Excitement of Terumat HaDeshen

Tamid (1:2) | Yisrael Bankier | a year ago

Masechet Tamid discusses the daily activity in the Beit HaMikdash. We learn that the first job that was determined by lottery was the terumat ha'deshen, which involved removing some ash from major fire on the mizbeach.

Despite perhaps appearing mundane, we learnt in masechet Yoma that a lottery was needed due the dangerous consequences when it was left to heated competition. Why were the kohanim so passionate about this apparently mundane task?

The question is further strengthened considering how the Torah describes this mitzvah. The Torah introduces the mitzvah with the term "tzav". Rashi explains that the language of tzav is understood as being one of encouragement. R' Shimon adds that situations of chisaron kis (expense) especially require encouragement. Two questions arise from Rashi. One is that there appeared to be a disincentive in performing the mitzvah. This would be at odds with the enthusiasm described in our Mishayot. The second is what was the expense or loss incurred in performing the mitzvah.

The Chatam Sofer directs our attention to a later Mishnah that discussed the third lottery that decided which kohen would offer the ketoret (incense). The Mishnah explains that only kohanim that had never performed the task could take part in the lottery. The reason was that the performance brought with it the promise of wealth and prosperity. The Chatam Sofer explains that whoever won the first lottery, whoever perform terumat ha'deshen, would not be able to be part of any other lottery that day. Consequently the "loss" incurred by one that would perform the terumat ha'deshen was the inability to have a chance at offering the ketoret.

Let us however return to the first question -- how do we understand the excitement of performing terumat ha'deshen?

The Chatam Sofer explains that it is natural for anything that is performed daily to become routine and dull. It is for this reason that the Torah instructs one to tell the story of yetziyat miztrayim on the night of Pesach only and not from Rosh Chodesh two weeks prior to Pesach. That advice however is for children. For us, the expectation is different. We exclaim on a daily basis, "How fortunate are we... that we arise early and stay up late and recite Shema twice a day." He explains that the intention of the proclamation is that we a very fortunate that despite reciting Shema twice daily, we do so with "ve'ahavta" with a sense of love as if it was our first time performing the mitzvah.

The Chatam Sofer then turns his attention to the kohanim with a different reading of the pesukim that describe terumat ha'deshen. When the Torah introduces terumat ha'deshen explaining that "the fire of the Alter should remain aflame on it (bo)" the Chatam Sofer understands that bo refers to kohen and not the mizbeach. This refers to the kohen who acts with humility for his Creator and is willing to simply takes out the ashes as instructed. It is in that kohen that a heavenly fire burns and cannot be extinguished. The Torah adds that "the kohen shall kindle wood upon it every morning". The Chatam Sofer understands that this is referring to the kohen again. Despite the daily routine, more fuel is added to the fire that burns inside him.

We find that our original question is not a question at all. Honour or wealth are no more of a motivation for the humble kohan bursting with love for Hashem, than the simple tzav -- call from Hashem to fulfill his Will.

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