Reading this week’s parashah, I was impressed by the importance of what seems to be a mundane activity even though it is necessary for an activity of seemingly greater importance is to be performed. First, consider the context, which begins with the command given by HaShem, through Moses to Aaron and his descendants,
“This is the Torah of the burnt offering. The burnt offering shall remain on the hearth atop the altar all night until the morning, while the fire of the altar is kept burning on it. … The fire on the altar is to be kept burning on it—it must not go out. Each morning the kohen is to burn wood on it, laying the burnt offering in order upon it, and burning up as smoke the fat of the fellowship offerings. Fire is to be kept burning on the altar continually—it must not go out. (Leviticus 6:2, 4-5)
The proximity of the repetition of the command to keep the altar’s fire continually burning demonstrates its importance. However, the significance of the continually burning fire is not my focus this week. Instead, I focus on the handling of the ashes left over from the burnt offering.
The kohen is to put on his linen garment, with his linen undergarments on his body. He is to remove the fat ashes from where the fire has consumed the burnt offering on the altar and put them beside the altar. Then he is to take off his garments, put on other ones, and carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place. (Leviticus 6:3-4)
Anyone camping and using an open fire pit knows the need to remove the old ashes in the morning before beginning to prepare the morning’s breakfast. Granted, an open fire pit cannot be compared to the altar, but the need to remove the ashes can. A quick reading makes this activity seem a rather mundane, clean-up activity that would take place every day throughout the year. Once this priest’s job is done, another priest would then perform the necessary actions to offer the daily burnt offering. But consider this, the new burnt offering could not be offered until the old ashes had been removed, the daily ministrations were stalled until the clean-up had been accomplished.
In a world that places a premium on success, on moving up the societal ladder in a quest to reach the top, how often is the custodian or groundskeeper either overlooked or dismissed as insignificant because of the mundaneness of their jobs? How often have we experienced a slowdown or even shutdown of travel due to a baggage handler or refueler strike? More recently, during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, shelf stockers suddenly became essential employees. So often, these important workers who are overlooked would be desperately missed if they suddenly disappeared. Imagine if the Empire State Building or the New York Stock Exchange suddenly has no custodial staff. Years ago, while studying David’s mighty men, I discovered the importance of behind-the-scenes workers.
Next to him was Shammah, son of Agee the Hararite. Now the Philistines were assembled in formation where there was a plot of ground full of lentils, and the people fled from the Philistines. But he took his stand in the midst of the plot and defended it and struck down the Philistines—so ADONAI brought about a great victory. (2 Samuel 23:11-12)
Shammah, son of Agee the Hararite, is one of David’s three mighty men who fought against the Philistines (2 Samuel 23:8–12). Shammah, who only appears once in Scripture, receives the honor as one of David’s mighty men for valiantly guarding and defending a lentil field. Shammah illustrates that God does not overlook essential workers. Sha’ul uses a different illustration in his words to the Yeshua-followers in Corinth,
But now God has placed the parts—each one of them—in the body just as He desired. If they were all one part, where would the body be? But now there are many parts, yet one body. … those parts of the body that seem to be less important are indispensable. Those parts of the body that we think to be less honorable, we clothe with greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty; but our presentable parts have no such need. Rather God assembled the body, giving more honor to those who are lacking, so that there may be no division in the body but so that the parts may have the same care for one another. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer together. If one part is honored, all the parts rejoice together. (I Corinthians 12:18-20; 22-26)
In other words, whether seen or unseen, honorable or less honorable, all parts of the body are essential. We truly do need each other, regardless of our position in the body; whether senior pastor, rabbi, secretary, custodian, or a person sitting in the audience, we all have a part to play in working out the plans and purposes of HaShem. The key is two-sided, first, finding out and doing our part in the body, and second, allowing and encouraging others to find and be successful in doing their part.
All Scripture references are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.
Readings for this week are Torah: Leviticus 6:1-8:36 and 1 Peter 1:1-6 & 2:9