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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Tzav(72)

Leviticus 6:3, 4

3) And the priest shall wear his linen garments and he shall wear linen pants on his body; and he shall raise up the ashes of the burnt-offering which the fire consumes on the altar and place it near the altar.

4) And he shall take off his garments and dress in other garments and he shall take the ashes outside the camp to a pure place.


And he shall take off his garments: Rashi: This is not obligatory but good manners. So when he takes out the ashes, he should not dirty the clothes in which he performs [Temple service] steadily. 'Clothes in which he cooked the pot for his master, he should not pour the goblet for his master in them'. Therefore "he shall wear other garments" -of lesser value than these.


A Question: Rashi says the changing of the clothes is not obligatory. This seems strange since the verse does say "he shall take off his garments and dress in other garments." The Ramban asks this question, as well.

Ramban says:

But I don't know why the Rav (Rashi) says this is not obligatory? For it seems the commandment is on the priest that the clothes he wears for offering the sacrifices and also for lifting up the ashes, should be clean. He should not serve with them (the same clothes) that he used for taking out the ashes.

Ramban's question seems quite cogent?

Can you see why Rashi took this apparently strange position against p'shat?

Can you see what is bothering Rashi?

Hint: Look closely at the parable Rashi brings about cooking for the master.

Your Answer:


An Answer. When we compare the parable to our verse we find something strange, indeed. Cooking the food is parallel to taking out the ashes – both get one's clothes dirty; pouring the wine is thus parallel to offering the sacrifices, both should be done in clean clothes.

In the parable when should the cook change his clothes?

Answer: He changes his clothes after he finishes cooking (the dirty work) and before he pours the wine (when he must be dressed in clean clothes).

With this in mind let us look at our verse again and ask yourself when should the priest change his clothes.

Answer: Certainly he should change his clothes after he does the dirty work which is taking out the ashes.

But our verse says: "He shall dress in other garments and he shall take the ashes outside…" Strange! He changes his clothes before he takes out the ashes!

So we can say that Rashi was bothered by the strange time when the priest changed his clothes – before, and not after - taking out the ashes.

How does this realization help us explain Rashi?

Your Answer:


An Answer: The verse says he changes his clothes before he takes the ashes out. Of course, he can take the ashes out without changing his clothes, still wearing his clean clothes; there's nothing disrespectful about that. But it is not wise. Because then the next time he is to offer an offering he would need to have other clothes which have not been dirtied – that is respectful – since his clothes probably got dirtied when he took the ashes out.

Changing his clothes before taking the ashes out is just smart planning; it is not obligatory. Now we see why Rashi called changing ones clothes not obligatory. It is good advice only because if he doesn't change now then he will have to find other clean clothes when he offers a sacrifice the next time.

Now we can understand why Rashi included the parable in his comment. Most commentaries wonder why he needed to add it. But according to our understanding, the parable alerted us the strange order of changing clothes in our verse (before getting dirty by taking out the ashes).


Let us recall that initially we thought the Ramban's question was very incisive. But now we see that Rashi's reading of the verse is closest to p'shat.

This interpretation was offered by Rabbi Chaim Hirchenzon a European Rabbi who moved to New Jersey at the beginning of the 1900's. No other previous Rashi commentary noticed the discrepancy between the parable and our verse.

The lesson: One can always add new insights into Rashi's commentary.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

"What's Bothering Rashi?" is produced by the Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Commentaries. The five volume set of "What's Bothering Rashi?" is available at all Judaica bookstores.

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