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Parashat Tzav - Shabbat Hagadol

One of the ideas that ties Parshat Tzav with Shabbat HaGadol is the yetzer hara (evil inclination).  In Parshat Tzav, we see the power of temptation, and to what extremes this temptation can reach.  But the message of Shabbat HaGadol tells us not to be disenheartened; the power to overcome the yetzer hara is in all of our hands.

The parsha begins with a message to Moshe to command (tzav) Aaron and his sons about the law of the Olah Sacrifice.  Rashi explains that the language of Tzav, to command, implies urgency.  He quotes Rabbi Shimon who explained that the urgency was a necessary feeling to convey, because Hashem was aware that Aaron might not really want to do the Mitzvah of the Olah sacrifice since it involved a loss of money.  This loss of money is explained to be the loss entailed by the Kohanim through their burning of the Sacrifice rather than eating it.

The homiletic parsha commentary, Lekach Tov, raises a point from Lev Eliyahu.  Why do we need to convey this sense of urgency to Aaron and his sons?  They were extremely righteous, and we would not even think of suspecting that they would not perform the Mitzvah of an Olah sacrifice because of the monetary issue.  What is the sense of urgency conveyed by "Tzav" needed for?

The answer lies in the Rabbinic dictum "Al Ta'amin B'atzmecha ad Yom Mot'cha" (Do not believe in yourself until the day you die.)  All of us, no matter what level of righteousness we have attained, are essentially in a constant struggle with the Yetzer hara.  Even Tzadikim of Aaron's caliber have trials.  The struggle with the Yetzer hara is different for every individual, so that everyone has a trial which presents a challenge.

It may be difficult for us to imagine why Aaron faced a challenge to perform the Mitzvah of the Olah, and needed an `urgent warning'.  However, the monetary loss was in some way a trial of Aaron by his Yetzer hara.  The power of the Evil Inclination is demonstrated here.  It allows every individual to be tested in any situation, with a test specifically suited to the individual.  Even Aaron could not escape easily.

The Yetzer hara has got your number. Escape might seem hopeless.  But the concept of Shabbat HaGadol inspires us.  In Lekach Tov, a Midrash is utilized to explain the idea of Shabbat HaGadol.  The Midrash explains that because of the power of Teshuvah (Repentance), the day is called Shabbat HaGadol.  Lekach Tov cites the Kometz Mincha who explains the connection between Teshuvah and Shabbat HaGadol.  He explains that the Redemption from Egypt was an event, not just of deliverance, but of revelation.  However, the Midrash in Shemot Raba explains that the Israelites were not really deserving of Revelation.  They were idol-worshippers as were the Egyptians.  The idol worship permeated their very essence.  It was not easily removed, but it had to be.  So Hashem told Moshe to tell the people "Mishchu, U'kchu.." (Pull back and take).  Hashem commanded the people to pull back from Avodah Zara (idolatry), and take a lamb, the very object of the Avodah Zara practiced in Egypt to sacrifice to Him.  And despite the degree that Egyptian idol worship was ingrained in their souls, the Jews listened.  On the tenth of Nissan, a Shabbat, the Children of Israel, in full view of their Egyptian neighbors, took sheep and designated them for slaughter.

With this act of Teshuva, from such an ingrained practice of Avodah Zara, the Jews made themselves worthy of receiving revelation.  So with themes of repentance, the Shabbat before Pesach is known as Shabbat HaGadol, perhaps alluding to the Great Shabbat, the "Shabbat Shabbaton" (Sabbath of Sabbaths) of Yom Kippur.   Interestingly enough, the events of Shabbat HaGadol occurred on the tenth of Nissan, while Yom Kippur falls on the Tenth of Tishrei.  Nissan and Tishrei are the most central months of the Jewish year.  And they both carry messages of Teshuva even when Teshuva doesn't appear possible.

So, we see that the Yetzer hara is constantly causing trial and tribulations in everyone.  No one, not even Aaron, can escape the struggle.  However, we can always reject it and emerge from the struggle victorious.  If the Israelites could return and overcome their evil inclinations, G-d willing we will be able to win our internal fights and be successful in our struggles.

In verse 3, the Torah writes "And the priest shall put on his linen garment, and his linen breeches shall be put on his flesh, and take up the ashes which the fire has consumed with the burnt offering on the altar, and he shall put them beside the altar".  The first law presented to the Kohanim is Parshat Tzav regards the idea of terumat hadeshen, taking up the ashes.  At the beginning of the Kohens day, he puts on his nice linen garments and clears the ashes left over from the day before.

The Kohen is further instructed in verse 4: "And he shall put off his garments and put on other garments and carry forth the ashes out of the camp to a clean place.  So now the Kohen needs to change out of the linen clothing he originally put on, into other clothing, in order to dispose of the ashes.  Several questions arise regarding the changing of the Kohen's clothes.  First, is changing the clothing part of the mitzvah?  Second, what are the other clothes that the Kohen puts on?  Finally, what is the underlying reason that the Kohen must change at all?

The Sefer HaChinuch understands the mitzvah to solely relate to the removal of the ashes, and not to the changing of the clothing.  Rashi further explains that the Kohen is not obligated to change his clothes, but rather should not get his ritual garment dirty while taking out the ashes.  He goes on to state that the garments that the Kohen should put on are inferior garments.  Torat Kohanim explains that these inferior garments are also ritual garments, special for the Kohen.

So far, the changing of the clothing seems to be simply a technical detail; it is done so that the Kohen should not get his clothes dirty.  If so, why is it necessary for the Torah to discuss this garment changing?  In regard to the clothing that the Kohen puts on at the beginning of the day (the superior or nicer set), Rabeinu Micha Ben Asher says that it is important for the Kohen to wear holy, special clothes, even for a somewhat more menial task like lifting up the ashes.  We learn from this that any ritual that we perform should be done in a respectable way, no matter how small or menial it may seem.

Rabbenu Bechaye Ibn Pekuda (In his self-titled sefer) comments on the inferior clothing that the Kohen changes into when he took out the ashes.  Rabbenu Bechaye is of the opinion that this was an act of humility.  When the Kohen did a more menial act outside of the Beit Hamikdash, as opposed to inside, he did not take the glory and adornment outside with him.  Rather, he dressed more humbly, like everybody else, so that his pride would recede.

Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch attributes another important idea to the Kohen's change of clothes.  He explains that the taking out of the ashes signifies the closing of the prior days service (because the ashes were indeed from the previous day).  Before one is able to start a new day of service fresh and eager, he must put the past behind him.  The past becomes unimportant, and all of one's energy is channelled into the present, and the tasks at hand.  The Kohen's inferior clothing for the cleaning out of the past - the removal of the ashes - symbolises the insignificance of the past.  Similarly, his changing back into the nicer set of clothes represents a new vigour with which the Kohen will start another day of service (to the backdrop of birds singing and sun shining, of course...)