Ki Tissa


Pierre Wertheimer and Estee Lauder are two Jews that made names for themselves in the fragrance industry in the twentieth century.

Fragrance for religious purposes has its origin in this week’s portion in the ketoret or Incense that was used every day in the Tabernacle, and later, in the Temple.

The recipe is described as follows:

And the L-d said to Moses: “Take for yourself aromatics, [namely] balsam sap, onycha and galbanum, aromatics and pure frankincense; they shall be of equal weight. And you shall make it into incense, a compound according to the art of the perfumer, well blended, pure, holy. And you shall crush some of it very finely, and you shall set some of it before the testimony in the Tent of Meeting, where I will arrange meetings with you; it shall be to you a holy of holies. And the incense that you make, you shall not make for yourselves according to its formula; it shall be holy to you for the L-d.” (Exodus 30:34-37.)

The recipe was exclusive for Temple use. It was forbidden to replicate it for personal use. Indeed the Talmud says that the priestly family of Avtinas who manufactured the incense for the Temple used to refrain from using any perfumes, lest they be suspected of having appropriated their Temple stock. Even the brides in their family went unadorned with fragrance.

The Talmud cites an oral tradition that eleven ingredients in all were needed to manufacture the incense. One of these ingredients, chelbonah or galbanum, by itself was foul-smelling but nonetheless was an essential ingredient of the recipe. It is well-known today in the manufacture of perfumes that individual components can be unattractive. It is in the right combination that the successful aroma is produced.

The rabbis of the Talmud saw a profound moral idea in the successful combination of the ingredients of the Temple recipe. The foul-smelling galbanum symbolized the sinner whose presence was vital in creating the overall mixture that was acceptable to G-d. A community has to open to all if it is to have the spiritual aroma that is pleasing to G-d.