Coming Close

eternal flameMoshe Kempinski

Hashem’s commandment regarding the elevated offering speaks to the very essence of our inner souls’ yearning;

“This is the law of the burnt offering: That is the elevated offering which burns on the altar all night until morning, and the fire of the altar shall burn with it.”( Leviticus 6:2)

The Baal Shem Tov describes our soul’s yearning aspiring to be like that elevated offering. We inwardly aspire to reach upward into the heavens with the fire of the altar

In my youth I remember a song “BilVavi” that we would sing passionately around the Shabbat table. (The words were written by by R’ Elazar Azikri- author of Yedid Nefesh)

“In my heart a sanctuary I shall build, to the splendor of His honor, and in the sanctuary an altar I shall place, to the rays of His glory. And for an Eternal Flame I shall take me The fire of the Akei’dah( the fire at the binding of Yitzchak) And for a sacrifice I shall offer Him my soul, My one and only soul. “

Yet so much gets in the way. Our ego, our pains, our fears our doubts and most importantly our feelings of unworthiness;

Therefore, O you son of man, say unto the house of Israel: Thusly you speak, saying: Our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we pine away in them; how then can we live? (Ezekiel 33:10)

This is due to the fact that we are troubled by the thought expressed so dramatically by the prophet Isaiah;

But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear. (Isaiah 59:2)

Yet sin does not keep G-d away from man. Sin keeps man away from G-d. We lack the sense of empowerment to move forward. So Hashem waits patiently

And therefore will HaShem wait, so that He may be gracious unto you, and therefore will He be exalted, that He may have compassion upon you; for HaShem is a God of justice, happy are all they that wait for Him. (Isaiah 30:18)

One of the methods of empowerment that Hashem created in our spiritual world was the korbanot, the sacrifices with the word korban rooted in the word Karov or closeness. How do they achieve this?

The essence of korbanot that in addition to being a gift of the heart or a repayment of a spiritual vow also served to “cover” the sin. This covering occurs in much the same way as the essence of the day of Yom Kippur- the Day of Atonement “covers”(itzumo shel yom mechaper) ). Yet we need to understand how that “covering” occurs

Actually more importantly we need to understand who does this covering ,cover the sins from?

The instinctive answer is that we are attempting to hide or cover our sins from G-d. That cannot be true as King David declares in psalms

“For He knows the secrets of the heart. (Psalms 44:22)

In the book of Job we read

“I knew that You can do everything and no design is hidden from You.”(Job 42:2)

Actually G-d gives us the method to cover the sins from ourselves. It is only after they have been covered from our sight that we regain the determination to gather our strength and continue into the intense process of tahara, or cleansing.

For on this day it shall atone ( Yechaper) for you to cleanse ( LeTaher) you. Before HaShem, you shall be cleansed from all your sins .(Vayikra/ Leviticus 16:30).

First we need to experience the atonement or the covering that then allows for us to begin the process of repentance and cleansing.

Yet in the Torah portion of Tzav we encounter a primary step.

“And the kohen shall don his linen tunic, and he shall don his linen trousers on his flesh. And he shall lift out the ashes into which the fire has consumed the burnt offering upon the altar, and put them down next to the altar. 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 6:3-4)”

Why must we be told that first act of this ceremony of “coming close ” necessitates removing the ashes of a previous Korban ( sacrifice) by the priest.

Here was the Priest involved with the work of the Holy of Holies being asked to remove the refuse from the altar. All logic would have assumed that his high station of honor would have been desecrated by this menial labor.

Yet this service is critical.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch understands this to teach us that every day must begin anew. Reb Nachman teaches that even the ashes of the passion of the past still carry great holiness. Reb Simcha Bunim understands it to teach the importance of even the modest menial of jobs in the service of G0-d.

Yet there may be another lesson as well.

Our past are our roots. It helps define who we are and what we have become. Yet at times the past and its failures can become a prison as well. Who we were, can at times stymie us from becoming who we truly can be. The removal of the ashes is a deeper reminder and metaphor for being free to move on. To grow out of failures and see beyond disappointments. It may be a reminder that there are times we need to be empowered to break away from the “ashes” of the past in order to achieve greater and newer things.

That too is integral to the process of coming closer.

LeRefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved

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