If you have not yet signed our Condolence Book please take a moment to do so. The book, with its hundreds of heartfelt messages from all over the globe, will be presented to the families of the 73 IDF Soldiers killed in last week's tragic crash, as well as the Speaker of the Knesset, the Prime Minister, the President and the Chief of Staff at the shloshim commemorations. Please encourage the friends you see in shul this Shabbat to do the same after Shabbat is out
Thank You Again and Shabbat Shalom
Far from being an isolated remark, this lesson is the culmination of a pattern of images that dates back to the book of Bereishit.
Yosef's brothers sell him to a caravan of Ishmaelite traders and he is taken to Egypt along with a shipment of gum, balsam and resin. The only other time these three spices are mentioned in the Torah is when Yaakov instructs his sons to bring the Egyptian Viceroy a gift of "a little balsam and honey, some gum and resin..." All throughout the day, as the brothers awaited the denouement of their encounter with Yosef, they inhaled these fragrances.
Why were these spices, the very ones that accompanied Yosef on his descent into Egypt, picked?
The answer may lie in the peculiar properties of aroma. More than any other sense, the sense of smell has the capacity to bring one back through vast gulfs of time and to trigger vivid memories. Perfume manufacturers know this fact well and have made fortunes exploiting it.
At the very moment that the brothers were propelled toward complete teshuva- marked by their adamant refusal to allow Benjamin to suffer the same fate as Yosef by being incarcerated in the Pharaoh's prison- Divine Providence stepped in. While they waited to meet with Yosef, the brothers were transported back, by the scent of the spices, to the scene of the sale. This set the stage for the dramatic outcome with their brother.
Similarly, the Torah places emphasis on the aromatic nature of sacrifices - rei'ach nicho'ach - perhaps to express the hope that the pleasing aroma of the people's offering will symbolically transport G-d Himself back to the time before our sin, the time of first unsullied love.
The idea of leaping back in time past the iniquity is embodied in the ketores, the very essence of which is aroma. According to tradition, the first of the incense's eleven heavenly ingredients is tzari, evoking once more the sin of the sale of Yosef and the atonement for it. Moreover, the inclusion of chelbena in the priestly ritual preserves eternally that painful time in mitzvah form.
The ketoret speaks to every Jewish quorum, just as it did to that first minyan of Yaakov's sons. It warns that a congregation of ten can not declare them-selves self-sufficient and sever an eleventh member for his outspoken views, cannot deny a brother the purification the klal affords, cannot deny the klal the contributions this member can make.
Who knows which eleventh member is really Joseph? Who knows which superficially unpleasant spice will serve to bind the rest together? Most sadly, what value can a festive table or ritual fast have when empty places only remind us of banished brothers?
Rabbi Moshe Rosenberg
Rabbi Rosenberg is the Rabbi of Congregation Etz Chaim, Kew Garden Hills, Queens, NY.
effort of Weinstock Web Works, OU Online - The Cyber Home of Torah, and 613.org - Jewish Torah Audio