Gathering the Ashes

As we enter the week of Purim we are very aware that it is a time of “NaFochHu” , a time of dramatic overturn.”  as the days when the Jews rested from their enemies, and the month that was reversed for them from grief to joy and from mourning to a festive day-“( Esther 9:22) . Yet such a time also bespeaks of a difficult and painful time that precedes the reversal into days of joy and gladness. Such is the situation during this Purim which will fall just as the mourners for the Fogel family “stand up” to re-enter life. A life that is a mixture of spiritual fire together with the cold ashes of what was.

The Kohen’s service in the temple perhaps could shed light on this dilemma. In order to truly reach the highest heights one needs to be able to deal with  the dust and the ashes as well . Otherwise one becomes a disconnected floating leaf. For one does not also dwell in the mundane and the ordinary  one  becomes like a tree with shallow roots that cannot withstand the turbulence of our reality.

We read of the priest who after experiencing the uplifting experience of the olah experience must then tend to the ashes:

” He shall then take off his garments and put on other garments, and he shall take out the ashes to a pure  place outside the camp. (Exodus 6: 4)

The Olah or the burnt offering offered twice a day, is  the highest of the sacrifices. It was offered totally up to G-d. In all the other sacrifices part of the meat or the cakes were shared with somebody else, the priests or the people. Yet they were all meals that were shared with G-d. With the Olah there was no other benefit other than the bringing of it up to G-d. Yet after this uplifting experience, the priest needs to take off his special garments and take out the ashes.

First, the priest would remove a shovelful of ashes from the altar and place it on the east side of the ramp. This was called the “haramat hadeshen,” or the “lifting of the ashes,” and this work began the new day’s service in the Temple. Afterwards, the priest would change his priestly garments, and put on more regular clothing. Then he would remove the rest of the ashes to a pure and prepared place, outside of the camp.

Reb Simcha Bunim teaches that by so doing the kohen is reminded of his purpose in this world. He cannot ignore the mundane tasks   of this world in order to soar to celestial spheres. God did not put us on this earth to separate from the world but rather to elevate it. So being involved with the clearing, gathering and moving of the ashes was part of his spiritual work.

Reb Nachman of Breslev took it to another level. He said that that the ashes were all that was left of the fiery and passionate sacrifice to G-d.

“Never assume,” Reb Nachman said “that there is a finite lifespan on any of the information, faith, or holiness that you have gained in your studies and your spiritual journey. Even  if the inspiration  has dimmed or has burned out and turned into “ash,” those same  embers can be used to kindle a new round of inspired, and inspiring Torah study and growth . That is the reason that the pile of ashes that has grown on the Altar is treated with great respect. Instead of dumping it unceremoniously, we make sure to take it to a “ritually pure place.”

The Maggid of  Mezeritch was once asked by one of his students “how can I find the fervor and passion to soar to the greatest heights.” The Maggid reminded him of the ashes being cleared from the altar, and said if you want spiritual fire search the ashes (the afar…the dust), because when you realize that you too come from that earth and dust you will then find the wings to fly.

That is the true sign of holiness. The ability to gather the ashes and the embers and sanctify the mundane while at the same time be part of bringing the olah as an offering to HaShem.  The  Fogel family (H’yd) represented that type of holiness. They walked in the earth of this land, pioneering and building in the places Am Yisrael forgot. They travelled from Netzarim, through Ariel and unto the Yeshiva of Itamar. They gathered the dust and ashes of this land and then went up to heaven in a painful and ultimate Kiddush HaShem.

If only they all could have continued to be Mekadesh Shem Shamayim with their life’s activities and journey instead. Yet that was not to be. May this family who went up to the Heavenly throne room in kedushah have the ability to shake and implore at the throne of Heaven so that no other such sacrifices will ever have to be made again for the rebuilding of this people and their land. May it be so that the promise of Megilat Esther will be completely fulfilled in our times:

“on the day that the Jews’ enemies looked forward to ruling over them, it was reversed, and the Jews were victorious over their enemies ( Esther 9:1)

To listen to this week’s Torah Teaching Podcast:

This week’s topic: Tzav  (Leviticus 6:1-8:36) – What does the burnt offering and its ashes teach us about relationship with G-d?

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