Yesterday, we noted the debate between Rashi and the Ramban regarding the Torah’s requirement that the kohein change into lower-quality garments before bringing the ash that had collected on the altar outside the Beit Ha-mikdash (Vayikra 6:4). The Gemara (Yoma 23b) explains this requirement by way of an analogy to a king’s servant, who, after working in the kitchen preparing the king’s feast, will change his clothing before serving the king. It would be disrespectful to appear before the king with the clothing worn while preparing the food, which, presumably, was dirtied in the process. Likewise, the Gemara explains, it is inappropriate for a kohein to wear the same clothing worn while bringing out the ashes – which is likely soiled – while performing the other rituals in the Beit Ha-mikdash. For this reason, the Torah requires the kohein to change into lower-quality garments before bringing out the ashes. Surprisingly, however, Rashi writes that changing garments actually does not constitute a strict obligation. The Torah mentions the kohein’s changing his clothing merely as a matter of “derekh eretz” – proper etiquette – but not as a bona fide halakhic requirement. The Ramban questions Rashi’s view, noting that there is no indication in the verse that changing into lower-quality clothing is optional.
Maharam Shick (Taryag Mitzvot, 132) suggests a possible explanation for Rashi’s view. He writes that Rashi would likely concede that the kohein is strictly required to ensure that the garments he wears while performing the service in the Beit Ha-mikdash are clean. As such, he is strictly required not to allow his regular garments to become soiled. However, fundamentally, the kohein has the option of simply exercising care while removing the ashes to ensure that his regular priestly garments do not become dirtied. Rashi did not consider it a strict obligation for the kohein to change his clothing because he could, technically speaking, wear the clothing he wears while performing the other rituals, but with extra care. Nevertheless, Maharam Shick explains, it is preferred that the kohein wear lower-quality garments for hotza’at ha-deshen (removing the ashes) because of the concern of mar’it ha-ayin – that people will suspect him of carelessness. Since generally, dealing with ashes has the effect of soiling one’s clothing, people who see the kohein bringing the ashes from the Temple courtyard outside the Beit Ha-mikdash in his regular bigdei kehuna (priestly garments) might assume that the kohein is disrespecting his special garments. They will not likely imagine that he is exercising special care to keep his clothing clean, and will instead conclude that he simply does not show enough respect to the sacred garments. And it is only for this reason, Maharam Shick suggests, that the kohein is encouraged to wear different garments while performing the hotza’at ha-deshen. Hence, Rashi wrote that changing garments is not obligatory, as it is not strictly required as far as the procedure of the hotza’at ha-deshen is concerned. It is required merely as a matter of “derekh eretz” –to avoid suspicion, as people might otherwise wrongly assume that he is treating his sacred vestment disrespectfully.