Human beings gather information about the world around them through their five senses. Of those senses, the sense of smell is often the most under-estimated, and yet it is said that smells can have the most psychologically provocative effect. A specific fragrance can makes us happy, sad, hungry, or even fearful. Indeed, it says in the Book of Proverbs: “Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart” (Proverbs 27:9).

Perhaps, then, it is not surprising that the Midrash refers to the ketoret, the ancient incense offering of the Temple, as being “more precious than all the sacrifices” (Numbers Rabbah 18:8).  The ketoret is introduced in Exodus 30:34-38, which refers to a combination of stacte, onycha, galbanum and frankincense. According to the Talmud (tractate Kretot), the ketoret was actually composed of many more ingredients, but these four were the primary spices.

A small portion of the ketoret was set aside in the ohel moed (tent of meeting) and the Torah instructs that “it shall be to you most holy.”

Like many of the items used in the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and the Temple, the true ketoret formula is no longer known. One could certainly attempt to combine the listed ingredients, but this would actually be a violation of separate Torah commandment that states: “And the ketoret that you shall make, according to the composition thereof, you shall not make for yourselves; it shall be holy to you for God. Whosoever shall make similar [shall try to replicate it], to smell thereof, he shall be cut off from his people.” (Exodus 30:37-38).

Wishing you all a happy Fragrance Day.

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