Apr 06 2017 Dvar Torah

Rabbi Thomas Louchheim

Remove the Ashes

Much of Leviticus contains detailed descriptions of the sacrificial cult. This may seem anachronistic detail for the modern reader. Nevertheless, it was through these precise rituals that our ancestors felt the sacredness of the Wilderness Tabernacle and the Temple in Jerusalem. Through the rituals, the people felt more connected to their community and to their God. As we read about them today, we may also feel the same connection.

This week’s portion, Tzav, recounts that every morning, the priests were to take the ashes from the previous day's offerings and carefully remove them from the altar to make ready for the offerings of a new day.

“ …[Each morning] the priest shall then take off his vestments and remove the ashes of the burnt offerings consumed by the fire that are on the altar . . . He shall then take the ashes to a ritually clean place outside the camp. The fire of the altar shall be ignited with [the remaining coals] . . . so that there shall be a constant fire kept burning on the altar, without being extinguished” (6:3 - 6).

The coals that retain the fire are not removed, for they will ignite wood for the new day. The ashes left from the day before must be removed from the altar, to allow the fire to burn more cleanly.

Your heart is your inner altar. Your heart guides and directs your intentions and actions each and every day. All too often however, our hearts are smothered beneath yesterday's ashes. Sometimes the ashes of our misdeeds and mistakes accumulate in our thinking so that they threaten to extinguish the flame within us that seeks fresh expression. Like the ashes from spent fires of burnt offerings in the Temple choking the sacrificial altar, our attachment to old dramas, transgressions, and guilt clogs our capacity to bring renewed love and compassion into our lives.

This ancient and seemingly anachronistic ritual still has the spiritual power to completely make a change in our behavior; to no longer allow our negative past to influence our positive future. Every morning, we should seek to be released from the ashes from moments already lived to allow our inner flame to inspire our greater spiritual evolution. We need to remember that taking the weight of old resentments and guilt from our hearts needs to be done with care. Old dramas need to be honored but then released. When we release the ashes from our hearts, we can remember old pains without any longer carrying them as burdens. Each day we open ourselves to renewed illumination from our inner heart flame. Let us be able to say, “Freed from the weight of the past, I can . . . .”

Shabbat Shalom and my warmest wishes to you and your families for Passover next week.