Tsav: Sweeping out the ashes

The priest shall dress in linen raiment…and he shall pick up the ashes to which the fire has reduced the burnt offering on the altar and place them beside the altar. He shall then take off his vestments and put on other vestments and carry the ashes outside the camp to a pure place. (Vayikra 6:3-4).

Arising to the sunlight
bleary-eyed and weary
recalling yesterday’s despair.

Putting on today’s fresh robes
smoothing down the turbulence
wrought by battling shadows.

Combing out the tangles
matted in the frenzy
of last night’s restless dreams.

Rinsing out the bitterness
with cool translucent water
sluicing the corrosion away.

Reverently sweeping out
the ashes of last night’s offering:
suddenly fresh promise dawns.


Rabbi Tsvi HaCohen of Riminov points out that the word for ashes is deshen which, he teaches, is an acrostic for “davar shelo nechshav – something which is of little significance.” He says [we need] to raise up even the things which seem negligible and put them by the altar, and bring them to a place of holiness.
Rabbi Menachem HaBavli is quoted in Itturei Torah on Parashat Tsav, on the phrase, “and he shall pick up the ashes” as follows: “This is one of the 613 commandments, to raise up the ashes from the altar every day, to remove the charred remains of the burnt sacrifices. And there is, in this, a symbol and an instruction, that after the one who sinned has brought his offering before God and confessed over it, he is not to be reminded of his past sin, but we are enjoined to wipe out its traces and forget it.”
In his book, The Language of Truth, The Torah Commentary of the Sefat Emet, Rabbi Arthur Green quotes the Sefat Emet: “The commandment to remove the ashes hints that as we burn up the waste in our lives, we are uplifted each day, and then we are given new light. This redemptive process is with us every single day.”

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