), hopefully he is never too far to find his his way home, and hopefully when he does find his way back, (perhaps similar to the metzora who we are to pray for and whose return to the community we eagerly await) he is greeted with open arms.
|אָנֹכִי ה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ הַמַּעַלְךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם הַרְחֶב פִּיךָ וַאֲמַלְאֵהוּ
|I am the Lord your G-d, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.
[Based on various ideas found on Yeshivat Har Etzion’s VBM, and other sources. In writing this dvar torah, a number of lessons (perhaps more than usual) came to light that I wanted to remember for myself. As with anything I write and share through this medium, any and all mussar is purely for my own self.]
Parshat Tzav begins with the mitzvah of Terumas Ha’Deshen, the early-morning sweeping by the Kohen of the ashes that had amassed on the altar from the burning of the animals from the previous day’s sacrifices.
|ג וְלָבַשׁ הַכֹּהֵן מִדּוֹ בַד וּמִכְנְסֵי-בַד יִלְבַּשׁ עַל-בְּשָׂרוֹ וְהֵרִים אֶת-הַדֶּשֶׁן אֲשֶׁר תֹּאכַל הָאֵשׁ אֶת-הָעֹלָה עַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ וְשָׂמוֹ אֵצֶל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ
|3 And the priest shall put on his linen garment, and his linen breeches shall he put upon his flesh; and he shall take up the ashes where the fire had consumed the burnt-offering on the altar, and he shall put them beside the altar.
|ד וּפָשַׁט אֶת בְּגָדָיו וְלָבַשׁ בְּגָדִים אֲחֵרִים וְהוֹצִיא אֶת-הַדֶּשֶׁן אֶל מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה אֶל מָקוֹם טָהוֹר
|4 And he shall put off his garments, and put on other garments, and carry forth the ashes outside the camp unto a clean place.
Q1: What lessons can be learned from this practice of tidying up the Mizbeach?
Q2: Furthermore, Rashi notes that the word MIDO (3rd word in passuk 3, above) teaches us that the Kohen had to always wear garments that fit him properly; his clothes had to be properly measured to fit his proportions. What is the significance of this word/concept, and why is it being taught here, of all places?
1. To begin, the Sefer Ha-Chinuch offers perhaps the simplest approach, that the Terumas Ha’D-deshen serves a strictly aesthetic function. It is only appropriate that the altar, upon which offerings are brought to Hashem, should remain clean.
2. The Chovot Ha’Levavot suggests that it is meant to humble the Kohen as he begins his day of avoda. Understandably, a certain level of pride was associated with the holy service, an exclusive privilege of the Kohanim. As he begins his service in the morning, the ‘attending’ Kohen must perform what might appear as a demeaning task – clearing the Mizbeach of ashes – which would serve to remind the Kohen, that while he was performing sacred activities throughout the day, he is still flesh and blood – a man chosen to represent his fellow men. He serves Hashem, but he also serves the people’s interests, and has to clean up after himself, so to speak, thus reassuring the people that the Kohen was ‘one of them’.
3. Lessons of humility can also be learned from the specified garb required of the Kohen who was performing the Terumas Ha’Deshen . As noted above, the Torah decides to teach the halacha that the Kohen must wear properly fitted garments in this section of Terumas Ha’Deshen. As is often the case, the Torah introduces a law in a context where we would have least expected it to apply. At first glance, this essentially custodial work seems too undignified a task to obligate a Kohen to adhere to the same strict dress code as when he performs his other ritual services. Furthermore, the Kohen performed this ash sweeping in the early morning, when no other human was around to see him doing the sweeping; so if he’s sweeping ashes, in the early morning, when no one is looking, why not just wear an old pair of sweatpants? Why must he wear perfectly fitted clothing, and the same type of clothing he wears when he’s performing the ‘important’ service?
I think the lesson is twofold:
We must mold our perspective based upon our objective, unbiased understanding of the Torah’s instructions, rather than insisting upon our own predisposed value judgments. (This concept brings to mind one of the lessons learned from Moshe personally taking on the responsibility of digging up Yosef’s bones in Parshat B’shalach as Bnei Yisrael left Egypt – a seemingly menial, lowly task, which Moshe proudly embraced and regarded as a tremendous privilege.
4. Rav Meir Goldvicht suggests that removing ashes symbolizes the primary prerequisite to hashra’as Ha’Shechina – the resting of the divine presence among Bnei Yisrael, which is one of, if not the, most important function of the Mishkan. Practically speaking, removing ashes cleared space on the surface of the Mizbeach. Symbolically, in order for Hashem’s presence to reside among the Jewish people, we must clear and create space for the Shechina. Rav Goldvicht illustrates this point by drawing a fascinating analogy to human relationships, particularly marriage. Marriage means bringing somebody else into one’s life, which necessarily means making space for somebody else, and lowering one’s self-serving demands so that one can share his/her life with another person.
It is no coincidence that Chazal say that the Shechina resides in the home of a harmonious marriage. If the husband and wife have mastered the art of “making space,” of taking less for themselves, so that they can give more to the other, then they can also experience lives filled with and imbued with Hashem’s presence. Hashem ‘cannot’ enter our lives if we do not make space for Him – (speaking to myself alone) a timely lesson in this age of constant media bombardment and potential for distraction. If we don’t make time or carve out room for Hashem and His expectations (kovea itim la’torah, for example), then we can’t expect to feel a closeness with Him.
This is the meaning of the statement in Gemara Sanhedrin 7a: “When the love between my wife and I was strong, we were able to sleep on the blade of a sword.” In other words, neither of us took up space; each one giving space to the other… “but when our love was not strong, there was not enough room for us to lie together even in a bed of 60 amot.” The less territorial a person acts, the more influence he can have. The more space a person tries to take at the expense of his fellow, the smaller his influence.
Rav Goldvicht further suggests that this theme may underlie the famous Mishna in Pirkei Avos 5:5, that during the times of the Beis Hamikdash, “omdim tzefufim u’mishtachavim revachim” – the people in the Temple courtyard would “stand crowded but bow comfortably.” The plain meaning is that despite the crowded conditions in the Temple courtyard when the entire nation visited the Mikdash, when it came time to bow, everyone miraculously had plenty of room to comfortably bow on theground. Taking it one step further, Rav Goldvicht suggests, this miracle alludes to the theme of “making space.” When people crowd in the Temple, and they are prepared to confine themselves to a limited space in consideration of others, then “mishtachavim revachim” – everyone is able to serve Hashem properly. The more adept we become at insisting on less for ourselves, being mevateil our kavod, and offer more to others, the more meaningfully we can bring the Shechina into our lives.
5. Finally, I would like to suggest that the concept of clearing away remnants of korbanot/service to Hashem, is a lesson in derech eretz regarding religious worship. We are absolutely supposed to immerse ourselves in avodas Hashem, but that is no excuse to behave in such a manner that would inappropriately infringe on others. We shouldn’t be ashamed of our religious practice, but we also shouldn’t ignore basic etiquette that should be afforded to others. We need to strike a balance; to act as Torah-observant Jews, while also being me’urav im habriyot. The Kohen performed the Avodah, and the Kohen had to clean up the remnants from it; not someone else. Not a Levi or a Yisrael. The Kohen.As we practice our Judaism, it is our responsibility to do so in an orderly and appropriate fashion, thereby creating a Kiddush Hashem, and hopefully performing the given mitzvah in the fullest and most shaleim way possible.
|יא כָּל-הַמִּנְחָה אֲשֶׁר תַּקְרִיבוּ לַה’ לֹא תֵעָשֶׂה, חָמֵץ כִּי כָל שְׂאֹר וְכָל דְּבַשׁ, לֹא תַקְטִירוּ מִמֶּנּוּ אִשֶּׁה לַי-ה-וָ-ה
|11 No meal-offering, which you shall bring to the Lord, shall be made with leaven; for you shall make no leaven nor any honey, smoke as an offering made by fire unto the Lord.
|יב קָרְבַּן רֵאשִׁית תַּקְרִיבוּ אֹתָם לַה’ וְאֶל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ לֹא יַעֲלוּ לְרֵיחַ נִיחֹחַ
|12 As an offering of first-fruits you may bring them unto the Lord; but they shall not come up for a sweet savor on the altar.