Peninei Halakha

06 – The Reason for the Ketoret

Just as the Tamid offering was brought daily, the Ketoret (incense) was also brought every day, half in the morning and half in the afternoon. The Korban Tamid expresses Israel’s connection to Hashem, and the bond that all worldly creations have to their source of life. Therefore its organs were offered on the exterior altar, visible to all. However, the Ketoret gives expression to the deep inner connection between Israel and Hashem, and therefore it was offered on the interior altar inside the Temple. The Tamid offering connects all creations in their material and tangible components to Hashem. For that reason, the essence of the offering was the blood thrown on the altar and the organs offered upon it. The Korban HaKetoret, on the other hand, is the quintessential spiritual offering, epitomized by the incomparably pleasing scent that emanates from the spices of the incense.

Through the Ketoret, a sublime spiritual light appears in the world which illuminates the inner souls of all creations and connects everything to holiness. Therefore, it was made out of spices that exude a pleasant scent, for smell is the most refined and spiritual pleasure there is in the world. The scent extends in all directions, to hint that all creations are influenced by an inner spiritual illumination that elevates them and binds them to holiness (Olat Ra’ayah p. 135).

There were eleven spices in the Ketoret, all grounded thoroughly together so that they would be united completely, producing a favorable scent. Similarly, by unifying all powers completely for the sake of holiness, the world is uplifted and repaired.

One of the primary spices in the incense is the chelbenah (galbanum), which alludes to the sinners of Israel, who, in their roots, are equally connected to the sanctity of Israel. The chelbenah had a particularly foul aroma. However, blended with the special mixture of the Ketoret, its odor would transform to good; instead of ruining the fragrance of the Ketoret, the addition of the chelbenah would make the smell of the Ketoret even more praiseworthy. This comes to teach us that when all the forces of Israel unite for the sake of a sanctified goal, the inner merit of the sinners of Israel is revealed, and they too join to aid in the rectification of the Jewish nation and the world (see Olat Ra’ayah, part 1, pp. 136-138).

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Series Editor: Rabbi Elli Fischer

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The Laws of Pesach - Joshua Wertheimer
The Laws of Zemanim - Moshe Lichtman

Editor: Nechama Unterman