Monday, March 23, 2015

"More Than Just Ashes When Your Dreams Come True" (Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia - 'Fire on the Mountain')

A few weeks ago, we had Shabbat dinner at a friends’ home. While we were there, our friends little boy (maybe 5 or 6) spilled something and began to cry. The little boy’s father tried to calm his son down, he tried to get him to stop crying. The little boy was hysterical, clearly he was crying about something more than just a spilled glass of water. The father continued to try to calm his son, reassure his son that “it’s no big deal, it’s just a little water.” Through his tears and gasping, the little boy whimpered and asked, who was going to clean it up if the nanny wasn’t there to clean it up? We all laughed and the father said that both he and the son could clean it up together. They did and everything returned to normal. On the walk back from dinner, our kids talked about the incident. We all agreed that on one level there was an innocence and humor about the little boy. However we also agreed that there was something disturbing about a child who had not yet learned to be responsible enough to clean up after himself.
This week’s Parsha is Tzav. It is also Shabbat HaGadol, the Shabbat that immediately precedes Chag HaPesach, the Passover Holyday.  Like last week’s Parsha, Parsha Tzav focuses upon Korbonot (offerings). While last week we read of God’s commanding Moshe to tell Aaron and his sons, this week we read of Moshe actually telling Aaron and his sons. This week we read about the actual sacrificing, the actual sprinkling, the actual burning and the actual donning of appropriate clothing. The Parshah concludes with instructions for Aaron and his sons to remain outside of the camp for seven days. These are the seven days required for spiritual and to some degree, physical preparation. The Priests must remain outside of the camp because they are in the process of purifying themselves for this extremely sacred and vital position, Kohen Gadol.
Besides Moshe, the Kohen Gadol was the most vital role within Israelite society. It was the Kohen Gadol that served as a vehicle for the common person to draw closer to God. When the common person or the king needed to atone, they would bring a sacrifice to God. However it was the Priest that had to check for blemishes. It was the priest that had to slaughter the animal in a very precise way. It was the priest that had to sprinkle the blood.  Later on it was the priest who became the “spiritual advisor” to the king. Unlike any other position, the priesthood was based upon lineage and was promised by God to Aaron for eternity (or as long as there was a Temple). Yet as important as this was for the welfare of B’nai Yisroel’s relationship to God, the Priest was eternally reminded of the importance of humility within a leader. V’hotzi et a Hadeshen el Michutz La’Machaneh el Makom Tahor-“and he shall bring the ashes to the outside of the camp, to pure place (Lev 6:4).” Here is arguably the most important position within the community and he has to shlep the ashes out of the Mishkan. What’s even more amazing is what the Talmudic tractate Yoma teaches. The Talmud explains that the priests were so anxious to take out the ashes that a lottery system had to be introduced to pacify all those who wanted this “honor”. Anyone could have been commanded to take out the ashes. Why the Kohanim (the Priests)? Like all other aspects of the sacrificial process, the priests’ sole concern was the Temple and everything about the Temple. No task was below the priest. No aspect of the Temple remained untouched or unaffected by the Priest. The Sefer HaChinuch, a thirteenth century work enumerating and explaining all 613 Mitzvot explains that Terumat HaDeshen is a positive commandment. The priest removes these ashes daily, and in doing so, he is enhancing the Mizbeach (the altar) and beautifying it to the best of his ability. Rashi adds that the priest would wear old clothes and nice his daily Priestly Vestments or his Holiday Vestments to do this type of menial work. All agree that the Kohen was never thought to be too important for such a lowly task.
So what can we learn from Parsha Tzav, and the Priest’s most menial of tasks? First we learn just how vital it is for leadership, of any kind, to roll of its shirtsleeves and do some of the dirty work. After all, if leadership is unwilling to “to get dirty” for a greater purpose, then the purpose is not so great. Also if the leadership is unwilling “to get dirty”, why should anyone else “get dirty”? Effective leadership is not only about convincing others to act; it is about one’s observance of the same rule. No matter how important we think we are, we always should be reminded to take out the ashes. We need humility in order to remind us of where we fit in, and who we are. Possessing this humility gives us credibility when dealing with anyone. Possessing this humility reminds us of how we should treat others as well as how we wish to be treated. As we make our final preparations for Pesach, as we rid our homes of chometz, as we cook, clean and make all the preparations for a festive and Kosher Pesach, we should be aware that we are not only preparing our homes, we are preparing ourselves. If we participate in the preparations, we appreciate the Pesach. If we participate in the preparations, we will invariably rid ourselves of our own chometz, our own arrogance. If we participate in the preparations, we remind ourselves that Judaism is about the individual fitting into something larger, the community, the Jewish people and our ancestors. Let us all remember that none of us are so important that we can’t throw out the trash or clean up after ourselves. Hopefully that little boy has learned to clean up his room for Pesach, and not rely upon the nanny or the maid.

Peace & Chag Kasher v’ Sameach,
Rav Yitz

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