Cash in the Ash

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Tzav
Cash in the 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" (Lv. 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?

Reb Menachem Mendel of Kotzk 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 (Lv. 6:3).

Rabbi Tzvi Hakohen from Rimanov 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. They are: 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, "Mokda", 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 (See Pirkei Avos, chap. 2, "Rebbi Omer", Mishnah 1, the opinion of Rebbi).

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

If we were expecting an important e-mail from somebody but it never arrived, we would confront the person. If he were to say, "I sent it to your address but I just left out the "dot" before the "com". We might angrily tell this person that you obviously have to put the "dot" in, because otherwise it will not go through, even though it's just a small "dot".

If we went shopping and paid the cashier in full, minus just one nickel or just one half shekel, we would be told that we must still pay the coin, even though it is such a small amount.

We see from 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.

It is so fitting that this lesson materializes on Shabbos Hagadol (The Great Sabbath). It has always bothered me; why is this Shabbos called "Gadol" (Great), isn't every Shabbos great? I think that one answer may be that this is precisely what this Shabbos comes to teach us. This is the Shabbos right before Pesach. By now, most of us have begun to prepare for this corner-stone holiday. In preparing for it, we begin to realize the magnitude of details.

For those of us who participate in Matzah baking, we are awakened to the significance of just one second beyond the eighteen minutes. We start to see the ramifications of just one drop of extra water.

For those of us cleaning our homes or cars for Passover, we start to feel the spiritual danger of just one crumb of leaven.

This is why the Shabbos that leads us into Pesach is called "Gadol". It is because, at this time of year, we begin to comprehend that everything is "great". The name of this Shabbos teaches us that every Shabbos is Gadol! Every Mitzvah is Gadol! Every word of Torah and prayer is Gadol! Every act of kindness is Gadol! Everything makes a huge difference!

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), than we just performed 3,065 Mitzvos in just five seconds! Did somebody call that small? I didn't think so.

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