Based on Parasha U’Likcha by Rabbi Moshe Grylak
Translated and Adapted by Braha Bender
Are there tasks that are simply beneath you? Certain chores that fall outside of your concept of what a man like yourself ought to be involved with? What about mitzvos? Are some mitzvos greater than others? Are some mitzvos beneath your dignity?
The Torah answers this question by example.
Picture the kohen (priest). Beyond being an exceptionally wise and righteous person, the ideal kohen was a wealthy, attractive man from a well-respected family. Garbed in noble robes made of rich fabrics and colours, he strode through courtyards accompanied by the robust, exquisite song of a choir of levi’im (levites). Miracles surrounded him. His role in the Beis HaMikdash (temple) served as a spiritual focal point for a nation of millions.
Was this man supposed to take out the garbage? (Do you take out the garbage?)
As a matter of fact, he did.
After offerings had been burnt throughout the night, ashes on the altar needed to be cleaned up in the morning. These ashes were called deshen. Cleaning the deshen had to be done in sacred garments, and carrying the deshen outside the camp was to be done in another set of sacred garments:
“The kohen shall don his fitted linen tunic, and he shall don linen breaches on his flesh; he shall separate the ash of what the fire consumed of the burnt-offering on the altar, and place it next to the altar. He shall remove his garments and don other garments, and he shall remove the ash to the outside of the camp, to a pure place.” (Leviticus 6:3-4)
Now, shouldn’t the deshen have been removed by some sort of hired Beis HaMikdash cleaning crew? To the contrary. Far from being beneath the dignity of the all-important kohen, removing the deshen was a holy act. Even the mitzvah of cleaning up the deshen, taking out the trash, had to be done in sacred clothing.
Most of us base our sense of dignity and propriety on our own personal preferences and tastes. Our so-called dignity is often self-serving. In contrast, the kohen based his sense of dignity and propriety on the preferences and tastes expressed by the commandments of the Almighty. His sense of dignity was linked Above. For the kohen, and for Jewish heroes throughout history, behaving with dignity has always been synonymous with following God’s Torah.
Are some mitzvos greater than others? Are there lesser mitzvos, mitzvos to be left to the more base, unimportant members of society? This hierarchal view is entirely incongruent with the Jewish outlook. In Jewish thought, there is no such thing as “base, unimportant members of society”. All Jews share a single, collective soul. There are different roles for different people, but all roles are critical to the functioning and success of the nation. All Jews are equally beloved in God’s eyes. Our worth and potential is infinite, no matter what our role or status in society may be.
Likewise, there are no greater or lesser mitzvos. Bringing critical national offerings to the soaring sounds of glorious Levite choruses and quietly taking out the trash were tasks performed by the same man. Great rabbis enlighten the masses from the lectern in synagogue and then go home to change diapers and do the dishes along with their wives. These things are not contradictory, or even of different levels of importance. A mitzvah is a mitzvah is a mitzvah. They are all sourced in the will of the Most High, their worth infinite and eternal.
The kohen changed clothes before taking out the deshen to show that yesterday’s service was behind him. His deshen-removal clothes were slightly less regal in order to remind the kohen that he must not rest on his laurels. Yesterday’s achievements were spectacular, but they are over and done. Today is where the focus, attention, and interest should lie. Today should not become a yawning facsimile of yesterday’s service. Every mitzvah, of infinite worth, a glowing spark of holiness lit in the present moment and burning for eternity, stands proudly on its own.