3 min read
One of the commandments in this week's Torah portion is to remove the ashes from the Altar. Certain parts of the sacrifices were burned and the ashes were removed by the priests every day before sunrise. This was the only part of the Temple service that was done on a "first come, first served" basis. All other elements of the service were apportioned out. But with the ashes, if you wanted a ticket, you had to get there early and wait in line.
One might think that for a minor and even demeaning task of removing the ashes - a janitor's job, almost - it was hard to find takers. There were many more glamorous jobs in the Temple: lighting the menorah, or burning the incense, for example.
However, the opposite was true. So many priests wanted to remove the ashes on a regular basis that they would race up the ramp of the altar in order to be first. Once, there were so many of them racing that one fell off the ramp and broke his leg.
In this generation, we usually judge a person by how high-flying his career is and by how much money he makes. A lawyer who makes lots of money by defending wife-beaters may garner more respect than one who is defending the wives for free. It's a bit of a convoluted value system. Defending criminals might make lots of money, but it doesn't make you a good person.
Of course, the true evaluation of a person should not be based on how much he makes, or whether people are impressed by what he is doing. The true worth of a person is to be found in his contribution to family, friends and society.
The priests understood that taking out the ashes, taking out God's rubbish, so to speak, was a great honor. Not because society said so, nor because it paid well. But because if God wants something done, by definition that means it's good. And to struggle to be good is what gives us value.
So if you have to compete, then do so in goodness, not honor or riches. If there is to be a race, let it be up the altar of our own Godliness. The priests raced to take out the rubbish - not because the act itself was meaningful, but because it was God who commanded it.
There is much in life that people value, yet is utterly meaningless. There is equally much in life that people do not value - that is very meaningful and good. Do not judge by wealth. Do not judge by what others think. Judge by what you honestly believe to be good. And do it, no matter how belittling and 'dishonorable' it might seem to others. In the end, that's what is truly worthy of praise.