"The kohen shall…lift out the ashes into which the fire has consumed the burnt offering upon the altar, and put them down next to the altar. He shall then take off his garments and put on other garments, and he shall take out the ashes to a clean place outside the camp." (Lev. 6:3-4)

The sash that the priest wore while performing the other parts of the sacrificial service was the only garment of the regular priests that contained the normally forbidden mixture of wool and linen. However, when depositing the ashes next to the Altar or taking the accumulated ashes outside the camp, he wore a special sash made only of linen, like his other three garments.

The prohibition against wearing a garment made out of wool and linen is intended to prevent specific varieties of Divine energy from extending into realms where their presence would be detrimental. While performing the sacrificial service, the priests ascended to such a sublime level of Divine consciousness that there was no danger of negative influences and therefore no impediment to wearing wool and linen together. This, however, was not the case when they were depositing or removing the ashes — the residue left behind from the sacrifices, which the Altar could not consume with its holy fire but had to be discarded.

These ashes "radiate" dangerous, spirituality-resistant energy...

In contrast, the ashes removed from the camp signify our mundane activities performed "for the sake of heaven" rather than as a direct means to "know Him in all our ways." These ashes "radiate" dangerous, spirituality-resistant energy, and as such, it would be unwise to attempt to elevate the forbidden mixture of wool and linen when handling them.

The same danger does not exist in the case of the shovelful of ashes placed next to the Altar every morning, which, as we have also just seen, signify our mundane activities performed with true Divine consciousness. However, this procedure takes place in the early morning, before the intrinsically holy rites of the sacrificial service proper, implying that the Divine consciousness embodied even in mundane activities performed with true Divine consciousness is not as powerful as that embodied in studying the Torah and performing God’s commandments. Therefore, when we are involved in the mundane aspect of life — even while maintaining heightened Divine consciousness — we are not yet ready to refine evil. Thus, the daily depositing of the ashes, too, was performed in simple linen garments rather than in the normal, wool-and-linen priestly apparel.


The same priest who performed the daily sacrificial rite of depositing the ashes at the side of the Altar was the one who, when necessary, brought the accumulated ashes outside the camp. This occasional, menial task was not delegated to a second priest.

...from God’s perspective, both the commandment and its prerequisite preparation are expressions of His will...

We can learn from this firstly, that the preliminary preparations for fulfilling a commandment are themselves a bona fide part of our Divine service, no less crucial and indispensable than the fulfillment of the commandment per se. In our commendable desire to connect to God through performing His commandments, we may understandably consider fulfilling the commandment much more important than preparing for it. Nonetheless, from God’s perspective, both the commandment and its prerequisite preparation are expressions of His will, and therefore, the more we are focused on purely fulfilling His will (as opposed to attaining our desire for personal spiritual advancement), the less partial we will be to fulfilling the commandment itself rather than preparing for it, approaching them both with the same joy and enthusiasm.

Secondly, we all understand that it is not enough to tend our own spiritual growth; we must help others grow spiritually, as well. However, once we reach a certain level of sophistication in our service of God or of knowledge of the Torah, we might be tempted to think that our calling is with people who are "within the camp," i.e., those who have already accepted the Torah as their guide in life and do not need to be coaxed into entering a synagogue or a yeshiva. Those who are "outside the camp" and perhaps even adverse to enter it, we may think, should be someone else’s concern.

The Torah therefore informs us that the very same priest who performs the sacred service at the Altar must also leave the sacred precincts to perform God’s will, not only outside the Tabernacle but outside the camp altogether. Furthermore, he must put on other, lesser garments in order to do so, meaning that we must be willing to don "street clothes" in order to establish proper rapport with our brethren "outside the camp" and communicate with them. Then, we can patiently draw them into the camp, where they belong, so they join us.

Although this may entail some personal sacrifice, it is nevertheless the path that God Himself showed us by "personally" descending into the depravity of Egypt in order to elevate His people and prepare them for the Giving of the Torah.

Adapted from Sefer HaSichot 5750, vol. 1, pp. 374-375, note 90. See also Likutei Sichot, vol. 36, pp. 153-160; vol. 25, p. 137; Likutei Sichot, vol. 37, pp. 5-6
© 2001 Chabad of California/www.LAchumash.org