Laws of Sacrifices and Temple Matters (N#80-140)

Read the full text here.

Summary: Negative mitzvah #80 is not to ascend the Temple altar by steps, but rather with a ramp, for modesty reasons. Next is not to bring a “foreign incense” upon the golden incense altar, since only the specific Torah-mandated incense recipe was kosher. This is followed by the prohibition of extinguishing the altar flame, and of duplicating the special anointing oil used in the Temple, as well as not anointing the wrong people. It is similarly forbidden to duplicate the incense recipe outside the Temple. Mitzvah #86 is not to remove the poles used to carry the Ark of the Covenant, 87 is not to separate the choshen (“Priestly Breastplate”) from the ephod garment, and 88 is not to tear the me’il (the High Priest’s robe). The next 16 negative mitzvot all deal with improper sacrifices and offerings, whether blemished or brought outside of the Temple compound, or acquired inappropriately, or having a forbidden ingredient, and so on. The seven mitzvot that follow are all about things that are consecrated for Temple and priestly use. Mitzvot #115-128 all deal with prohibitions surrounding the pesach sacrifice and related holiday offerings, including who could partake of them and who could not (for example, a foreigner or uncircumcised male could not consume these). Mitzvah #129 is that a person who is spiritually impure could not partake of any Temple offerings, and the mitzvot that follow, up to #140, are all about who could not consume various offerings and in which circumstances an offering would no longer be kosher.

Insight: The ketoret, Temple incense, was a unique mixture of 11 spices and herbs. The Sages specify the exact proportions of these ingredients. For example, it had 70 units of frankincense, 16 units of myrrh, and 9 units of cinnamon. Altogether, the mixture had 368 units. Every day of the year, the High Priest would burn one unit of incense. On Yom Kippur, the remaining 3 units would be taken into the Holy of Holies by the kohen gadol. The aroma would help him enter a deeply meditative and prophetic state and, if he was worthy, communicate with God. The Zohar (II, 218b) teaches that it is a segulah to recite the ketoret recipe each day, and one who does so with kavanah (deep intention) will be blessed with success and good health. Most siddurim to this day include the ketoret text in the morning prayers, and Sephardic custom is to recite this text before Minchah as well.

The ‘Pittum Ketoret’ text, handwritten on parchment