A Dash of Ash

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Tzav
“A Dash of Ash”

Our portion begins by discussing the burnt offering. The verses say, "And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying: Command Aharon and his sons, saying: ‘This is the law of the elevation-offering: It is the Elevation-offering that stays "Al Mokda" (on the fire) on the Altar’" (Parshas Tzav, 6:1-2). Tradition tells us that the letter "mem" of the word "Mokda" (fire) is written smaller than the average "mem". This draws our attention to it. What is the reason for the small mem?

The Kotzker Rebbe (Reb Menachem Mendel Morgenstern of Kotzk, 1787-1859, Poland) teaches us that the "fire" on the Altar represents the passion we are supposed to have in the service of God. However, that fire need not be publicly displayed. The small mem hints to us that it suffices to keep that enthusiasm deep inside our hearts and souls.

Perhaps we could suggest another approach in understanding the meaning behind the small mem. The very next verse says, "He (the Kohen) must lift up and separate "hadeshen" (the ash) of what the fire consumed of the Elevation-offering on the Altar, and place it next to the Altar” (Parshas Tzav, 6:3).

Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Hakohen of Rimanov (1778-1846, Poland) teaches that ash is considered to be something of little or no importance. This is hinted to in the Torah's word for ash, "deshen." This word is spelled with three Hebrew letters: dalet, shin, and nun. These three letters form the acronym of the following three words, "Davar Shelo Nechshav" (something that is unimportant).

Nevertheless, we are being told to lift this ash up and place it next to the Altar. A very powerful lesson can be gleaned from this. We learn from here that even something which seems to be insignificant can be elevated and used for something so holy that it deserves to lie next to the Altar itself.

This brings us right back to the small letter mem. The small size of the letter represents seemingly small and insignificant things. Yet, it emphasizes "mokda," teaching us that we must serve God with a "fiery" passion even with what seems to be small and trivial because often we simply do not appreciate just how deep, vital, and central these minutiae really are.


This idea is reminiscent of a teaching in Pirkei Avos (chap. 2, "Rebbi Omer", Mishnah 1) where Rebbi says, “Be as scrupulous in performing a ‘minor’ mitzvah as in a ‘major’ one, for you do not know the reward given for the respective mitzvos.”

As a matter of fact, the way we treat every-day life supports this idea. Imagine that the prescription of our eyeglasses or contacts was just one number off. We would not be satisfied with our slightly blurred vision. We would complain and demand precision even though it was just one digit off.

Imagine that we were expecting an important e-mail from somebody but it never arrived. Imagine confronting that person and complaining about his tardiness. If he were to say, "I sent it to your address but I just left out the "dot" before the "com,” we would probably get angry at this person and tell him that you obviously have to put the "dot" in, because otherwise it will not go through. Obviously, even one small "dot" makes a big difference.

Imagine we went shopping and paid the cashier in full, minus just one nickel or just one-half shekel. The cashier would demand that the full sum be paid even though it is such a small amount.

We see from all of this human behavior of ours that small things do count! Our observance of Judaism should receive no less respect. Even what seems to be just a minor detail should be given the attention it deserves.

As we turn our attention to the upcoming holiday of Pesach, we find the same idea. For example, those of us who participate in Matzah baking soon realize the significance of just one second beyond the eighteen minutes (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 459:2). We also begin to see the ramifications of just one drop of extra water added to the dough.

One way to inculcate this lesson into our systems would be the following. Imagine that we set aside a half hour a day for Torah study. After we conclude the half hour, instead of closing the Sefer, let's spend just another five seconds looking at the next piece. It might seem irrelevant, but do the math yourself. If every second of Torah study is equivalent to all 613 Mitzvos, (See Shabbos, chap. 18, "Mifanin", pg. 127a), then we just performed 3,065 Mitzvos in just five seconds! Would anybody call that small? I don’t think so.

So, may we all be blessed to pay even more attention to the fine details of life, appreciating our family, friends, and Hashem even for the “small” things that we receive from them and thereby approach our service to God with unbridled enthusiasm which will ignite that spark in others as well.