Blog - Torah Insights

The New You

The New You

Each and every morning, the first order of the day in the holy temple, was for the Kohen (priest) to remove a small portion of the ashes from the altar, and place it on the floor just next to the altar. The verse states[1]:

And the Kohen shall don his linen tunic, and he shall don his linen trousers on his flesh. And he shall lift out the ashes into which the fire has consumed the burnt offering upon the altar, and put them down next to the altar.

This ritual, was not merely in order to tidy up the ashes left over from the fire burning all night; for if that was the case, the commandment would have been to remove more than just a symbolic amount of ash. In fact, after the priest would remove a small portion of the ashes, the other priests would place the remainder of the ashes in a large heap in the center of the alter[2].

What then is the significance of the lifting and removing of the ashes? Why is it so important as to be the first service performed in the temple, signifying that it is the first step of all, without which one cannot begin serving G-d?

Ashes are what is left over from the previous day’s service. Yesterday your service may have been perfect. Yesterday you may have actualized your G-d given potential. Yesterday you may have achieved all that you possibly could have achieved with the opportunities, talents and strengths that you were gifted with, and which you cultivated.

That was yesterday.

Yesterday you may have realized your potential, however, if you offer the identical service today, if you do not grow spiritually, if you don't become more loving, more compassionate, more patient, more thoughtful, more committed, then you are stuck in the past. The first step in serving G-d each morning, is the realization, that the ashes that represent "the old me" must be removed, in order to clear the way for "the new me", for "the me" that will actualize today's, even greater, potential.

That is why each night, the Chasidim of the Alter Rebbe, the founder of the Chabad movement, would tell themselves, "tomorrow will be totally different".  They did not say “a bit different” they said, “totally different”. They did not feel guilty for not realizing that day’s potential, because they did realize it, but rather they realized that the next day’s potential would be so much greater.

This message is the reason why remembering the exodus from Egypt is so central to Judaism.

Egypt in Hebrew is "Mitzrayim" which means constraints. You may be a great human being, but if today you are in the same spiritual space that you were in yesterday, you are in Egypt. The Torah therefore insists that we "remember the day you left Egypt all the days of your life". Each morning when you wake up, remember to remove the ashes. Do not limit yourself to the person you were yesterday.

Remember the exodus and break free.



[1] Leviticus 6:3 

[2] See Mishnah, Tractate Tamaid, chapter 2: "They then began to throw the ashes on to the heap. This heap was in the middle of the altar, and sometimes there was as much as three hundred kor on it.

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