By Rabbi Yisroel Shusterman
Many topics appear in this week’s Torah portion Ki Sisa (Shmos [Exodus] 30:11-34:35). There is the story of making the Golden Calf, and of how Moses pleaded with G-d for forgiveness on behalf of his people. But before these major events there is a passage we might overlook which tells us something about the way the Torah sees the Jewish community.
This concerns the preparation of the beautiful aromatic incense that was burned on the small golden altar in the Sanctuary, and later in the Temple, every day of the year.
As explained by the Sages, there are altogether eleven ingredients in the incense. However, when we look closely at these, there is something puzzling. One would expect the fragrance of each of the ingredients to be of the best. So it was, with one exception. Called chelbona (galbanum) this in fact had a rather unpleasant odor.
Why would such an ingredient be included in the incense for the Temple? The Torah makes it clear that each one is essential and if any one ingredient were to be missing, the whole mixture would be invalid.
From this we learn a powerful lesson. The Sages tell us that the different ingredients of the incense represent the different types of Jew. The poor smelling spice represents the person whose deeds are less than perfect. He may even be in various ways a transgressor, a person whose life is unfortunately at variance with Torah teaching. The incense tells us that he is as much part of the Jewish people as anyone else. In fact, if he is missing, if we let him feel remote and excluded, then we are not functioning properly as a people.
This relates also to the theme later in the Parshah: asking G-d for forgiveness. The Rabbis state that on a fast day, when we are all pleading to G-d for mercy, the "transgressors" must also be present. At the beginning of the Kol Nidrei service we announce this. We are one people together, and only by being one can we come closer to G-d.
From the point of view of G-d, everyone belongs.
(Excerpts from Chabad.org – by Rabbi Tali Loewenthal)