Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Parshat Tetsaveh
The Mizbeach HaKetoret

Towards the end of the Parsha, G-d completes His instructions to build the Mishkan. He summarizes:

"There I will arrange meetings with the children of Israel, and it will be sanctified by My glory. I will sanctify the Tent of Meeting and the altar, and I will sanctify Aaron and his sons to serve Me. I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel and I will be their G-d. They will know that I, the Lord, am their G-d, Who brought them out of the land of Egypt in order that I may dwell in their midst; I am the Lord, their G-d." Shemot 29:43-46

Immediately after this summary, G-d instructs Moshe to build the Mizebeach HaKetoret.
"You shall make an altar for bringing incense up in smoke; you shall make it out of acacia wood" (Shemot 30:1).
This altar appears an appendix, as if it had been forgotten and suddenly remembered. Why? As the Ramban points out: “it is one of the inner sanctum fittings and should have been mentioned together with the Shulchan and the Menorah, which is where it was located” (Ramban on 30:1). Indeed, it is constructed together with the Mizbeach Haolah, immediately after the Menorah (See Shemot 37:25-29). So why does it appear after everything has already been said and done?

The Sephorno (on 30:1) explains that the Mizbeach HaKetoret was not an integral part of the Mishkan. The purpose of the Mishkan was so that G-d’s presence would rest amongst Israel. All its fixtures were created for that precise purpose, as the Torah wrote:

"I will dwell in their midst according to all that I show you, the design of the Mishkan and the design of all its fittings; and so shall you do…" Shemot 25:8-9

However, this is not why the Altar of Incense was built; this is not its rationale. It served a different purpose; needed for an already existing Temple.
Once G-d’s glory was already resting in the Mishkan, it was necessary for Israel to bring Him incense.

Israel prepared for G-d a palace, with glorious furnishings, elegantly outfitted servants and a specific order of the day. They created a home worthy of G-d to rest his presence. Once G-d’s glory was resting upon Israel, it was then necessary to approach to Him. But how can you approach God, "no one can see me and live" (ibid 33:20)?
According the Ramban, the Ketoret allows us to approach God. It creates a smokescreen so that we cannot see Him, but allows us to be close to Him.
It is not enough for us to construct an elegant house of worship, with its honorary officers and its daily services. We must be able to approach God.


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