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Shabbat Blog: A Torah of Kindness

Friday, March 18, 2022
Posted by: Rabbi Barry Gelman

וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר יְהֹוָ֖ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר׃ 

God spoke to Moses, saying:

צַ֤ו אֶֽת־אַהֲרֹן֙ וְאֶת־בָּנָ֣יו לֵאמֹ֔ר זֹ֥את תּוֹרַ֖ת הָעֹלָ֑ה הִ֣וא הָעֹלָ֡ה עַל֩ מוֹקְדָ֨הֿ*(בספרי תימן מוֹקְדָ֨הֿ במ״ם רגילה) עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֤חַ כּל־הַלַּ֙יְלָה֙ עַד־הַבֹּ֔קֶר וְאֵ֥שׁ הַמִּזְבֵּ֖חַ תּ֥וּקַד בּֽוֹ׃ 

Command Aaron and his sons thus: This is the ritual of the burnt offering: The burnt offering itself shall remain where it is burned upon the altar all night until morning, while the fire on the altar is kept going on it.

וְלָבַ֨שׁ הַכֹּהֵ֜ן מִדּ֣וֹ בַ֗ד וּמִֽכְנְסֵי־בַד֮ יִלְבַּ֣שׁ עַל־בְּשָׂרוֹ֒ וְהֵרִ֣ים אֶת־הַדֶּ֗שֶׁן אֲשֶׁ֨ר תֹּאכַ֥ל הָאֵ֛שׁ אֶת־הָעֹלָ֖ה עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֑חַ וְשָׂמ֕וֹ אֵ֖צֶל הַמִּזְבֵּֽחַ׃ 

The priest shall dress in linen raiment, with linen breeches next to his body; and he shall take up the ashes to which the fire has reduced the burnt offering on the altar and place them beside the altar.

These verses teach the Mitzvah of Terumat Hadeshen - the daily requirement to remove the ashes from the altar. 

Here is how this Mitzvah is formulated by the Sefer HaChinuch.

“That the priest remove the ashes each and every day from on the altar - and this is what is called the lifting of the ashes (trumat hadeshen), which was done every day - as it is stated (Leviticus 6:3), "And the priest shall dress in linen, etc. and he shall lift the ashes."

This particular service in the Temple is understood by some to serve a practical purpose as the  ashes have to be removed in order to be sure that the sacrifices brought on the altar burn properly. 

The Sefer Hachinuch offers a theological explanation when noting that the altar is cleaned “to aggrandize the honor of the [Temple] and to glorify it with all of our ability”. 

I would like to share a socio-religious interpretation of this Mitzvah developed by Rabbi Shmuel Bornsztain in his Shem Mishmuel. He notes that the ashes on the altar  lacking any “lifeforce” symbolize a person who has lost hope in achieving any spiritual success.

"רמז לאיש שכלתה ממנו כל חיות הקדושה"

Why do people feel disconnected? There are lots of reasons. Some have trouble believing in a God who seems to remain hidden. Some have been turned off by negative experiences / comments / judgment in a religious setting or by religious leaders. Others have experienced suffering and lost faith. For some reason, it has caused them to reject religious beliefs.

In the past two weeks I have had conversations with religious leaders from other faiths who are trying to formulate caring and compassionate responses to young people who reject religious observance. In some cases, this decision leads to physiological and mental health issues. This is a reality that crosses religious lines.

Back to the Shem Mishmuel. He rejects losing hope and declares that everyone can rediscover faith. 

"מכל מקום לא יאמר נואש, אלא יש זמנים מיוחדים לחסד שיש מקום להתקרב אפילו אנשים כאלה"

His solution is exquisite in that he ties it in with Chessed - Kindness. There are, he states, moments of kindness that can serve as doorways back to faith. He notes that the  ashes were removed in the morning, which represents kindness (maybe because it is light out). 

For me the message is clear. Torat Chessed - a Torah of kindness is the way to make religion and faith more attractive. A Torat Achzariyut - a Torah of cruelty / strictness / lacking compassion, is a sure fire way to chase people away from faith. 

Our tradition testifies to this in numerous places. 

For example:

אָמַר רַבִּי חָמָא בַּר פָּפָּא: כּל אָדָם שֶׁיֵּשׁ עָלָיו חֵן, בְּיָדוּעַ שֶׁהוּא יְרֵא שָׁמַיִם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״חֶסֶד ה׳ מֵעוֹלָם וְעַד עוֹלָם עַל יְרֵאָיו״

Rabbi Ḥama bar Pappa said: With regard to any person who has grace about him, it is certain that he is God-fearing, as it is stated: “But the kindness of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him.” When one sees that a certain individual is endowed with grace and kindness, one can be certain that he is a God-fearing person (Sukkah 49b)

Accordingly, Godliness is found among those who act with grace and kindness. I submit that those people are able to transmit their Godliness to others. 

The great philosopher and legal codifier, Maimonides made this point that the foundational element of Torah is kindness and that if we fail in that regard, we can actually “ruin” Torah.

הָא לָמַדְתָּ שֶׁאֵין מִשְׁפְּטֵי הַתּוֹרָה נְקָמָה בָּעוֹלָם אֶלָּא רַחֲמִים וְחֶסֶד וְשָׁלוֹם בָּעוֹלָם.

From this you may infer that the laws of the Torah are not meant to wreak vengeance upon the world, but to bestow on it mercy, kindliness, and peace

וְאִלּוּ הָאֶפִּיקוֹרוֹסִים שֶׁאוֹמְרִים שֶׁזֶּה חִלּוּל שַׁבָּת וְאָסוּר עֲלֵיהֶן הַכָּתוּב אוֹמֵר (יחזקאל כ כה) "גַּם אֲנִי נָתַתִּי לָהֶם חֻקִּים לֹא טוֹבִים וּמִשְׁפָּטִים לֹא יִחְיוּ בָּהֶם":

And it is written concerning those heretics that say that is desecrating the Shabbat (Ezek. 20:25), “I too have given them statutes that are not good and judgments that they will not live with.”

What we see here is remarkable. While Torah is mercy, kindness and peace, it can be (mis) used in ways that actually renders it “not good”

Perhaps Maimonides was referring to this when he wrote the above ruling.

והתורה כולה חסד, שנאמר (משלי לא, כו) ותורת חסד על לשונה…

…the Torah is entirely kindness, as it says (Proverbs 31:26) “Her mouth is full of wisdom, Her tongue with kindly teaching” (Pesikta Zutra, Ruth:4)

There are so many more sources along these lines, but I will share only one more that I think really highlights the point. In the following Halakha Maimonides lays out the procedures for conversion. Here is what he writes. 

וּמוֹדִיעִין אוֹתוֹ עִקְּרֵי הַדָּת שֶׁהוּא יִחוּד הַשֵּׁם וְאִסּוּר עַכּוּ''ם…וּמוֹדִיעִין אוֹתוֹ מִקְצָת מִצְוֹת קַלּוֹת וּמִקְצָת מִצְוֹת חֲמוּרוֹת... וּמוֹדִיעִין אוֹתוֹ עֲוֹן לֶקֶט שִׁכְחָה וּפֵאָה וּמַעֲשֵׂר שֵׁנִי. 

We inform him of the fundamentals of the faith, i.e., the unity of God and the prohibition against the worship of false deities…We inform him about some of the easy mitzvot and some of the more severe ones…We inform him of the transgression of [not leaving] leket, shichachah, pe'ah,and the second tithe…(Laws of Forbidden Relations 14:2)

HOw amazing. Before a person is accepted as a convert, they must be informed and they must accept the notion of kindness as manifested in the requirement to leave portions of one’s crops for the needy. 

The Shem Mishmuel concluses with this uplifting claim.

אפילו מי שהיה בשפל המדרגה עד מאד…בכוחם אז לשוב לתחיה...

"Even one who was in an extremely degraded spiritual state…it is within their power to return to [spiritual] life..

The way to faith is via a Toah of kindness that is taught with kindness and love. 

I want to close with one really important point. Even when Torah and religion are taught and presented with love and kindness, not everyone will be attracted to it. I know how heartbreaking this can be.  Yet, nevertheless, love and Kindness is still the approach we must take. This is not only a practical strategy as those who have left the fold may, with continued kindness, decide to re-enter. It is also the way of Torah to be understanding of circumstances and the fragile nature of life. 

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Gelman

Rabbi Barry Gelman is the Director of the Bobbi & Vic Samuels Center for Jewish Living and Learning (CJLL). Rabbi Gelman teaches a number of classes at the Evelyn Rubenstein JCC and is working on injecting Jewish content to existing programs as well as developing new programs to highlight the beauty and relevance of

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