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Nothing Mundane About It

Torah Thoughts on Parshas Shemini by Rabbi Ethan Katz

"לָבַשׁ הַכֹּהֵן מִדוֹ בַד וּמִכְנְסֵי בַד יִלְבַּשׁ עַל בְּשָׂרוֹ וְהֵרִים אֶת הַדֶשֶׁן אֲשֶׁר תֹּאכַל הָאֵשׁ אֶת הָעֹלָה עַל הַמִזְבֵּחַ וְשָׂמוֹ אֵצֶל הַמִזְבֵּחַ" וַיִקְרָא ו':ג'

“And the Kohen shall don his fitted linen tunic, and he shall don linen michnasayim on his flesh; and he shall raise the ashes which the fire will consume of the Olah-offering on the Mizbe’ach, and place it next to the Mizbe’ach.” Vayikra 6:3

The Torah tells us that the first task in the service in the Mikdash every day was to clear from the mizbe'ach a token amount of ashes from the previous day’s avodah. This was known as terumas hadeshen. The Kohanim all competed to receive a chance to perform this holy avodah (see Mishnah Yoma 2:1). When we analyze the verses and Rashi’s commentary of what the terumas hadeshen entailed, it appears that this task was a mere “clean-up” duty to begin the current day’s sacrificial proceedings. The chosen Kohen would dig into the inner coals, carefully removing them to the eastern side of the ramp up to the mizbe'ach. Why was this mitzvah so coveted? The reward for performing terumas hadeshen was the very fact that the Kohen who merited to do it thereby initiated the service for that entire day. Could this be the extent of it? There surely must be a deeper reason for this coveted mitzvah.

Rabbeinu Bachya explains that the Kohen was obligated to wear all of his holy bigdei k'hunah during the avodah of terumas hadeshen to counteract any feeling that this service was in any way insignificant. Rabbeinu Bachya teaches that the true beauty and worth of the mitzvah, and how we perform it, is also true for every mitzvah that a person may be inclined to feel is “light”, or beneath his concern. Every action on the mizbe'ach held extreme value, yet we were at risk of easily mistaking something with extraordinary significance as a “mundane” duty.

Pesach is a time that’s filled with the seemingly “mundane” errands. What may seem like limitless amounts of cleaning, cooking, and loads of technical preparations for the Seder, can quickly become rote and dry in our minds. However, when we are preparing for Seder night with our finest Yom Tov clothing or kittel, we recall this powerful message of the Kohen, who stepped up to do terumas hadeshen in his full attire. We should not confuse the inherent value of a mitzvah’s worth with the seemingly commonplace aspects of its preparation. Each step contains immeasurable value. The true impact and inspiration that comes from the Seder isn’t despite all the frantic preparations, it is a direct result of it. May we all merit to experience the beauty of the mitzvos of Pesach and the Seder night as much as the Kohanim valued the opportunity to do terumas hadeshen.


Rabbi Ethan Katz (FYHS 2008) learned in Yeshivas Toras Shraga in Jerusalem, then earned a degree in Accounting from Y.U. After marrying, they set out for Israel, where he learned in the Jerusalem Kollel, completing his Semichah under Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovits שליט"א. Since then, he has been involved in multiple kiruv roles, including campus kiruv in Atlanta, GA, & directing a Yeshiva for at-risk teens in Jerusalem. Rabbi Katz currently is Dir. of the Foundations Program & Dir. of Programming for Aish HaTorah in the Old City.

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