Sunday, March 22, 2020

ketores: Rambam vs kabbalists

Because the kabbalists hold that it is a segulah to ward off the plague there seems to be a lot of emphasis being placed these days on reciting ketores as part of korbanos or after davening .  The Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim (3:45) actually gives a far more mundane reason for the offering of ketores in Beis haMikdash: the sweet fragrance of ketores was needed to help overcome the stench of the animals that had to be butchered to offer korbanos.

The Rishonim already have problems with the Rambam's view.  Meshech Chochma argues in their favor against the Rambam based on the pesukim in Pekudei.

Back in P' Titzaveh, when first describing the mizbach ha'ketores, the Torah describes its location as "lifnei ha'paroches" (30:6):

וְנָֽתַתָּ֤ה אֹתוֹ֙ לִפְנֵ֣י הַפָּרֹ֔כֶת 

Similarly, at the end of our parsha (40:26):

וַיָּ֛שֶׂם אֶת־מִזְבַּ֥ח הַזָּהָ֖ב בְּאֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֑ד לִפְנֵ֖י הַפָּרֹֽכֶת:

Yet earlier in that same perek, when describing the hakamas haMishkan, the Torah writes (40:5):

וְנָֽתַתָּ֞ה אֶת־מִזְבַּ֤ח הַזָּהָב֙ לִקְטֹ֔רֶת לִפְנֵ֖י אֲר֣וֹן הָֽעֵדֻ֑ת

Why the switch here to "lifnei aron ha'eidus?"

Meshech Chochma answers that the Torah here is not describing the location of the mizbach ha'ketores, but rather alluding to its function.  It is not merely there as a perfume bottle, but rather just as the aron is a vehicle for hashra'as haShechina, so too, the offering of ketores is a means to bring hashara'as haShechina to the Mikdash.


  1. "just as the aron is a vehicle for hashra'as haShechina, so too, the offering of ketores"

    ends of a seesaw? so long as our souls would rise like smoke of precision incense, He will sink like a boxed-in stone...

  2. is it "the switch" from fixed location, "'lifnei ha'paroches'", to function, "'lifnei aron >ha'eidus<'", that enables Aharon to take ketores outside the Mishkan, to >-adas< bnei-Yisrael (Bamidbar 17:6), "to ward off the plague"? to take a smoking censer el->ha'eidah< (17:11)?

    1. how can there be an equivalence between the testimony of the luchos in the aron, #9 in particular, and that of the people at (Bamidbar) 17:6, who bear false witness? said 'equivalence' was a gift from a Mr. Malach Ha'maves, Shabbos 89a, may he rest in peace...

  3. "animals had to be butchered"

    necessarily? can Israel attain a level where the tamid offerings, for example, appear to them through a representative's daily immersion in Sefer Yetzira*? Shemos 29:39 commands the making (ta'aseh) of a lamb each morning, each afternoon, lambs bought with a half-shekel of fire** that every ish fashions for himself, so complete and exalted the level of the klal! an end to any "stench" a crude incense could cover. refined ketores, sudden lambs, coins of fire, the G-d's own inscription on the gold-cased slabs, these woo the Shechina, these prop Her high-maintenance mystique...

    *like the weekly immersion of Rav Chanina and Rav Oshaya, Sanhedrin 65b

    **zeh! Rashi 30:13a