This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Tzav (5767)
This week’s section opens with an interesting ‘Holy- Temple’ commandment called Trumat HaDeshen; to remove the ashes of the previous day’s sacrifices from the Altar before beginning the next day’s service.
At first glance this is not so clear. First of all, what difference does it make if the altar is cleaned each day or not… and why make it a commandment. Why not just clean it whenever it's necessary.
But most important… what do we care what was done thousands of years ago in the Temple? And even when the Third Temple will be rebuilt by Moshiach, only the priests would do this work… what does it mean to us today?
Finally, in a few days will be the holiday of Passover: the Holiday of Freedom (Z'man Chay'ru'say'nu).
Is there any connection?
Here is a story to help us understand.
Over one Thousand years ago lived a great and Holy leader and teacher called Rabbi Saadia Gaon (Gaon means Torah Master). This Rabbi had many hundreds of pupils and all of them had a great thirst to learn. Even a casual movement or word from their revered teacher provided them a lesson for life.
Once two of his pupils happened to be walking in the mountains early one winter morning when they heard a strange noise on the other side of a hill, when they approached the top they saw, to their great surprise, their great master rolling in snow (an act of penitence not in practice today)! Later that day they asked the great Rav Saadia why he was repenting and heard the following explanation.
“Several months ago I decided that all the honor and attention I was receiving from everyone around me was interfering with my service of the Creator. G-d must be served with joy, and without complete humility, joy is impossible. So I decided that I would spend several months in a place where no one recognizes me.
"I put on simple garments and began my self-imposed exile, wandering from town to town. One night I was in a small inn run by an old Jew. He was a very kind and simple man, we spoke for a while before I went to sleep, and early the next morning, after I prayed ‘Shacharit’ (morning prayer), I bade him farewell and was again on my way.
"What I didn’t know was that several of my pupils had been searching for me, and several hours after I left the inn they appeared, hot on my trail. ‘Did you see Rabbi Saadia Gaon?’ they asked him, ‘We have reason to believe that he was here.’
"‘Saadia Gaon?’ replied the bewildered old Jew, ‘what would the great Rav Saadia be doing in a place like mine? Rav Saadia Gaon in my inn? No…I’m sure that you are very mistaken! There was no Rav Saadia Gaon here!‘
"But the young men explained to him how I look and why they were searching, when suddenly the old Jew held his head and began yelling: ‘Ooy! Rav Saadia, Rav Saadia was here! You were right!! Ooy, Ooy!’ and he ran outside, jumped into his wagon and began urging his horse to go as fast as possible in the direction that I took. After a short time when he caught up to me, he jumped from his carriage and fell at my feet moaning: ‘Please forgive me, Rav Saadia. Please forgive me, I didn’t know that it was you!’
"I made him stand up and brush himself off, and then said to him, ‘listen here, my friend, you treated me very well, you were very kind and hospitable. Why are you so sorry? You have nothing to apologize for.’
"‘No no, Rabbi’ he replied, ‘If I would have known who you are, that you are the great Rav Saadia, I would have treated you COMPLETELY differently!’
"Suddenly I realized that this man was teaching me a very important lesson in the service of G-d, and that the purpose of my exile was fulfilled. I thanked and blessed him and returned home.
"Now, every evening when I say the prayer before sleeping (called Kriat Shma al ha Mita) I go over in my mind how I served G-d the entire day. But when I think of that old innkeeper I say to myself ‘Oy! If I had known about HaShem in the beginning of the day what I know now, I would have treated Him COMPLETELY differently!’
"And that is why I was repenting this morning.”
This is the commandment of Trumat HaDeshen, to remove the ‘leftovers’ i.e. the unnecessary attitudes, thoughts, speech, actions, habits etc. we had yesterday in order to make today a little better.
And it is very meaningful to us today.
We are approaching the holiday of Pesach… called in our prayers "The Holiday of Freedom" Z'man Chay'ru'tainu.
But according to Chassidic teachings the purpose of this holiday is not just to remember what happened over 3,300 years ago.
Rather this holiday is a window into the infinite and an injection of new power and inspiration to constantly free ourselves (Tanya Chapt. 47) from the attitudes etc. that separate us from complete joy and selflessness in serving the Creator. That is true freedom!!
That is why we mention leaving Egypt in our prayers several times a day, every day; because it is a constant process; we constantly have to tap-in to this power.
And that is exactly what Rabbi Saadia Gaon was doing in our story. As holy and pure as he was … he realized that leaving one's limitations (the word for Egypt; "Mitzriam' also means narrowness) meant leaving even limitations of holiness.
As the mystical work 'The Zohar' teaches; that Moshiach will bring even Tzadikim; completely pure and righteous Jews, to do 'Teshuva' (return to G-d).
But it's not so easy. Indeed it was one of the main causes of the opposition of 'orthodox' Judaism to the Baal Shem Tov. Just as the Jews resisted leaving Egypt.
The Besh't taught that even 'Tzadikim' must do 'tshuva'… in order to leave their personal 'Egypts' now.
This is the true meaning of 'removing the ashes'… to remove all selfish traits and feelings and it is a commandment for each and every one of us at all times.
But we get this power from celebrating Pesach each year; eating the Matzot, drinking four cups of wine, telling about the miracles of the Exodus, and by learning the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and his pupils (called Chassidut… especially Chassidut Chabad) the rest of the year.
May this Pesach give us the power and courage to do all we can to desire, think, talk about and do all we can to bring...
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