Photo Credit:
Rabbi Avi Weiss

Our parshah informs us that the priests’ first task of the day was to remove the ashes from the offering sacrificed the previous day (Leviticus 6:3). Is there any significance to this being the priests’ first order of business with which to start the day?

Samson Raphael Hirsch suggests that this mandate serves as a constant reminder that service of the new day is connected to the service of the previous day. After all, it was the ashes from the remains of yesterday’s sacrifice that had to be removed. In SHORT, even as we move forward in time and deal with new situations and conditions, it is crucial to remember that all that is being done is anchored in a past steeped with religious significance and commitment.


Another theme comes to mind. Just as a small portion of every food grown in Israel must be given to the priest (terumah), so is the priest responsible to remove the last remains of the sacrificial service (terumat hadeshen). Thus, the entire eating and sacrificial experience is sanctified through a beginning or ending ritual. Terumah elevates the food as we give its first portion to the priest; terumat hadeshen elevates the sacrifice as the kohen maintains contact even with the remains of the sacrificial parts. Not coincidentally, the portion given to the priest and the ashes removed by the priest are given similar names – terumah and terumat hadeshen – as the word terumah comes from the word ruum, to lift.

One last thought. The priest begins the day by removing the ashes to illustrate the importance of his remaining involved with the mundane. Too often, those who rise to important lofty positions separate themselves from the people and withdraw from everyday menial tasks. The Torah through the laws of terumat hadeshen insists it shouldn’t be this way.

A story reflects this point. A few years ago a husband and wife appeared before Rav Gifter, rosh yeshiva of Telz, asking him to rule on a family dispute. The husband, a member of Rabbi Gifter’s kollel, felt that as one who studied Torah it was beneath his dignity to take out the garbage. His wife felt otherwise. Rabbi Gifter concluded that while the husband should in fact help his wife, he had not religious/legal obligation to remove the refuse.

The next morning, before the early services, the rosh yeshiva knocked at the door of the young couple. Startled, the young man asked Rabbi Gifter in. No, responded Rabbi Gifter, I’ve not come to socialize but to take out your garbage. You may believe it’s beneath your dignity, but it’s not beneath mine.

And that may be the deepest message of terumat hadeshen.


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Rabbi Avi Weiss is founding president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and senior rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. His memoir of the Soviet Jewry movement, “Open Up the Iron Door,” was recently published by Toby Press.