For the past five weeks, the Torah has focused on building the Mishkan. Now that it’s finally up and running, we begin learning about what actually took place there. Among the many korbanos offered in the Mishkan – which dominates the first few parshas of the book of Vayikra – are various types of grain offerings, usually accompanied by ketores, incense. Our pasuk specifies that these offerings must not contain leaven or honey.
Chazal wonder about the ban on the latter ingredient:
“Bar Kappara taught: Had one added a drop of honey to the incense, nobody could have resisted the scent! So why was no honey mixed in? Because the Torah says: ‘you shall not present any leaven or honey as a fire offering to Hashem’” (Yerushalmi, Yoma 4:4).
Asks Rabbi Tzvi Shraga Grossbard (Da’as Shraga): How exactly is the Gemara answering Bar Kappara’s question? He’s asking why the Torah forbade the addition of honey – which would only enhance the ketores – and the Gemara responds: “Because the Torah forbade it”!
Furthermore, Sefer HaChinuch (mitzvah 103) states that the ketores was intended to glorify the House of Hashem and demonstrate its awesome spirituality. If so, since smell is our most spiritual sense (Berachos 43b), why not make the Mishkan as fragrant as possible? Why indeed does the Torah allow no additions to the incense?
The Yerushalmi’s seemingly circular reasoning is precisely the point. Why don’t we add honey? Because the Torah says not to. Once the Torah says no, our seemingly good idea becomes downright bad.
We don’t understand what’s truly good. All we know is that whatever the Torah dictates is good. So if the Torah says no honey, honey’s no good, even though it would apparently make the ketores irresistible.
Rabbi Moshe Reis (MeRosh Tzurim) goes even further. The whole purpose of the ketores was to smell good. So it stands to reason that we should enhance its fragrance not just with honey but with all kinds of other sweet-smelling spices. Nonetheless, we’re forbidden to do that. Logic may dictate additional “aromatics,” but once the Torah says no, there’s no room for other considerations, however logical they may be.
True, honey can perfume the ketores, but much sweeter is our submission to Hashem’s will. After all, the goal of all korbanos is to create “a sweet smell (ריח ניחוח) for Hashem” (Vayikra 1:9), i.e., “satisfaction (נחת רוח) before Me that I said, and My will was done” (Rashi).
We see the same concept in the Mishnah: “Do His will as your own, that He may do your will as His own. Negate your will in favor of His will, that He may negate others’ will in favor of yours” (Avos 2:4). Tosfos Yom Tov suggests that “doing His will” corresponds to positive mitzvos, and “negating your will” to negative – in other words, total submission.
Rabbi Matisyah HaYitzhari comments here: Even if something forbidden is extremely tempting, or seems highly beneficial, banish your desire for it – not to earn reward or escape punishment, but only out of love for Hashem. That should be our will. Then, as a fringe benefit, we’ll merit such specific Divine intervention that Hashem will even negate others’ will if it interferes with our goal.
Addition = Subtraction
“Because the Torah says” – that should be our approach to all of Judaism. We shouldn’t presume to improve the Torah. Rather, we must do exactly what it says, abandoning all our “better ideas.”
As the Torah itself warns, “Neither add to nor subtract from the word that I command you” (Devarim 4:2; see 13:1 as well). And as Chazal explain, whenever we add, even with the best intentions, we only detract (Sanhedrin 29a).
The Torah is perfect, and there’s no improving on perfection
Question for Discussion
When have you needed to adjust your personal views or actions to the Torah?