SALT - Sunday, 4 Nissan 5780 - March 29, 2020


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  • Rav David Silverberg
            The Torah in the beginning of Parashat Tzav describes the two stages that were involved in the removal of the ashes that collected on the altar in the Beit Ha-mikdash.  The first, the terumat ha-deshen, was performed each morning by a kohein who would remove the ash from the altar and place it alongside the altar.  The second stage – hotza’at ha-deshen – was removing the ash outside the Beit Ha-mikdash.  The Torah writes that before the second stage, the kohein removes his garments, and wears “other garments.” 
            The Gemara in Masekhet Yoma (23b) cites two views as to the meaning of this phrase.  According to one view – which Rashi follows in his Torah commentary – the hotza’at ha-deshen, like other rituals in the Mikdash, required the priestly garments, but the garments worn for this particular ritual were of a lower quality than the standard bigdei kehuna (priestly vestments).  Rabbi Eliezer, however, reads this verse much differently, claiming that the word “acheirim” refers not to the kohein’s garments, but rather to the kohein himself.  In his view, this verse should be understood to mean that even “other” kohanim, who are not normally permitted to perform the rituals in the Beit Ha-mikdash, are permitted to conduct the hotza’at ha-deshen.  Namely, ba’alei mumkohanim with a physical defect that disqualifies them from functioning in the Temple – are nevertheless allowed to bring the ash outside the Mikdash.  The Ramban, in his Torah commentary, understands Rabbi Eliezer as disputing the majority opinion that bigdei kehuna are required for hotza’at ha-deshen, and maintaining that the kohein who brings out the ashes must change into his ordinary clothes.  The reason, quite simply, is because this job would likely result in soiling the kohein’s clothing, which would be disrespectful to the special priestly garments.  The Torah therefore required, according to the Ramban, that the kohein who brings out the ashes must first change into his personal clothing, out of respect for the bigdei kehuna.  The Ramban notes that this appears to be the straightforward reading of the verse.  (Tosafot Yeshanim in Masekhet Yoma understood Rabbi Eliezer’s view differently, claiming that Rabbi Eliezer agrees with the majority view that hotza’at ha-deshen is performed with bigdei kehuna, and their argument surrounds only the question of whether this ritual may be performed by ba’alei mum.)
            On the basis of Rabbi Eliezer’s position (as understood by the Ramban), the Klausenberger Rebbe suggested a novel explanation of the famous comment of Torat Kohanim, cited by Rashi (6:2), regarding the opening words of Parashat Tzav.  God introduced this section by instructing Moshe, “Command Aharon and his sons,” and Torat Kohanim explains this as referring to a special element of “zeiruz” (urging, or exhorting) that was necessary in presenting this mitzva, because extra “zeiruz” is needed “where there is a financial loss.”  Apparently, Torat Kohanim understood that the commands in this section entailed some sort of financial sacrifice on the part of the kohanim, and so God told Moshe to convey these commands to the kohanim with special emphasis.  Many writers endeavored to explain where in this set of commands the kohanim are called upon to make a financial sacrifice.  The Klausenberger Rebbe suggests that in light of Rabbi Eliezer’s view, the explanation might be that the kohanim would be reluctant to deal with the ashes of the altar in their own clothing, because of the risk of ruining them.  The financial sacrifice involved in this process is the soiling of the kohanim’s personal garments over the course of bringing out the ashes.  God therefore told Moshe to issue this command with special emphasis, to impress upon the kohanim the importance of this mitzva despite the potential risk of ruining their clothing.