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Derech Eretz min haTorah; its the Law, not just a good idea

In the parsha of "trumas hadeshen" (removing the ashes from the altar), the kohein is told to change his clothes before continuing with the rest of his daily duties (Vayikra 6:4). Rashi comments, "This is not an obligation, rather it is derech eretz; that he shouldn't wear his normal working clothes and get them dirty while taking out the ashes. The clothing in which one cooks the food for his master is not the same clothing one wears when serving wine to his master." Rashi's comment is difficult for at least two reasons. First, if it is not an obligation, then why does the Torah command it? Second, if the the reasoning is as clear as the example, then why would Torah need to mention something so obvious?

The first question we can answer from a Rashi in Eruvin, 104b. The mishna there says that a cohein is allowed to put a bandage on a wound on his hand while working in the mikdash on shabbos. This is another example of "ein shvus b'mikdash b'makom mitzvah" -- we are not concerned about rabbinic fences around Torah law in in the case where a mitzvah is being performed in the Bais haMikdash. Rashi, in explaining the mitzvah that pushes of of the Rabbinic decree against using medicine on shabbos says, "it is not derech eretz to have an open wound while doing the avodah". We see from here that Rashi holds that derech eretz is a bonafide mitzvah. What then does he mean, then, in chumash when he says "this is not an obligation, rather derech eretz"?

I would like to suggest that Rashi means that the Torah is not revealing a new mitzvah (a specific obligation), rather this is an expression of the general mitzvah of derech eretz. That is, of course the kohein must change his clothes; derech eretz demands that. In fact, it seems almost absurd that the Torah needed to tell the kohein to change his clothes after cleaning out the ashes. Why would he think nything else? However, on further reflection, there is very good reason to think that he should leave on the "dirty" clothes. Those are the clothes he was wearing while doing a mitzvah -- a coveted and important mitzvah. Halacha is filled with examples of reusing an object that has already been used in the performance of a mitzvah. It seems very reasonable, therefore, that without the specific command of the Torah (the command that reveals a new aspect of derech eretz), the kohein really should be continue wearing those clothes.

That being the case; why *does* the Torah want the kohein to change his clothes? I believe that is the point of the mashal. Of course both cooking for and serving the king are important jobs. But the job itself demands, as it were, its own uniform. The job of cook requires one uniform, the job of waiter a different one. The kohein cleans out the ashes in one set of clothing, but performs the rest of his avoda in a different set of clothing. Moreover, the Torah chose to reveal this principle specifically here, in a "bein adam l'Makom" (between man and G-d) situation. What about between one Jew and another? In a situation that is totally bein adam l'Makom, where HaShem sees the true spiritual value of the mitzvah, and yet He still expects a change of clothing; then all the more so in dealing with other Jews.

We all play many roles in our life: parent, child, eved HaShem, mentor, etc. Each one has its job description, and that includes a dress code. Of course, clothing is only one aspect of our the roles we play. I don't build a sukka and daven in the same clothes. I shouldn't learn gemara with my chavrusa and talk to my wife using the same tone of voice. Each role, each situation, demands a tailor made set of clothes, facial expression, tone of voice, etc. And now this Rashi reveals to us that we must watch the external impression we are making even when dealing straight with HaShem. Kal v'chomer, ben beno shel kal v'chomer, how much more careful we must be with all aspects of our behaviour when dealing with other Jews -- and never fall back on, "but it is a mitzvah", so who cares how I look/what tone of voice I use/all the the other excuses we like to make for ourselves.


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