Tzav – “Janitors Cleaning in Tuxedos”

“It is a known thing that a person must humble himself,” says the Rabbeinu Bachye in the introduction to the Torah portion of Tzav, “and make himself feel lowly before Hashem when standing before Him in prayer, when doing mitzvahs, or any other actions whether easy or hard which will glorify the Honored One Blessed Be He. One should not expect honor coming to himself rather he should acknowledge in himself that mortal flesh and blood are pitiable and one never really lives up to his own obligations in life. It is befitting to humble oneself in this sense as Avraham, our forefather did when he said (Genesis, chapter 18): ‘I am like dirt and dust,’ and King David said in Psalms chapter 15: ‘I am a shame in His eyes and ghastly.’”
With this introduction the Rabbeinu Bachye introduces the intention of the verse in this week’s Torah portion (Leviticus 6:3): “The Kohen shall don his fitted linen tunic, and he shall don linen breeches on his flesh; he shall separate the ash of what the fire consumed of the Elevation offering on the alter…” Rabbeinu Bachye says that “The Torah is informing us here that even the removal of ashes, which is a “lightweight” service of G-D, needs the priestly garments to be worn since the verse mention the linen tunic. It says ‘his fitted’ because it must be worn in its normal manner on his flesh with nothing in between, which is true by the pants as well. And if the pants are too short, not reaching his feet and he did any part of the Holy Service in the Holy Temple then the service is invalidated. Besides the tunic and pants the rest of the priestly garments must be worn as well for if the Torah mentions removing the ashes needs some of the priestly garments it is obvious that all four of the garments for a regular Kohen must be worn for this job and all eight of the priestly garments must be worn if the High Priest is removing the ashes. The Sifri concurs this fact by saying that the extra words in the verse ‘and he shall wear’ comes to include even wearing the turban and belt.” (Click here for Hebrew text)

Imagine the White House janitor, cleaning the toilets and throwing out the garbage while wearing a tuxedo! It sounds like a funny sight; yet this is, in essence, what the Kohen Gadol and other priests did in the Beis Hamikdash and Mishkan when removing the ashes of offerings from the alter. The reason being, as Rabbeinu Bachye points out in his introduction, is because if one truly realizes the awesomeness and majestic royalty of The King Of All King, Blessed Be He, then he will understand that anything done in His honor whether big or small must be done with the utmost respect and subjugation, which would warrant the most eloquent wardrobe being worn, out of pure reverence.

In a similar vein we find an interesting Medrish about Eisav (Breishis Rabba 65:16): “Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said, all my days I served my father but I did not serve him one in one hundredth of the way Esav served his father. When I served my father I would wear dirty clothes and when I would go outside I would change into clean clothes. But Esav would only serve his father in clothes of royalty for he used to say, ‘It is only honorable to serve my father in royal garments.’” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

If Eisav understood the degree to which he must respect his father, by serving him hand and foot while wearing his best clothes, and if the Torah says that the kohanim should wear the valuable priestly garments even while removing the ashes, then all the more so we should be careful to wear respectable clothing while engaging in lofty tasks, such as praying, saying blessings or doing other mitzvahs, particularly on Shabbos or Yom Tov and Purim too.


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