Humble Beginnings

How do you start your day? What is your morning ritual?  For some it’s brushing your teeth and the morning shower right away, for others it’s the first morning cup of coffee, and for many, it’s morning prayers.

This week’s Parsha, Tzav, begins with the first holy morning ritual in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem; namely, Terumat Hadeshen – The Removing the Ashes from the Altar, i.e. taking out the garbage…really?

Parshat Tzav introduces all of the holy offerings brought in the Temple: the Sin Offering, the Peace Offering, The Thanksgiving Offering etc…..  However, the first matter the Torah teaches is the commandment of a Kohen- Priest to perform Terumat Hadeshen – The Removal of the Ashes.

וְלָבַ֨שׁ הַכֹּהֵ֜ן מִדּ֣וֹ בַ֗ד וּמִֽכְנְסֵי־בַד֮ יִלְבַּ֣שׁ עַל־בְּשָׂרוֹ֒ וְהֵרִ֣ים אֶת־הַדֶּ֗שֶׁן אֲשֶׁ֨ר תֹּאכַ֥ל הָאֵ֛שׁ אֶת־הָעֹלָ֖ה עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֑חַ וְשָׂמ֕וֹ אֵ֖צֶל הַמִּזְבֵּֽחַ׃ 

The priest shall dress in linen raiment, with linen breeches next to his body; and he shall take up the ashes to which the fire has reduced the burnt offering on the altar and place them beside the altar.

Why should a member of the Kohanim, the Priestly Class, be instructed to remove the ashes from the altar? Was there no one else available and why did he have to wear priestly garments for the assignment? The Kohen is our messenger to G-d who performs holy services all day long in the Temple. Why should he start his day removing the ashes?

A 15th century commentary, Rabbi Yitzchak Karo explains that this job is specifically mandated to the holy Kohen to begin the daily Temple activities and start the day with humility. Therefore, the Kohen even arrives in priestly regalia to take down the ashes of the altar. In order to serve G-d properly, one must start with humility. 

As Passover begins week, this is a pertinent lesson to embrace. When leaving Egypt, all the Israelites were being chased by Pharaoh and the Egyptians. We were all humbled by the historic miracles G-d performed for our nation in preparation of starting anew on the other side of the Reed Sea. We all stood humbly under Mount Sinai when receiving the Torah. Humility is always the first on the list of prerequisites before greatness can be accomplished. Perhaps this is why the Israelites began as slaves in Egypt to provide humble beginnings.

As we prepare to recline and dine on Matzo, also called Poor and Humble man’s bread, let’s remember and appreciate our humble beginnings and the glory of our journey that developed since then.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,

Rabbi Epstein
Community Scholar in Residence