We are encouraged to engage in “divine service” — the job that God has reserved for us, whatever it may be.
Can archaic, seemingly mundane verses regarding cleaning the Temple be relevant to us today? Yes, and they teach us a most profound lesson for these trying times.
This week’s portion begins with the first service performed each morning in the Temple: the removal of the ashes from the altar.
Every evening, the remains of the previous day’s offerings were put on the altar to be consumed by the fire. In the morning, one shovel full of the resulting ashes was removed and placed in a pile next to the altar; when the pile got too big, the Kohen would take the excess ashes outside the Temple grounds.
Since the sacred garments of the Kohen would almost definitely get dirty while carrying the ashes, he would change beforehand into older, more worn priestly garments.
What’s fascinating about this procedure is that one would expect the Kohen to change into shmatas, old rags, to do the dirty work of taking out the ashes. Yet he would do it while wearing his holy garments, albeit older ones. Why?
The Kohen is teaching us a fundamental principle about Divine service and about life.
When one thinks about “Divine service,” what typically comes to mind is a pristine, holy picture, far removed from the mundane world.
Judaism teaches us the opposite. Divine service is not limited to a specific type of act; rather, it is defined by doing the job that God has reserved for us, whatever it may be. The Kohen, even when getting dirty while carrying ashes from the Temple, is doing a holy act of Divine service, which demands the wearing of his holy garments.
We are living in unusual times. Nearly the entire globe is on lockdown. Most of us are cooped up at home, feeling anxious, frustrated and isolated. “I don’t have time for this! I don’t have the patience and energy to deal with my spouse and kids all day! I don’t enjoy being by myself!” are common thoughts right now.
But this is the situation God has put us all in, and this is clearly what He wants from us right now. That makes the time we are cooped up in our homes holy. This paradigm shift in perspective takes us from a place of deep frustration to one of calm.
We aren’t meant to be somewhere else doing other things. We are meant to be at home, spending rare stress-free time with our loved ones and ourselves. It’s an opportunity that we simply never have. It’s a chance to focus and invest in ourselves, our marriages and our children.
The portion is teaching us that if we do what we are called to do at this time, if we do our best to create a positive and loving home energy during these unusual times, then it is truly a holy act, one that we and our family will fondly remember, forever.
Rabbi Noam Gross works as an educator for the Young Professional Division of Partners Detroit.