26.5. The Composition of the Incense (30:34-38)

(34) And the Lord said to Moses: Take the herbs stacte, onycha, and galbanum — these herbs together with pure frankincense; let there be an equal part of each.

(35) Make them into incense, a compound expertly blended, refined, pure, sacred.

(36) Beat some of it into powder, and put some before the Pact in the Tent of Meeting, where I will meet with you; it shall be most holy to you.

(37) But when you make this incense, you must not make any in the same proportions for yourselves; it shall be held by you sacred to the Lord.

(38) Whoever makes any like it, to smell of it, shall be cut off from his kin.

(34) And the Lord said to Moses: Take the herbs stacte …: This is the resin of balsamic trees.

Onycha: A floral species of the carnation family.

Pure frankincense: An aromatic resin obtained from certain trees that is used in incense and perfumes.

Galbanum: A fetid plant with a heavy, offensive odor, which nonetheless, when combined with the other components, improves the overall smell of the mixture.

The Midrash sees in the presence of this component of the incense a lesson in the correct attitude towards sinners. Rather than treating them with contempt, we must integrate them into the community, and include them in our journey toward holiness. Without galbanum the right quality of the incense cannot be achieved. And by analogy, without a certain amount of impropriety within the Jewish nation, the proper quality of life cannot be achieved.

Any system must be heterogeneous, otherwise it cannot develop and advance. The task demanded of the Jews is to achieve holiness not as individuals, but collectively as a nation, which necessarily includes both the righteous and the sinners. The composition of the incense demonstrates the principle of “unity in diversity,” where each element has its proper place, and is indispensable.

(35) Make them into incense, a compound expertly blended, refined, pure, sacred: This is the incense burnt daily on the golden altar, the altar of incense (30:7).

(36) Beat some of it into powder, and put some before the Pact in the Tent of Meeting, where I will meet with you: Once a year, on Yom Kippur, incense was burnt before the Pact (i.e. the ark), in the Holy of Holies, and only on this one day in the year was the blood of sacrifices sprinkled on the inner, golden altar (this was done daily only on the outer, copper altar). Thus, on Yom Kippur the atonement process “moves into the Sanctuary” to reach the Holy of Holies, where the High Priest too enters on that one day, and only then.

(37-38) When you make this incense, you must not make any in the same proportions for yourselves; it shall be held by you sacred to the Lord. Whoever makes any like it, to smell of it, shall be cut off from his kin: The exalted sanctity of the incense is like that of the anointing oil mentioned only a few verses earlier.

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Bible Dynamics, VOL. 2. EXODUS Copyright © by Orot Yerushalaim / P. Polonsky / English translation of the Torah by the Jewish Publication Society, New JPS Translation, 1985. With sincere gratitude for the permission to use. All Rights Reserved.

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