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Tzav. Fires of Renewal

The parsha opens with a peculiar Mitzva. It a simple daily Temple ritual called Terumat Hadeshen. Every morning, a priest ascends the altar to the burning pyre that sits on its top, and removes a small volume of ash. He then descends and carefully places the ash in a designated spot alongside the altar. The ash is then disposed of outside the camp. When the Torah instructs this symbolic action of disposal, it adds an additional note:

"Every morning the priest is to add firewood and arrange the burnt offering on the fire … The fire must be kept burning on the altar continuously; it must not go out.!" (Lev 6:5-6)

What is this Mitzva all about? Why the symbolic removal of the ash, each and every morning? And what is the insistence on keeping the fire going perpetually?

One further though resonates through my Pesah-focused state of mind: The deliberate removal of the ash from the altar reminded me of our removal and burning of our Hametz. Is there a connection?

Renewal: The Rebbe of Gur in his work, Sefat Emet, develops a personal, spiritual reading of this Temple ritual, applying this symbol to our religious lives. His first point relates to the need for renewal, constant growth and effort:

"the priest/kohein shall burn wood upon it every morning: ...We must seek out, each morning, new methods and ideas in order to clarify truth - That is the wood (to be added to the fire) each morning... there is an instruction to bring fire from a worldly source. For in the heart of every Jew, one may find a source of fire, a dimension of Torah within the Jewish soul. However, in order for that small spark, that focal point, to spread throughout the body, one needs methods, techniques, strategies. In addition, one needs genuine desire to annul all other aims in life let alone God's Will." (5637)

In the reading of the Sefat Emet, this law suggests a daily rekindling of our soul's energies. Whereas we do bear a certain innate spirituality, we must make daily efforts to channel our Judaism correctly, part of which relates to the eradication of harmful influence and attraction.

Which brings us to the Sefat Emet's second point, the ash and the burning:

Purging Evil : At first glance, Terumat Hadeshen is no more than the removal of ash from the altar, disposing of it outside the camp., in other words, waste removal! We don’t love taking out the garbage - it is a job that must be done, even if it is unpleasant - but why celebrate it? . This ritual is the first daily act of worship. It is called "Teruma" from the Hebrew root indicating raising, lifting, and elevation. Moreover, the ash is discarded in a “Makom Tahor” - a "pure place"! Is this an act of waste disposal or possibly a moment of purification?

"The Mitzva of raising the ash is because in accordance with the burning of the extraneous, the waste, the superfluous; One then discovers the holiness of Man." (5636)

"The Olah comes (to atone) for the thoughts of the mind; as the Zohar says: 'That is the Olah: the bad thoughts of a person that are burned on the Altar." … However, in the aftermath of the burning of the "yeast" (the evil inclination) one needs to raise the ash, because every descent is there to precipitate an ascent… by burning the evil, one reaches the good ... and hence the raising of the ash is the ultimate purpose of the Sacrifice." (5635)

The fire that burns all night sybolically represents the burning and purging of sin. After this burning comes a "raising." We need regularly to purge, to purify ourselves by the removal of the bad that we have within us. Indeed, this process is hard (and takes place at "night") but the aim is to arrive in the morning at a point in which we may be raised and may ascend to the Almighty. Sometimes we must recognise that we do indeed contain evil, negative strains, that must be burnt to allow our goodness to shine. After the cathartic process of the fire, we may approach God.

On Pesach too, we burn the Hametz - dough that has been left unguarded, unrestrained, to rise to a state of leaven. Maybe this symbolizes sides of our personality that have been left unguarded and unrefined. In contrast, we "guard" the Matzot, a symbol of God in our lives. Matza represents focus and control. After we burn and remove all leaven, we are ready to usher in the night of our Redemption.

So, please discuss:

  • Do you agree with the need for daily renewal? If renewal is daily, then doesn’t it become boring and routine? How can we remain real, fresh, always adding something new to the fire?

  • What can we do to renew our Judaism on a daily basis? (- a suggestion: daily learning refreshes our perspective and infuses new content into daily ritual.)

  • And if burning the Hametz is taking out the “bad”, then how does Pesah elevate us? Why and in what manner, after we have purged ourselves of leaven, does Pesah leave us in a “higher” place?

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and a Chag Kasher Vesameach!.

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