“Aaron must burn fragrant incense on the altar every morning when he tends the lamps.” — Exodus 30:7
The Torah portion for this week is Tetzaveh, which means “command” or “connect,” from Exodus 27:20–30:10, and the Haftorah is from Ezekiel 43:10–27.
The perfume business is a multi-billion-dollar industry that invests tremendous amounts of capital into creating the best-smelling scents. The Bible teaches us that God had His own favorite scent and He shared the ingredients with us. Yet, since the times of the Temple, no one has been able to reproduce it or replicate its beauty.
One of the duties of the priests was to burn incense in the Holy Temple every morning. This incense was called the ketoret, and it is said to have smelled more pleasing than anything else in the world. Its aroma brought joy to the soul and grandeur to the Temple. Its scent reportedly wafted through the air all the way from Jerusalem to Jericho!
Yet an understanding of its ingredients leaves us puzzled. While most of the ingredients have pleasant smells, there is one element – the chelbonah – that smells terribly. Why would God include something bad-smelling in the sweet-smelling, holy incense?
The Jewish sages explain that the incense represent all God’s people. The chelbonah represents the sinners. But does God cast aside the sinners among us? No! The sages teach that “God waits until the very last day for the sinner to repent.” God doesn’t write off anyone, and we shouldn’t either!
This is why God instructed the priests to include the bad-smelling chelbonah in the incense offering. He wants us to know that we have a duty to reach out to sinners and to bring them into the fold. Our service to God is meant to inspire and encourage others. If our growth and spirituality doesn’t rub off on someone who is lacking in those areas, then we haven’t done our job.
And you know what? When the chelbonah is combined with the other ingredients of the ketoret, it no longer smells bad! Being together with the other elements changes the chelbonah into something beautiful!
We have the same power to transform and uplift other human beings. When we share the beauty of God’s Word with others, they become more beautiful, too. As King Solomon wrote: “Her ways [God’s wisdom] are pleasant ways and all her paths are peace” (Proverbs 3:17). Sometimes people just need a little love and encouragement to see how pleasant the way of God is.
Let us take this perspective with us into our daily interactions today. Everyone was created to serve God, and our service to God is not complete if even a single human being is left behind.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President