110. What’s That I Smell?: Not to reproduce the incense formula

Regarding the incense that you will make, do not make any according to that formula for your own use… (Exodus 30:37)

The verse continues, “it shall be holy for you (to use) for God.” Just like we may not replicate the formula of the anointing oil (as in the previous mitzvah), we may not copy the recipe of the incense that was burned on the golden altar because it is reserved for sacrificial use.

This is a serious offense. The next verse warns us that “Anyone who makes a similar composition in order to smell it will be spiritually cut off” (30:38). Accordingly, while one is not permitted to make this incense under any circumstances, he is not culpable for doing so unless he made it for his own enjoyment (see Talmud Kerisos 5a).

This mitzvah applies to both men and women in all times and places. It is discussed in the Talmudic tractates of Kerisos (5a and 6a) and is codified in the Mishneh Torah in the second chapter of Hilchos Klei HaMikdash. It is #85 of the 365 negative mitzvos in the Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvos and #146 of the 194 negative mitzvos that can be fulfilled today as listed in the Chofetz Chaim’s Sefer HaMitzvos HaKatzar.