A reminder to join our kehilla Shabbat/Saturday morning, February 28th, when we will gather for our Shabbat Vayinafash Service, a contemplative approach to Shabbat morning and Torah. 10:30 a.m. to noon in our worship space at Covenant Presbyterian Church. Please join Spiritual Leader Jessica Shimberg for an easy flow of pre-Purim Shabbat chant, liturgy, movement and holy conversation. Comfortable attire encouraged, and, if you wish to sit on the floor, a mat, zafu, pillow or blanket.
A few words about our Parsha/Torah portion, Tetzaveh…
Toward the end of Parashat Tetzaveh, we are told that there are two altars to be used in the Mishkan, one for animal sacrifices/korbanot, and one for burning incense/ketoret.
The design of the altar for ketoret is explained in great detail and it is clear that the alter is to be used exclusively for incense. However, the function of the incense is not clarified in Torah. The only thing we are told with certainty is that the aromatic incense is to be burned before the lamps of the menorah are prepared.
So what is the holy purpose of ketoret?
There were two altars in the sanctuary, one of gold, which symbolized the life force, and one of copper, which symbolized the body. Just as gold is more precious than copper, so too, the life force is more precious than the body. Yet, each day it is decreed that both always be presented before the Holy One. (Midrash Tadsheh, Chapter 11)
As was instructed of the Aharon and the priests, we come before the Source of Blessing each day with our life force and our body. The copper altar is for sacrifices that are to be eaten (animal sacrifice in Temple times). Eating is a bodily function. Only incense, exclusively to be smelled, was allowed on the golden altar. Incense, pleasing fragrance, as the aromatherapy of the soul is designed to awaken and inspire the life force within us.
The Hebrew word for incense – קטרת is an acronym: The letter kuf (ק) represents kedusha–holiness. The letter tet (ט) for tahara–purity. The letter resh (ר) alludes to rachamim–mercy, and the letter taf (ת) to tikva—hope. (Midrash Tanchuma)
The morning regimen of the priests, as does our tefillah (prayer practice which replaced Temple ritual) begins with the reminder that existing is not enough; that each day must include:
- kedusha, dedication to our sacred mission;
- tahara, commitment to the cleansing of the spirit;
- rachamim, inclination to be generous of spirit; and
- tikva, abdication of despair to create space for hope.
Thus, the purpose of ketoret/incense is revealed, embedded in the word itself. Through this olfactory awakening, our soul is aroused and inspired and, only then, with kavanah (sacred intention), do we move on to light the menorah (perform our holy service throughout the day).