In this week’s Parashah, Parashat Tzav, Hashem commands Moshe to explain to the Kohanim all of the different tasks that they need to do in the Mishkan. One of the included tasks is to clean off the ashes from the Mizbei’ach, as the Pasuk states, “VeHeirim Et HaDeshen Asher Tochal HaEish,” “And he shall raise the ashes which the fire consumed” (VaYikra 6:3). Rashi comments (ad loc.) that the Kohanim would shovel the ashes from the top of the interior of the Mizbei’ach and place them by the east side of the Mizbei’ach’s ramp.
This task seems rather unimportant, especially compared to all of the other jobs in the Mishkan. It seems that any person could have done this task; it is surely below the Kohanim’s stature. Rabeinu Bachya, though, learns an important lesson from this Pasuk. He explains that Hashem gave the Kohanim this task to humble them. They should not feel that they are so great or that they are better than everyone else. They must clean the ashes to keep their egos in check. Despite the fact that Terumat HaDeshen was a menial job, the Kohanim took this lesson to heart. They understood how special they were to be Hashem’s servants, taking even this task so seriously that each morning, the Kohanim would have to race to decide who got the “honor” of cleaning the ashes!
This lesson can apply to everyday life as well. When one has a profession, very often someone else may ask him or her to do something that may seem to be menial. These types of requests could actually be very helpful in our lives, as we need some ego checks every once in a while. They make us realize that we are not as great as we think we are and that we are not above anyone else. It is part of life to know one’s place, and these seemingly menial tasks help people grow into mature individuals.