This week’s Torah portion is “Tzav” (Leviticus 6:1–8:36), and it continues with the details of the sacrificial services and offerings in the Holy Temple.
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
One of the mitzvot (Torah commandments) that we read about in this week’s Torah portion is the “terumat hadeshen” which was the daily removal of ashes from the altar each morning before the new day’s offerings were brought. The ashes were then placed on the floor right next to the altar.
There are a number of interpretations to this ritual. One such explanation has it that the “terumat hadeshen” symbolizes the responsibility of the nation’s leaders not to shy away from dealing with “the dirty work” – difficulties and other unpleasant problems. In other words, although a Jewish lifestyle is by far the most enjoyable and meaningful lifestyle, there are sometimes “ashes” that need to be dealt with. Just as the priests would deal with the pile up of ashes on the altar, so too, one must deal with the pile up of “ashes” in life.
Just as the priests must regularly sweep the altar to keep it clean, so too, a leader must work to keep his people clean. Whether it be the leader of the nation,or the leader of a family, a leader must roll up his sleeves and get dirty sometimes.
In conjunction with the mitzvah of “terumat hadeshen” is the mitzvah of “aish tamid,” the requirement for a fire burning continuously on the altar.
The question is asked: Why is the mitzvah of “aish tamid” given alongside the mitzvah of “terumat hadeshen”? Is there a connection?
It is explained that the Torah is warning the priests to be careful, when cleaning the altar, not to accidentally extinguish the fire on the altar. It is very easy to put out a fire when moving and sweeping around it. The Torah therefore tells us at this time about “aish tamid” – the fire must never go out.
The permanent fire on the altar is symbolic of the Jewish people’s permanent charge to do mitzvot with a “fire” – with excitement, meaning, and sincerity. We must never allow our excitement to be diminished.
So putting both ideas together, we can take away the message that when dealing with “ashes,” whether at home, at work, or an a much larger scale, we must never let the “fire” die out. Even when we have bad days, we must not let it get in the way of the good days!
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