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'This is law of the burnt offering… that stays on the fire all night until morning… The priest shall then… remove the ashes consumed by the fire, and place it next to the altar. He shall remove his garments and put on other garments. Then he shall remove the ashes to a pure place outside the camp' (6:2-4).
The opening of the Parasha is on the terumat hadeshen - the daily removal of the ashes produced from the burning of the previous night's offering on the main altar of the Tabernacle, and later the Temple. Rashi, based on Talmudic sources, brings the tradition that terumat hadeshen is the following. The priest scoops just one shovelful from the innermost ashes on the altar, and places it on the floor of the courtyard, east of the ramp to the top of the altar. Hirsch comments that by taking a portion from yesterday's service and placing at the side the altar before beginning today's service, the priest makes a national declaration that we will continue to serve G-d today as we served G-d yesterday.
In addition, the details of terumat hadeshen suggest the relationship of the past with the future. Despite the folk wisdom of 'sleep on in; tomorrow is another day' such is human nature that the mistakes of yesterday do not automatically bury their dead by next morning - however good a night's sleep.
As a symbol of this notion, the priest removes just one measure of ashes from the innermost part of the altar. It is where the heat is greatest, where the most has been consumed. That signifies the act of facing yesterday's shortcomings at their very heart. Once they have been looked at and taken heed of within the context of today's hopefully better agenda, they look less disturbing. They may even serve as pointers to 'do better' today and in the future.
Next, 'the priest removes his garments and put on other garments. Then he shall remove the ashes to a pure place outside the camp'. The ashes are yesterday's, but the clothes are different - they are today's. Once the core of yesterday's errors have been faced, and have been framed into today's more positive viewing, they may be disposed on - in a place that is pure - where the mistakes of yesterday are turned into the merits of today. They have been changed from unpleasant incidents to learning steps up the ladder of spiritual progress.
The emphasis is on the core of yesterday's ashes - from the very heart of the altar. This gives us a perspective of looking at shortcomings. For example if a person 'had a bad day' and caused distress to a dozen people by speaking to them inappropriately. One way of looking at it is twelve separate offences. Another - and more fundamental way is focusing on their common core - overtiredness, impatience, and loss of temper and sense of lack of proportion… It is that second approach that is symbolized by the terumat hadeshen - the removal of the 'core' of yesterday's 'shortcomings'.
As a postscript - many siddurim place this section of the Torah in the early part of the shacharit service… maybe as a daily reminder of this lesson...
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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