Parshas Tzav - “Small” Actions Make Great People

By BJLife/Moishy Pruzansky

Posted on 03/22/18

Tzav begins by describing the first duty of the Kohen as he began the day’s services, known as “Removing of the Ashes” (Terumos Hadeshen) - removing a portion of the previous day’s ashes from the Altar (6:1-3).

Before giving this commandment, the Torah first reiterates the Kohen's obligation to put on his special and sacred clothing – an obligation already stated with regard to all of the Kohen's other services (Shemos 28: 40 – 43). Why was it necessary for the Torah to repeat this requirement with regard to the Removing of the Ashes?

Rabbi Aharon Kotler moved to America when it was almost entirely devoid of Torah and founded the yeshiva movement which has positively changed history. The far-reaching effects of R’ Aharon’s efforts are in some way responsible for almost every Jewish community in the USA today. R’ Aharon understood quite clearly how critical his mission was and he was very careful to utilize every moment of his life to accomplish this monumental feat.

Once, shortly after R’ Aharon left his home to an important session in yeshiva, he asked his driver to turn around and return home. His driver couldn’t imagine what he had forgotten that could possibly be so critical, but he immediately obeyed. When they arrived at R' Aharon Kotler's home, the driver offered to run inside to fetch whatever was forgotten, but R' Aharon insisted that he would go into the house personally. The curious driver followed to observe what was so important and was astonished to observe R' Aharon tell his wife, with a bright and warm smile, “Goodbye, and have a wonderful day,” and return to the car. He explained to his perplexed driver that every day he said goodbye to his wife before leaving. That day he had accidentally forgotten and he didn’t want to hurt his wife’s feelings. Only after expending the time to return home and personally say goodbye was he able to proceed to yeshiva (partnersintorah.org).

We sometimes adopt a mentality that only certain actions, like lulav and esrog or lighting shabbos candles, are especially holy mitzvos. On the other hand, necessary “menial" obligations that we may find ourselves busy with, similar to the Kohen's obligation to remove ashes from the Altar, are not especially sacred tasks, but rather, a chore that must be completed solely so we can move on to "more important" goals.

Our story with R' Aharon Kotler embodies how wrong this attitude is and teaches us that remembering to focus on the "small" duties in life is precisely what makes a great Jew. Indeed, R’ Aharon Lopiansky explains that in order to guard against this very attitude, the Torah goes out of its way to make it abundantly clear that all of the Kohen's duties were holy and elevated in nature. Even those tasks that an individual might consider lowly, like the removal of the ashes, which one may have felt was not a lofty mitzvah, but rather, an undignified yet necessary task to simply make room for more korbonos, could only be performed while wearing special vestments. This was intended to teach us a crucial lesson in Judaism: there is no such thing as a "menial" task when it comes to serving the Creator. Every single action of serving Hashem, no matter how "small" it seems, can be imbued with incredible holiness and, in essence, is worthy enough to be performed with special, sacred clothing *.

Living Inspired

The fact that the Torah repeats that even the “Removing of the Ashes” can only be performed while wearing special and sacred clothing teaches us that even the "smallest" actions that that are Hashem's Will, and every necessary detail required to facilitate those actions, are from the loftiest actions imaginable and should be fulfilled with pride. Hashem knows best precisely which tasks are necessary for each person to reach their personal greatness and every “chore” that He sends your way is specifically designed to do just that. From serving your family dinner, to carpool, to changing diapers, to grocery shopping, to having to spend 2 hours on the phone with a customer service representative - EVERY task that Hashem sends you, if completed correctly, has the highest level of holiness and brings you closer to true perfection.

There are no “menial” tasks in life. Anything and everything that you are faced with in life is sent directly from the Master Planner, Hashem Himself, and is never a waste of your time. Indeed, as R' Aharon Kotler demonstrated, properly valuing the "small” things that are required of you in life is exactly what makes an incredible Jew.


*- The “Removal Of The Ashes” (discussed in verses 1-3), which is the focus of our Dvar Torah, should not be confused with the “Taking Out Of The Ashes” (discussed in verse 4), which was an entirely different service. The “Taking Out Of The Ashes” was done only on occasion, when the pile of ashes had grown so large that the entire pile had to be removed. Because this process was sure to dirty the Kohen’s clothing, it was performed while wearing inferior clothing in order to not deliberately sully the Kohen’s clothing. In contrast, the “Removal Of The Ashes” (brought in verse 1-3), the focus of our Dvar Torah, is discussing the daily service of removing one shovel of ash from the Altar. The Torah required that this be done specifically with the very same sacred and special clothing worn by the Kohen throughout his other services, in order to teach us the lesson detailed in this week’s Dvar Torah (Rashi , Yoma 12b, “Haschakin”).