Parshat Tzav begins with the first daily job of the Kohanim. In describing how the Kohen should remove a handful of the ashes from the previous day’s Korbanot from the top of the Mizbeiach the Torah states, “VeHeirim Et HaDeshen,” “He shall separate the ash,” (VaYikra 6:3). As this is the first law set by Hashem for the Kohen, Chazal raise an obvious difficulty: why is the first job given to the Kohen such a seemingly trivial and unimportant one?
The Chovot HaLevavot suggests that a Kohen could become arrogant walking into the Beit HaMikdash with his nice garments and important jobs. Therefore, he must start the day with a modest job to humble himself. But just as the special man should not become haughty, so too the poor man must not be embarrassed by his lack of means. The Mishna (Bikkurim 3:8) describes that when people would bring Bikkurim to the Beit HaMikdash, the rich would carry their fruits in golden baskets while the poor would carry their fruits in woven reeds. The Kohen would return the baskets to the rich while he would take both the baskets and the fruits of the poor. Why would he make the poor even poorer? Clearly, the Kohen did not want to embarrass the poor by displaying the contrast between their unappealing fruits and the luscious fruits of the rich. So as not to embarrass the poor, the Kohen would not take out the fruits of the poor in public. This example illustrates that honor and maintaining dignity are of high importance and even outweigh monetary value.
Another question asked by Chazal addresses the process of the Kohen’s ash removal. Why would the Kohen remove just one handful of ashes from the Mizbeiach everyday when in the very next Pasuk, the Torah states that all of the remaining ashes would be removed to outside the camp? It makes sense for the Kohen to do “Hotzaat HaDeshen”, removal of the ashes from the camp, when the Mizbeiach is full so they could start the day’s work. Why, however, was it necessary to first do “Terumat HaDeshen,” removal of just one handful? Why not remove all the ashes together at one time?
Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch answers by explaining two fundamental ideas with regard to the performance of Mitzvot. Firstly, when people do Mitzvot, they might be excited initially, but eventually they become bored by their redundancy. When a Bar Mitzvah boy dons Tefillin for the first time, he always has a smile on his face, but after a few weeks the same Mitzvah starts to become tiresome. The fact that the Kohen was commanded to remove just one handful of ashes every day despite the fact that he seemed to be accomplishing nothing, teaches us the importance of continued enthusiasm about Mitzvot. If the Kohen could consistently passionately go about a Mitzvah which seemed to serve no purpose, we, too, must perform all Mitzvot eagerly, even ones which we come across on a regular basis. Additionally, all Mitzvot must be done with a certain level of consistency and routine. The Kohen’s repeated removal of the handful of ashes was a lesson in the importance of consistency when performing Mitzvot.
It seems that these two ideas of Rav Hirsch contradict each other. On the one hand, we need renewal and enthusiasm when carrying out Mitzvot, while on the other we need routine. However, Chazal explain that really both of these ideas are necessary in a Jew’s life. They explain each mitzvah needs to be done the same every day, but with special intensity that makes it our own.