Parshas Tzav/Shabbos HaGadol — Precious Preparations

This week’s alumni Dvar Torah is by Alex Zaloum

At the beginning of this week’s parsha, we read:

“The Kohen shall don his fitted linen Tunic, and he shall don linen Michnasaim on his flesh; he shall raise the ashes which the fire will consume of the olah-offering on the Altar, and place it next to the Altar. He shall remove his garments and he shall wear other garments, and he shall remove the ashes to the outside of the camp, to a pure place” (Shemos 6:3-4).

Rashi gives a parable for why the kohen is instructed to wear a different set of clothes to remove the ashes from the Temple: “…[G]arments in which he cooked a pot for his master he should not pour in them a cup of wine for his master…”

One difference between cooking a pot of food and pouring a cup of wine is that that former is typically not done in the presence of the master, while the latter typically is. This difference is clearly borne out, as in haramas hadeshen (raising the ashes) the ash was placed “by the Altar” and in hotza’as hadeshen (removing the ashes) the ash was “removed outside the camp in a pure place.”

Another difference is that whereas pouring wine is a service in and of itself, cooking is merely a preparation for serving the master. So too, whereas haramas hadeshen is a mitzvah itself, hotza’as hadeshen is merely to ensure the Altar is cleared for further use (as Rashi to 6:4 indicates: “this is not a daily duty, but the raising of the ashes is a daily duty”).

But there is a third distinction: typically the servant who cooks is not the same servant who pours the wine. In fact, according to the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer, these two tasks were indeed performed by separate kohanim (see Yoma 23b).

From Rashi’s commentary, however, it is clear that he holds that the same kohen performed both the raising and removing of the ashes. If Rashi had Talmudic precedence for an interpretation that would better fit his parable, why did he choose the interpretation that both tasks were performed by a single kohen?

Perhaps Rashi is implicitly teaching a lesson for us all (not just a lesson for kohanim, but for every Jew, as we read in parshas Yisro 19:6: “and you will be unto Me a nation of priests, and a holy people.”):

In our service of Hashem, much of our time is spent preparing: walking to shul, cooking for Shabbos, acquiring a lulav and esrog, etc. For us, there is an obvious spiritual advantage in the mitzvah itself compared to the preparatory acts that precede it, as when we do a mitzvah we connect directly with Hashem in a revealed way. But from Hashem’s perspective, the preparatory acts of a mitzvah and the mitzvah itself are equally important. As the preparation is a necessary component to the fulfillment of the mitzvah, they are both part of Hashem’s will.

Therefore, although the kohen must change clothes to ensure the priestly garb does not get filthy while removing the ashes, it is the same kohen who is worthy of performing the mitzvah of raising the ash to the side of the Altar as the one who is charged with the menial task of removing the ash from the Temple courtyard.

This is a timely lesson as we are prepare our homes (and ourselves) for Pesach.

Although technically the mitzvah to destroy chametz is only on the 14th of Nissan, if in the weeks prior to Pesach we do not take the time to make the proper preparations, then we will not be able to enter Pesach chametz-free.

So when we don our smocks to rid the house of chametz, we must know that although from our perspective the Seder is the moment of most evident spiritual connection, from Hashem’s point of view, sweeping behind the cabinet is just as precious as eating the afikomen.

May we all have much success in our Pesach preparations, and a kasher and freilichen Pesach!


Originally from Arlington, VA, Alex Zaloum (WBM 2016) graduated from Harvard College last spring and is currently pursuing semicha at the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, NJ.


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