Parashat Tzav begins with the mitzvot known as terumat ha-deshen and hotza’at ha-deshen – the removal of ashes from the altar each morning, and their being brought outside the Beit Ha-mikdash. The Torah (6:4) writes that the kohen performing hotza’at ha-deshen – taking the heap of ashes that had collected near the altar and bringing it outside the Mikdash – would first change his clothing. He would remove his special priestly garments that he wore when performing the service in the Beit Ha-mikdash, and then wear different clothing. The Gemara (Shabbat 114a) explains, “The clothing in which one prepared a dish for his master – he should not pour the cup for his master in them.” The clothing worn for activities involving dirt and filth – such as an apron for cooking – should not be worn in settings that demand a respectable, distinguished appearance, such as when serving an important guest. Thus, the kohen bringing the ashes out of the Mikdash to the dung heap should not wear the same clothes for this activity as he does when ministering before God in the Beit Ha-mikdash.
The Gemara there comments that this requirement is the source of the concept of “shinui begadim” – changing one’s attire. Rashi explains this to mean that changing garments is a show of respect to God, but he does not identify the particular application of this concept that the Gemara seeks to establish on the basis of the law of hotza’at ha-deshen. Maharsha suggests that the Gemara refers here to the requirement to change one’s garments on Shabbat. Whereas earlier (113a) the Gemara famously infers this obligation from a verse in Sefer Yeshayahu (58:13) which requires showing respect to Shabbat (“ve-khibadeto”), here the Gemara draws upon the precedent of hotza’at ha-deshen. Just as the clothing worn by a kohen when removing the ashes may not be worn when he serves in the Mikdash, similarly, we must change our clothing in honor of the sanctity of Shabbat. (Ben Ish Chai, in his work Ben Yehoyada, suggests that both inferences are needed, as they reflect two different aspects of the requirement to change one’s garments on Shabbat.)
This analogy drawn by the Gemara (as understood by Maharsha), between the kohen’s changing his clothing and our changing clothes for Shabbat, may shed light on how we are to perceive Shabbat, the workweek, and their relationship to one another. According to this comparison, the workweek should be viewed as the preparation for Shabbat, just as the kohen removes the ashes from the Mikdash so that the Mikdash will remain clean and well-maintained such that the service could be properly performed. We normally view Shabbat as a disruption of our week, a brief break from our ordinary activity. The Gemara’s remark, however, perhaps suggests that we look at our week from the precise opposite perspective: all week long, we do the work we need to obtain our needs and those of our families so that we can properly serve God on Shabbat. Throughout the week, we are outside the Beit Ha-mikdash, so-to-speak, engaged in our professional pursuits, in order to facilitate our service inside the Beit Ha-mikdash, as it were, on Shabbat, when we refrain from mundane activity and devote ourselves to God. Shabbat is not a disruption, but rather the end goal of our efforts throughout the workweek, which are merely the preparation for our service of God inside the “Mikdash,” the twenty-four-hour “sanctuary” of time, Shabbat.
But additionally, the Gemara’s analogy teaches us that even our activity “outside the Mikdash,” during the workweek, is part of our service of God. Although it at times makes us “dirty,” and does not outwardly seem sacred and spiritually significant, we must perceive even this activity as “avoda.” We must not think that only our work “inside the Beit Ha-mikdash,” our areas of spiritual engagement, have value and importance. Everything we do that is necessary for our fulfilling our obligations to the Almighty is significant and precious, and must be approached as an integral component of the Torah lives we are supposed to live.