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    Taking out the garbage – Tzav

    What a strange command!

    “The burnt offering shall remain on the altar all night until morning… The priest shall dress in linen raiment, with linen breeches next to his body; and he shall take the ashes to which the fire has reduced the burnt offering… He shall then take off his vestments, put on other vestments, and carry the ashes outside the camp.”

    That Aaron, the kohen gadol, who always had to keep away from defilement, should put on priestly vestments and then carry out the garbage – can anything be more incongruous?

    The commentators are exercised by this passage. They point out that other priests could have done this menial task. Or at least it could have been done in old clothes. Why must the garbage be removed by the high priest himself, clad in his robes of office?

    The Jerusalem Talmud says, “This is to teach you that rank does not count in the palace of the King.”

    Bachya ibn Pakuda says, “The Creator required him to take out the refuse regularly every day In order to humble him and remove conceit from his heart”.

    The lesson? Power tends to breed conceit; the powerful need to see that their position does not go to their heads.

    The Talmud points out that lay people bow four times during the Amidah; the high priest, at the end of each blessing; and the king, at both the beginning and end of every blessing. Rashi comments, “The greater you are, the more you need to humble yourself.”

    Bachya offers Ten Commandments of Humility (in Chapter 6 of his Chovot HaL’vavot, “Duties of the Heart”):

    • Know how great God is and what a privilege He gave by raising man above the beast.
    • Study the Torah and other books of wisdom to learn how to gain humility.
    • Be generous, patient and forgiving (bear insults if necessary, but do not insult others).
    • Be tolerant and charitable; speak well of others and forgive criticism.
    • Be consistent (be the same inside and outside).
    • Do not exaggerate your earthly deeds when seeking to enter the World to Come.
    • Do not be boastful and proud; praise God and not your own self.
    • Train yourself to master your desires; do not let them master you.
    • Do not condone evil or injustice; stand up for that which is right.
    • Do not talk too much; bow your head and avoid frivolity and the pastimes of the ignorant.

    If Aaron needed to be reminded not to become too high and mighty, how much more do the lesser people who in our day often occupy positions of power and eminence. (“Stand up, everybody, when I come into the room!” “Look, world, I’m the greatest!” “What a VIP I am; I am the first to acknowledge it!” “Don’t try to tell me I’m mortal; I’m too important for that!”)

    There may be something to be learnt from what Cecil B de Mille, who produced “The Ten Commandments”, did when he was angry with God; he said, “Look, God, I made you – and I can break you too!”

    In a democracy, we all have the right to say to leaders of any kind, “Look, leader (whatever your title is), we made you – and we can break you too!”

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