The Torah in this week’s parsha discusses the composition of the rare and
fragrant incense that was offered daily on the golden altar in the mishkan
and later in the Temple. The exact formulation of the incense is not
given – i.e. the amount of each of the ingredients relative to the entire
amount of incense produced – but some of the thirteen different spices and
herbs described later in the Talmud as being the components of the Temple
incense are mentioned in the parsha.
Among the ingredients mentioned is chelbanah – usually translated in
English as being galbanum. This spice was one that did not emit a pleasant
odor. This may have been true when used alone but apparently when it was
combined with the other pleasant smelling spices, the total effect was
intoxicatingly wonderful and very pleasant aromatically. The Talmud saw in
this use of chelbanah in the incense formulation a moral and social lesson
for all of Israel and for all time.
The Talmud teaches us that any public fast day that does not include “the
sinners of Israel” in its program of prayer and fasting is deficient in
its role. Rashi here in the parsha emphasizes that point. Rashi states
that they are not to be treated “lightly” and that they are to be included
and “counted with us.”
The Talmud certainly indicates with this statement that we are to be
inclusive of Jews who are sinners, who do not act as we wish them to
behave and with whom we are therefore loath to associate. This attitude of
exclusion is unfortunately the usual pattern of behavior in our religious
world where the tendency to greater and greater exclusivity amongst Jews
has become the accepted rule of our different societies.
Nevertheless, there has been great progress in attempting to reach out to
the “sinners of Israel” and to expose them to our religious and national
agenda. I speak not only of the continuing accomplishments of the
institutions that have headed Jewish outreach for the past number of
decades, but of new initiatives to help unite the Jewish people and
restore the traditions of Judaism to Jews who, through no immediate fault
of their own, are estranged or ignorant of their rich heritage.
Megillat Esther was read for the first time in a number of kibbutzim this
Purim. Jewish education lectures are being given in places where
previously Judaism was not allowed to conflict with the dogmas and
religion of Marxism. Changing someone else’s lifestyle in midstream is
difficult to accomplish. But bringing people who evidently wish to be part
of the Jewish people, to prayer, to observe fast days and to celebrate
feast days without preconditions and maximum demands, and having patience
and true concern while doing this, is possible and very necessary.
A united Jewish people, with all of the internal differences that will
always remain within our society, is seen to be equal to the great
formulation of the incense in the Temple. That formulation produced a
marvelous fragrance and engendered joy. Our attempts to unite the Jewish
people are also guaranteed to produce great joy and positive purpose for
all of Israel.
Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein- Jewish historian, author and international lecturer offers a complete selection of CDs, audio tapes, video tapes, DVDs, and books on Jewish history at www.rabbiwein.com