Our view of the Galile

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Old Spice- Ki Tisa 5774/2014

Insights and Inspiration
from the
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"

February 14th  2014 -Volume 4, Issue 18-14th  of Adar I 5774

Ki Tisa
Old Spice

 I sat there on the bus from my yeshiva in Har Nof to the Western Wall. (This goes back about 20 something years or so…Ouch it hurts even to write that.) It was a long bus ride and I made myself comfortable. In front of me sat two Israeli pre-teen agers and their giggling piqued my attention. Seemingly they were laughing over a new purchase that one of them had made. Out comes the surprise from that brown paper bag and lo and behold it was one of those speed stick deodorants.  Frankly, I never found deodorant to be particularly humorous but it seems that these two girls had never seen anything like this before in their lives. One of them started rolling that stick up and they both found it to be absolutely hilarious. They rolled it down again and just couldn't stop cracking up. Finally one of them started to roll some on the side of the bus seat. The other one started smelling it and they just found this so so funny. It was like they had discovered America. I hope they eventually learned how to use it properly. Welcome to civilization Israel.

 I slowly began to understand how that genius Israeli mind must have developed so many powerful weapons out of nothing. Imagine what some aerosol cans of deodorant can do in the untrained hand. I can just see two Israeli military minds unveiling their latest military purchase; "Right Guard". "See eet says dees is dah right gard to protect us from the Arabs with weeth." Walla…our arsenal is complete.

I think back to that bus ride often. No, I don't mean when I am sitting next to a passenger that hasn't discovered deodorant yet. I just move my seat in those cases. I think about it when I travel around Israel and visit the ancient bathhouses, hot springs or the beautiful streams and I talk to some of my tourists about the bathing habits of the ancient world. It is hard to believe or even imagine that baths were not a common occurrence. Washing oneself on a regular basis was unheard of, certainly in the winter months before the advent of personal showers and heated water. Sure there were rich noblemen that had slaves prepare water for them. But until the advent of indoor plumbing in the mid 19th century the world must have been a pretty smelly place. In fact the Talmud tells us that when one would go to the bathhouse in ancient times they would be prohibited from any strenuous activity, for it was deemed dangerous to one's health. A bath was a full day affair. Steam baths, cold water followed by hot water and of course a good massage and beating followed by a dose of perfumes. There was no jump in the shower for two minutes, grab a quick bar of soap and shampoo and head off to work. So people used to go only very occasionally and in general were not too clean.

The Jewish people were of course always different. We were always a little more meticulous about bathing. At least once a week for Shabbat and of course regular mikva going as well. We are even commanded to wash our hands before a meal and afterwards. So we always had a greater hygienic code than our gentile neighbors. In fact some suggest that when the Black Plague hit during the middle ages wiping out most of Europe, the Jews had an overwhelmingly lower casualty rate than their filthy, smelly neighbors did. This of course gave them an excuse to kill us with swords and pogroms instead. Not that they ever really needed any major excuses. Yet although we were perhaps cleaner and maybe even better smelling than our neighbors we certainly were a far cry from today's western civilized world. I open up my bathroom cabinet and I imagine what my great-grandparents and ancestors would have thought. Toothpaste, mouthwash, Q-Tips, soap, conditioner, body wash, shampoo and some other stuff that my teenage daughter uses that I still haven’t figured out what they are for (shhh..my teen-age son as well-he's also a clean twice-a-day shower type of kid). So we have advanced...right? At least in the way we smell… or don't. But I think that they had some other things going for them that perhaps we don't.  Maybe it was the smell of the Divine.

Which of course brings us to this week's Torah portion. See what I did. The Torah portion which starts off with the collecting of the half-shekel coin for the building of the Tabernacle-we'll save that for Parshat Shekalim- then introduces the Parsha that primarily discusses the sin of the golden calf with three interesting laws. The first being the making of the Kiyor, or laver (does anyone know what that means? Why do they even bother translating it into something no-one knows.) which is basically the large bathtub-like water tub that the Kohein would wash and purify himself in before doing the service. The second being the anointing oil that was mixed with spices (myrrh, cinnamon aromatic spices and cassia (anyone??)) to anoint the Kohein and all the vessels in the Temple with. Finally discussed as well, are the laws of the making of the incense/the ketoret, which would be brought daily on the special golden altar and in the holy of holies on Yom Kipppur by the Ark of Covenant. Hmmm water, anointing oils, sweet smelling incense…wasn't that a great intro? Not only mine, I mean, the Parsha's? What does all this have to do with the Golden Calf?

It's even more interesting that at the end of last week's Torah portion, which primarily discusses the making of the Priestly garments, already seems to discuss the anointing oil and the making of the incense altar, as what seems to be the conclusion of the discussion of the building of the tabernacle. Yet it seems to go over it and elaborate about it again in this week's Parsha.

 Truth is, out of all of the things in the Tabernacle, the Ketoret/ incense perhaps gets the most coverage and discussion. It is what will later be the cause of the death of Aharon's two sons who bring it improperly. It becomes the source of contention and eventually the challenge during the fight of Korach and his not-so-merry men. It is also what Aharon uses to stop the plague that sweeps through the camp in the aftermath of that fight. And of course of here once again it is mentioned as the conclusion of the Tabernacle building and description.

On a more mystical level there is a tradition that the recitation of the Ketoret portion and the ingredients and process that went into making it is a good omen (segula) for wealth. In the times of the temple, the merit to prepare the incense was done by lottery and could only be done once in one's life. Rabbi Eli Mink suggests that the custom to recite the Ketoret daily in our morning service before we recite our songs of praise (Psukei D'Zimra) was because our prayers are in place of the offerings and the Ketores was brought before the daily offering was brought. Even more fascinating he writes that the custom to recite it a second time at the end of the prayer service developed during a period when there were rampant plagues and it was added to the service to halt the plagues. Today many in the Sefardic and Chasidic communities have a tradition to recite the Ketoret verses from an actual hand written scroll. In Ashkenazic communities the ruling of the Rama was not to say it during the weekday, for fear that one might be in a rush and by mistake leave out one of the spices in his recitation-which if it is in place of the offering would not be such a good thing. Shabbos though nobody's in a rush-(although from the amount of time people spend looking at their watches during my sermons one would never know..:) and so we can recite the Ketores from within our siddur with all the necessary concentration.

What is it about the Ketores that makes it so special? Rav Gedaliah Schorr in his great work Ohr Gedalyahu writes that Ketores has 11 spices within it. The 11th spice Chalbina, or as Rashi translates it as Galbanum, was a putrid smelling spice. You know the no-deodorant kind. {*Incidentally, fun Galbanum facts- it grows plentifully on the slopes of Iran, Must by Cartier and Chanel 19 both use it in their perfumes. Hippocrates said it was very curative, but a bit mixed with oil was would be enough to kill a snake. Best of all, if it is steam distilled it smells like a fine malt-giving L'Chaim on a beer new meaning}. This spice, Rashi quoting the Talmud tells us, was included in order to teach us that even the sinners of Israel shall be counted amongst us for prayers and supplications. For even the holy Ketores was only complete with this spice. Rav Shorr thus suggests that this is in fact the power of the incense; to bring together all the different parts of the Jewish people into one heavenly aroma. The more skeptical commentaries suggest that we have to have 10 good smelling spices for the 11th to have its power as well. Meaning a Minyan of Kosher non-sinners, but between me and you where are we gonnna find a group like that?

 But regardless, the essence in fact of the Tabernacle was "in order that they shall know that I am Hashem their God who took them out of Egypt to dwell within them". The Mishkan wasn't to serve God. It wasn't to bring offerings, and it wasn't to give a nice cushy job to the Priests. The function of the Mishkan was for us to recognize that there is Hashem residing in each and every Jew. The function of the Mishkan was so that we could bring that heavenly Ketores, that incredible incense, before Hashem that shows him that we recognize that even the Chelbana has a holy aroma to it and can be brought before Hashem. On a deeper level perhaps we are told that in the "original sin" of Adam in the garden of Eden the sense of smell was the only one that was un affected-that did not get tainted. The ears heard the temptation of the Snake. The eyes saw the tree, the hands, plucked the fruit, the mouth tasted. Only the sense of smell, the nose which Hashem had originally blown the spirit of life; a piece of Himself in each of us, remains untainted and pure as the day we were created. Talk about a Jewish noseJ.

The power of the Ketores to break the plague is that we remind Hashem and ourselves that even after we sin we still have the Divine residing amongst us when we join together with our fellow Jews. Together we smell terrific. We smell Godly. Perhaps it is why the recitation of Ketores is also a tremendous omen for wealth. For who is truly wealthy? Our sages tell us, he who is satisfied with his lot. Once one recognizes that within him dwells the Divine spirit. That Hashem is there amongst him even if he falls, even if he fails than one can't help but be overwhelmed at the tremendous fortune he has. All is from Hashem. There is no greater wealth.

It is perhaps why as well that this portion is the introduction to the story of the golden calf, the portion called Ki Tisa, when you shall uplift the Jewish people. For there was perhaps no greater sin and no greater falling to take place in the history of our people than when 40 days after that tremendous revelation at Sinai we, or at least a portion of our people, started to sing and dance before a calf of gold who we declared as the new leader of our people.  A calf?! Made of gold?! Really???! The sin, our sages suggest, came from the fact that we had thought that it was only with Moshe, only with a leader that could go up the mountain, could we ever communicate and connect with God. We didn't see Hashem within us. We didn't believe any mortal could actually house the Divine. Who me? Hashem within me? Can't be…can't be… so we created as supernatural being. But we were wrong. We forgot that even the Chelbana can smell good and can bring a heavenly smell before our Father in Heaven.

We may be a lot cleaner and smell a lot nicer today than our ancestors did. We've got deodorants, body washes and all types of things to make us smell nice. Yet perhaps we need to focus a little more on the holy smell that is meant to emanate from us as well. Our forefathers in the times of the temple would wake up each morning to the smell of the Ketoret. Our sages relate that even the goats in Jericho would smell from the aroma of the Ketoret and brides in Jerusalem had no need for perfume because the heavenly smell permeated the air. They didn't need deodorant back then. Because if we smelled good in heaven and we were all connected in the most spiritual and holy of ways, appreciating the godliness found within each of us, than we smelled good down here as well.

There is one last thing that I left out just in case any of you actually cracks a chumash and reads the Parsha as well (always a good idea). The last portion before the reading of the Golden Calf this week right after the Ketores is a reiteration of the mitzvah of Shabbos. Shabbos as well fits with this theme. For on Shabbos we truly experience the smell of Gan Eden; the heavenly aroma of us returning once again each week to that Divine spark and moment when we were created and through which we can be re-created anew. Not to mention the aroma of the chulent (you need I had to get it inJ)). May we soon merit to experience a time that everyday smells like Shabbos.

 Have an aromatically blessed Shabbos!
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz


 "Success is a great deodorant. It takes away all your past smells. "- Elizabeth Taylor

"Common sense is like deodorant...The people who need it most never use it. ".- Unknown


 he end of the Parsha tells us that Moshe's face was lit up up after the golden calf and the writing of the 2nd tablets. It is interesting to note that there are 17 more words in the second tablets than the first tablets (go check them out in Exodus20:2-14 and Dueteronomy 5:6-18). 17 is the gematria of the word Tov (9+6+2). The first time the word Tov is found in the Torah it is a reference to the great light that Hashem created in the world on the first day of creation. That light our sages tell us was too great too be revealed and was hidden away for the righteous. Rav Tzadok HaKohein suggests that it was that light that was hidden in the tablets Hashem had written as man had achieved the ultimate state of revelation. When Moshe carved the second tablets that light was not put into it. Instead of the light words took their place. We would have to struggle to understand and connect, rather than just tap into the light. What happened to the light? The Tov? The 17? It remained with Moshe. So he shined. Interesting as well that when Moshe was born they saw that he was Tov- Rashi there notes the whole house was filled with light! Now you know why..


(answer below at end of Email)

Water cisterns become a widespread phenomenon in Israel

a)  The Neolithic period

b)  The Chalcolithic period

c)  The Iron age

d)  The Bronze age


7 Holy cow, you're golden!

6 What's your sign? Taurus?

5. Forget breaking the 2 tablets, you just broke my heart

4 Didn't I see your profile on pagan-date.com?

3. Sorry, are you single or did you also just donate your ring?

2. Forget the gold, my heart just melted

1. Seems they named that cow-statue after me. Hi I'm Goldberg




   And the whole prayer for those looking for a segula-read along?


 Isvei Kedem/Herbs of Kedem-Moshav Carmel, Hebron Hills- For all you inspired readers or naturopaths or people that just get a kick out of tapping into the ancient wisdom of the holy spices and therapuitic value of our ancestors (like my wife) than Isvei Kedem is the place you want to visit. Started by Dr. Amir Kitron in 1996 herbs of Kedem was founded with the idea that the unique natural conditions of Israel as well as the Dead Sea area are ideal in producing the best and totally natural remedies, skin and beauty care products without any  synthetic ingredients or preservatives. Utilizing much of the wisdom of Jewish sources as well as traditional herbal recipes and secrets that have been passed down generations. Approved by all the major Commerce and health orgainzations they offer a money back guarantee on their products (which can be purchased on line as well). A visit to their center and factory will get you a tour and explanation of their plant and products as well as some samples and a delicious tea as well. Best of all its free!



Answer is C:  The Iron age is pretty much the period of when our forefathers left Egypt and first inhabited the land as a nation. This includes the period of the judges and the first kings of Israel. It is in this period that we find the proliferation of water cisterns in the land. The difference between a well and a cistern is that a well taps into underground water system, whereas a cistern is a means of collecting a preserving the water that falls in the winter to last for the other seasons. It is done by plastering the inside of the cistern as well as digging it in a strategic location, preferably at the bottom of a hill range where the rain that falls can be directed into the cistern. The other periods are all before the Jewish people came to Israel asn we know that nothing really important happened until we got hereJ           


1 comment:

  1. You aren't going to keep us up toe date?