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Common Query: "What is in a Name?"

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A Wafting Word

ketoret [Keturah] is the transliteration of the Hebrew word קטרת, which is translated, in English, as incense.

The word ketoret means bonding or connecting. This bonding, as we shall see, is necessary to build the unity of the body of Mashiach.

ketoret  is a substance which is associated with joy, prayer, and protection. Clearly, ketoret is a most unusual substance!

Take an in-depth look at a substance which is so powerfull that it can halt a plague.

Because it can halt a plague, Scripture states that those who compound it incorrectly will incur the death penalty.

The Torah teaches us about ketoret; let us examine the first use of ketoret:

Shemot (Exodus) 25:1 And HaShem spake unto Moses, saying, 2 Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring me an offering: of every man that giveth it willingly with his heart ye shall take my offering. 3 And this is the offering which ye shall take of them; gold, and silver, and brass, 4 And blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen, and goats’ hair, 5 And rams’ skins dyed red, and badgers’ skins, and shittim wood, 6 Oil for the light, spices for anointing oil, and for sweet incense, 7 Onyx stones, and stones to be set in the ephod, and in the breastplate. 8 And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell in them.

From this first verse we see that incense is an offering which is associated with HaShem dwelling in us.

The ketoret, offered up twice a day, symbolized Israel’s desire to serve HaShem in a pleasing way.

This offering was brought twice daily, once as part of the Shacharit (morning) service and once as part of the Mincha / Musaf (afternoon) service. This happened seven days a week, every day of the year, including Shabbat and Yom HaKippurim

Five pounds of ketoret was burnt daily, half in the morning and half in the afternoon.

Shemot (Exodus) 30:7 And Aaron shall burn thereon sweet incense every morning: when he dresseth the lamps, he shall burn incense upon it. 8 And when Aaron lighteth the lamps at even, he shall burn incense upon it, a perpetual incense before HaShem throughout your generations.

Common Query: "What is in a Name?"

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From The Torah; 

for our morning prayers we read about the specifics of the ketoret:[1]

It is You, HaShem, our God, before Whom our forefathers burned the ketoret (incense­ spices) in the time when the Holy Temple stood, as You commanded them through Moshe Your prophet, as is written in Your Torah:

Exodus 30:34-36, 7-8 HaShem said to Moses: Take yourself spices — balsam, onycha, and galbanum — spices and pure frankincense; they are all to be of equal weight. You are to make it into ketoret  (incense), a spice-compound, the handiwork of an expert spice-compounder, thoroughly mixed, pure and holy. You are to grind some of it finely and place some of it before the Testimony in the Tent of Appointment, where I shall designate a time to meet you; it shall be a holy of holies for you.

It is also written: Aaron shall burn upon it the incense-spices every morning; when he cleans the lamps he is to burn it. And when Aaron ignites the lamps in the afternoon, he is to burn it, as continual incense before HaShem throughout your generations.

The Hakhamim taught: How is the incense mixture formulated? Three hundred sixty-eight maneh were in it: three hundred sixty-five corresponding to the days of the solar year — a maneh for each day, half in the morning and half in the afternoon; and three extra maneh, from which the Kohen Gadol would bring both his handfuls [into the Holy of Holies] on Yom HaKippurim. He would return them to the mortar on the day before Yom Kippur, and grind them very thoroughly so that it would be exceptionally fine. Eleven kinds of spices were in it, as follows: 

(1) balsam, (2) onycha, (3) galbanum [chelbena], (4) frankincense — each weighing seventy maneh[2]; (5) myrrh, (6) cassia, (7) spikenard, (8) saffron — each weighing sixteen maneh; (9) costus — twelve maneh; (10) aromatic bark — three; and (11) cinnamon — nine.

[Additionally] Carshina lye, nine kav[3]; Cyprus wine, three se’ah[4] and three kav, if he has no Cyprus wine, he brings old white wine; Sodom salt, a quarter[-kav]; and a minute amount of a smoke-raising herb. Rabbi Nassan the Babylonian says: Also a minute amount of Jordan amber. If he placed fruit-honey into it, he invalidated it. But if he left out any of its spices, he is liable to the death penalty.

Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says: The balsam is simply the sap that drips from balsam trees. Why is Carshina lye used? To bleach the onycha, to make it pleasing. Why is Cyprus wine used? So that the onycha could be soaked in it, to make it pungent. Even though urine is more suitable for that, nevertheless they do not bring urine into the Temple out of respect.

It is taught, Rabbi Nassan says: As one would grind [the incense] another would say: 

 ‘Grind thoroughly, thoroughly grind,’

because the sound is beneficial for the spices. If one mixed it in half-quantities, it was fit for use, but as to a third or a quarter — we have not heard the law. Rabbi Yehudah said: This is the general rule — In its proper proportion, it is fit for use in half the full amount; but if he left out any one of its spices, he is liable to the death penalty.

It is taught, Bar Kappara says: Once every sixty or seventy years, the accumulated leftovers reached half the yearly quantity. Bar Kappara taught further: Had one put a kortov of fruit-honey into it, no person could have resisted its scent. Why did they not mix fruit-honey into it? — because the Torah says: ‘For any leaven or any fruit-honey, you are not to burn from them a fire-offering to HaShem.”

End of the morning prayers that speak about ketoret.

The Torah does not give the exact recipe for the ketoret that was burned daily in the Temple. Only in the Oral Law do we find a list of all eleven ingredients. Our Hakhamim taught

The ketoret contained eleven spices. There were seventy maneh each of 

(1) balsam, 

(2) onycha, 

(3) galbanum, and 

(4) frankincense. 

There were sixteen maneh each of 

(5) myrrh, 

(6) cassia, 

(7) spikenard, and

(8) saffron. 

There were twelve maneh of 

(9) costus, 

three measures of 

(10) aromatic bark,

and nine measures of 

(11) cinnamon.

Each maneh weighed five pounds. The total weight was 368 maneh - one measure for each day, plus 3 extra for Yom Kippur, or 1,840 pounds (836.36 kg).

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Common Query: "What is in a Name?"

You Asked, We Answered:

Midrash Rabbah - The Song of Songs I:62. R. Johanan applied the verse to the incense of the House of Abtinus. THE BAG OF MYRRH: this is one of the eleven spices which composed it. R. Huna explained [why there were eleven]. It says And the Lord said unto Moses: Take unto thee sweet spices (Ex.XXX, 34)-this is two: balsam, and onycha and galbanam--this makes five; sweet spices--if you say this means only two more, we have already had this; [therefore take it in conjunction with the next words], of each shall there be a like weight; add five to the previous five, making ten. With pure frankincense --this makes eleven. On the basis of this verse the Sages investigated and found that nothing is better for the incense than just these eleven spices.

The Acharit Shalom observes that whereas the eleven above-mentioned ingredients are listed in Hebrew, the remaining ingredients are listed in Aramaic. He presumes that Chazal did this deliberately in order to differentiate between the actual spices and the remaining ingredients that are merely (to enhance the quality of the main ingredients).

The incense was compounded from eleven ingredients: balsam, onycha, galbanum, frankincense (in quantities of seventy manehs each in weight), myrrh, cassia, spikenard, saffron (sixteen manehs each), costus (twelvemanehs), aromatic bark (three manehs), and cinnamon (nine manehs), altogether 368 manehs, one for each day of the year, half offered in the morning, and half in the evening, and three extra manehs for the Day of Atonement. But in an ordinary lunar year there were 11 manehs over (the lunar year being 354 days); and though these 11 manehs were necessary for supplementing the incense in intercalary years (see calendar study), they had to be bought from the new donations given on the first of Nisan. Some method had to be devised, therefore, of making the remainder of the old incense valid for the new year. 

The lye obtained from a species of leek and the Cyprus wine which are mentioned in connection with the incense, were nor actual ingredients, but were used simply for whitening the onycha, and also for making its odour more pungent, as we shall see.

Rabbi Moshe Sofer[5] explains the symbolic meaning of the names of the four main incense spices, as well as the Karshina lye and Cyprus wine:

The four spices that are written explicitly in the Torah are tzori-balsam, tziporen-onycha, chelbenah-galbanum, and levonah zakah-pure frankincense. 

Tzori alludes to the Torah which is a tzori-balsam and healing for the entire body

Levonah zakah alludes to God’s love for His people through which He me’laven-whitens and bleaches their sins. Between these two are placed the tziporen and chelbenah. 

As known, chelbenah alludes to complete sinners.