This week’s Torah Portion, Parashat Ki Tisa, speaks of the making of the sanctuary incense and its use in the service to God. We are told in the Scriptures that it is forbidden to the use the sanctuary incense by the general public. The descriptions given to us in the Torah are analogous to drawing near to “The Place” (המקום), to the Lord God of Israel, to seek His ways, where the sanctuary incense when used by the general public is to put on the fragrance of God in the sense of doing things our own ways and not God’s ways. This is illustrated by Rabbi Simon Jacobson, who said the following, “This animalistic drive of man—which is the basic drive, common to every living creature, for self-preservation and self-enhancement, possesses many positive traits which can be directed toward gainful and holy ends; but it is also the source of many negative and destructive traits. When a person brings his animal self to the Temple of God and offers what is best and finest in it upon the altar, there is still the foul odor, the selfishness, the brutality and the materiality of the animal in man that accompanies the process. Hence the burning of the ketoret, which possessed the unique capability to sublimate the evil odor of the animal soul within its heavenly fragrance.” Note how Rabbi Jacobson spiritualizes the sanctuary incense as it is related to the sacrifices which were brought to the Tabernacle. Rabbi Jacobson speaks of the manner in which we are to come before the Lord, that when one brings his base self before the Lord, it does not matter whether it is the best or the finest, our attempts at righteousness still hold a foul odor which he describes as “the selfishness, the brutality and the materiality of the animal in man.” He says the sanctuary incense had the capability to sublimate the evil odor of the animal soul within its fragrance. The idea is that due to the sanctuary ritual of sacrifice and blood atonement, there was a foul odor that resulted due to the burning of the flesh, the fat, and the blood of the animal upon the altar.
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