Random Musing Before Shabbat -Tetzaveh 5769 -Something Still Doesn’t Smell Quite Right

Tetzaveh is a very rich portion, and over the years, I’ve mined it for
many interesting musings.  I;ve written about the "Do clothes make the
man?" question regarding the priestly vestments. I’ve expounded on
G"d’s promise to "dwell among us." I’ve tried to answer the question
"where’s Moshe in this parasha?" I’ve gotten a little wacky with the
"Urim and Thummim" show. There’s also one of my personal favorites,
"Aharon’s Bells" in which I ponder the reasons why there were bells
skirting the high priest’s vestments. Eleven years ago, I wondered
about the incense. I thought it time to revisit this. In 5768 I wrote:

I asked myself, what’s all this incense stuff
about? (Exodus 30:1-10)

The altar for burnt offerings was located in the other half of the mishkan,
away from the Holy of Holies. But the incense altar was to be placed immediately
before the Holy of Holies. Well, perhaps there are some practical considerations
here. Burnt offerings are gonna make a lot of smoke – better that it not fog up
the Holy of Holies.

But what is it that G"d is really telling us here? I have a thought. What is
it in our culture that creates burnt offerings? Well, we certainly cook lots of
meat. To do so means killing animals. Now G"d did ask us to sacrifice animals –
but by placing the altar apart from the Ark, perhaps G"d was telling us that
while it may be a necessity, it is not quite holy enough to be so near to G"d.
And not something we should necessarily enjoy. So we may find it necessary to
have "burnt offerings" in our lives, but G"d wants us to keep our
distance with them.

What about the needless sacrifice of human lives to war? They are burnt
offerings, though I know not to which G"d. Bombs, napalm, radiation poisoning,
chemical weapons, air burst devices, etc. These things surely are not pleasing
to G"d, but G"d knows they do happen. We turn human beings into charred
sacrifices. Perhaps G"d is reminding us to keep our "burnt offerings"
away from the holy. That killing, that war cannot truly be "holy" even
if being fought in God’s name? That anything that involves killing, be it animal
or human being doesn’t "quite smell right" and should be kept apart
from that which is truly holy.

Then what is the incense all about? Is it a superficial dress-up? A way to
let G"d think that everyone smells sweet when in reality we are stinking up the
place with our actions? Or is it a way that G"d is allowing us to practice that
deception on ourselves when we enter G"d’s presence? Well, on that last point,
that isn’t necessarily all bad. When we enter the Holy of Holies (or, in
contemporary terms, to enter God’s presence or do holy work) we should feel good
about ourselves. Sweet incense might very well help us to lift our spirit and
improve our attitude.

The sweetness of the incense serves to remind us of the sweetness of G"d’s
presence and G"d’s covenant. And how better to get an attitude adjustment. In
instructing Aaron to light incense every morning and every evening, God is
perhaps telling us to try and find some sweetness in every day, and at all

Like pressed flower petals that serve to remind us of the sweetness of the
flower they came from, and the sweetness of the memory that accompanies those
petals, the incense is a reminder of the sweetness of God’s presence in our
lives. The trick is to carry the remembrance of the sweet smell of the incense
when we come out of the holy space and into the stench of the burning sacrifices
of daily life.

I realized as I was reading this that there was more to say about it. So here goes.

are a funny species. We have certainly adapted to a lifestyle that is
as odor sweet as we can make it. We fill our restrooms, our homes, our
businesses with timed automatic odor-covering sprays, spray
disinfectants and other modern forms of incense. We even have
air-filtering devices. Food, drinks, winers and all sorts of other
products have their odors tailored for our sensibilities. Magazines
drop scratch and sniff samples. We laden ourselves with perfumes,
colognes and scented soaps.

Is this all an attempt to divorce us from the everyday odors and
smells of life? If so, is it wise? Most of us no longer raise our own
food, so we have that distance which enables us to alleviate our guilt.
Our connection with our planet grows ever more distant. Maybe if we
allowed ourselves to smell the normal odors of life we could regain our
connection? Moreover, the unpleasant odors would surely work their way
with us. If we couldn’t mask the smell of slaughterhouses, of death on
the battlefield, of noxious gases, perhaps we’d work harder to
eliminate some of these things.

Life these days is truly filled with the stench of burning
sacrifices. We’ve offered up our planet on the altar of greed. Our
financial system is certainly starting to smell like a rotting corpse.
There are all sorts of odors in the air-greed, despair, lust, fear. Our
natural instinct seems to be to want to cover them up. As I suggested
11 years ago, the incense, the sweetness of worship, of being in a holy
space and encountering the G"d of our understanding-we can carry the
remembrance with us to make the stench of everyday life bearable. Well
folks, it’s getting really smelly out there. Instead of trying to cover
it up, maybe we should allow them to be, and  finds ways to

carry the remembrance of the sweet smell of the incense
when we come out of the holy space and into the stench of the burning sacrifices
of daily life.

And so I say again:

May your Shabbat be filled with only sweetness, and may you carry it with you
into the week

Shabbat Shalom, and have a joyous Purim,

Adrian©2009 by Adrian A. Durlester


About migdalorguy

Jewish Educator & Musician, Technology Nerd and all around nice Renaissance guy
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