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Shemot/Exodus 27:3 And you shall make its pots to remove its ashes
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We are now in the middle of the detailed instructions thatHaShem is giving Moshe for the building of the Tabernacle and all its furnishings and accoutrements. This text, in particular is about the main altar, the bronze altar, five cubits square (that's about 7' 6" square) and three cubits high (about 4' 6") that stood outside the Tabernacle itself in the courtyard. The altar is the 'it' in our text; part of the altar's equipment is pots to be used for removing the ash. The Hebrew text is very dense; just three words for the ten English words. , the Qal affix 2ms form of the root , to make or do, has a vav-reversive at its front, making the sense future: "and you shall make". There is no direct object indicator, but the object - what is to be made - follows immediately: , a noun derived from the root , here a feminine plural noun with a 3ms possessive pronoun suffix: its - referring to the altar - pots. Nahum Sarna tells us that these were "usually a large vessel with a wide mouth." These were to be made of copper, or perhaps brass, as the text will later tell us: "[Moshe] made all the utensils of the altar -- the pails [etc.]; he made all these utensils of copper" (Shemot 38:3, JPS). These pots were among the furniture that Hiram of Tyre made for Solomon for the Temple, "burnished bronze ... cast in earthen moulds" (1 Kings 7:45-46, JPS), and were taken away to Babylon when the Temple was destroyed: "all the pails, scrapers, snuffers, ladles, and all the other bronze vessels used in the service" (2 Kings 25:14 and Jeremiah 52:18, JPS).
The third word in the text is more complicated. Syntactically, is the Pi'el infinitive, with a standard prefix and a 3ms pronoun suffix, of the root , to grow fat. Davidson offers "to remove the ashes" for the Pi'el stem, as a denominative from the noun , ahshes, particularly from the sacrifices consumed upon the altar. Michael Carasik suggests a literal meaning, "for ashing him".Rashi offers the explanation, "to remove the altar's ashes onto it." Targum Onkelos changes the Hebrew to the two Aramaic words , "to remove the ashes" or even - as Drazin and Wagner have it: "to sweep the ashes into [them]". Sokoloff and Jastrow agree that is 'ashes'; while Sokoloff prefers that means "to snatch or pick up", Jastrow renders it as "to scrape together or collect." Ibn Ezra points out that the same verb is also used by the prophet - "the bread that the ground brings forth shall be rich and fat" (Isaiah 30:23, JPS) - and the Psalmist, "May He ... approve your burnt offerings" (Psalm 20:4, JPS), giving the sense that the ashes would be fatty or greasy, and showed that the sacrifice had been accepted by being burnt to ashes.
Parashat Vayikra describes the process of bringing a burnt offering - an expression of worship - to the L-rd: "The sons of Aharon the priest shall put fire on the altar and lay out wood upon the fire; and Aharon's sons, the priests, shall lay out the sections, with the head and the suet, on the wood that is on the fire upon the altar" (Vayikra 1:7-8, JPS). The offering is to be burned up completely upon the altar, none of it to remain overnight. A large fire and a lot of wood burning at a fairly high temperature are required for burning anything more than the smallest of carcasses. Later, the Torah lays out the daily routine for the maintenance of the altar: "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. He shall then take off his vestments and put on other vestments, and carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place" (6:3-4, JPS). This must mean a break of several hours for the ash to cool down so that it can be handled by the priest without being burned. But that seem impossible for the Torah goes on, "The fire on the altar shall be kept burning, not to go out: every morning the priest shall feed wood to it, lay out the burnt offering on it, and turn into smoke the fat parts of the offerings of well-being. A perpetual fire shall be kept burning on the altar, not to go out" (vv. 5-6, JPS). Chazal teach that there were three fires that burned upon the altar: the main pyre used to consume the offerings, a fire to provide coals for the incense offering (so that there would be no cross-contamination from the animal sacrifices to the incense) and a third fire specifically for keeping the fire on the altar burning. The main pyre was allowed go out overnight so that its ashes would be cool enough for removal in the morning, while the third fire was constantly fed with clean wood so that the other fires could be re-lit from it at any time. This is why verse 5 speaks of the priest feeding - Hebrew, 'kindling' - wood for the new morning's burnt offering (b. Yoma 45a).
It would seem, then, that the process of worship - anything offered on the altar, be that a burnt offering, a thank offering, a fellowship offering - resulted in ash. Ash came from the wood needed to burn the offering, whether animal parts or a grain offering, and from the offering itself. Even "a handful of the fine flour and oil, with all of its frankincense" (Vayikra 2:2, ESV), the memorial portion, would have produced a little ash. The smoke rises as "a pleasing aroma to the L-rd" (v. 9, JPS), but the ash, the residue of the burning, remains on the altar in huge quantities and has to be removed early each morning once it has cooled. Hence the altar furniture requires enormous pots, so big they had to be cast in an earth mould rather than beaten, to carry the ash out from the sanctuary to a clean place. This was an inescapable consequence of worship centred around animal sacrifice and burnt offerings offered on an altar.
The ash is mainly carbon, with some fat or oil component, some mineral solids from bones; products of incomplete combustion that is too inert to burn in that context. Ground up and squirted into a hot furnace, with a good supply of oxygen, most of it would complete burning and leave only carbon dioxide gas. Total or near-total combustion is very rare and requires specialist equipment and treatment to achieve. In the natural world, it is safe to say that combustion always leaves an ash residue. So it appears that worship expressed in a physical form will always leave ash.
Can we go so far as to say that worship always leaves a residue? What about songs of praise, worship offered audibly? A sore throat perhaps, or a husky voice. Financially? A hole in one's pocket or wallet - if particularly sacrificial giving, then a shortage or money or absence of all but basic necessities for some time. Worship in time, either working or studying? Taking time from something or someone else to make up that time. It seems that everything we give has a cost and may, depending on our attitude towards it, leave a residue which will need to be removed. Some would even have it that worship is supposed to cost, that it should be felt, otherwise it is no sacrifice. King David said, "I will not offer burnt offerings to the L-RD my G-d that cost me nothing" (2 Samuel 24:24, ESV).
Let's feed those ideas into the picture Rav Sha'ul sent to the congregations in Rome: "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of G-d, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to G-d, which is your spiritual worship" (Romans 12:1, ESV). If worship is supposed to have a cost and may leave a residue, how do we make this work? Clearly self-harming or punishment, or an overly ascetic life-style is incompatible with Sha'ul's assertion that our bodies are "a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from G-d" (1 Corinthians 6:19, ESV). That is not to say, of course that fasting for a sensible time, say twenty-four hours, is not a useful spiritual discipline - perhaps that is an example of what Sha'ul did mean - and both exacts a cost, at the cost of a little discomfort from hunger driven from our normal eating habits, and leaves a residue: the imprint of time spent with G-d rather than eating and drinking!
But Rav Sha'ul goes on to explain a little about how he saw this being implemented by the community: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of G-d, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:2, ESV). This life of non-conformity with the world is a life of constant sacrifice. Every day we have to chose what we watch or listen to on the media, how we respond to others in conversation and larger decisions about what we buy, eat or wear based on the morality of where it comes from and who made it. Does this have a cost? Certainly, both in sometimes having to pay more for a more ethical product and in sometimes having to go without. That's not counting, of course, the comments or criticism of those around us. We are not to look foolish, of course, but we are to have a reasoned argument as to why we won't buy or eat this, that or the other. And that can get quite old quite quickly - carefully explaining for the umpteenth time why we choose not to wear certain brands of clothing or drink some brands of coffee. The residue is both a habit of tikkun olam, fixing up the world, and a witness to those around us that more things matter than they care to think and that we are held accountable for how we act in this world. That is worship in spirit and in truth!
Further Study: Ephesians 4:20-24; Colossians 3:5-10; 1 Peter 2:4-5
Application: Are you prepared to offer sacrifice to G-d, even if it does cost you something and may leave a residue in your life? Worship is never cheap, but it connects us to the heart of G-d like nothing else.
Comment - 18:46 07Feb16 Tom Hiney: Sacrifice and worship should COST something. They should not be cheap. Putting on a new self and being transformed in mind seem to very relevant. Ideally the residue should be drawing closer to G-d. It might be finding oneself out of pocket or hungry as suggested. Paul's idea that we are temples of the Holy Spirit fits into this pattern as worship and sacrifice are just what G-d wants.
© Jonathan Allen, 2016
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