Parashas Ki Sisa
Shemen mishchas kodesh ... al b’sar adam lo yisach u’v’maskunto lo sa’asu kamohu, kodesh hu ... the oil for sanctified anointing ... no person should use it for anointing and its recipe you shall not duplicate, it is sanctified (Shemos 30:31-32)
Rashi, quoting the Talmud [Kerisus 5a], notes that there are two distinct prohibitions in this verse. The first [al basar adom lo yisach] specifically proscribes using the oil that Moshe Rabbenu produced for anything other than its original intention. If I produced the exact same mixture of anointing oil on my own, I would not violate this prohibition by using it for myself or giving it to someone else. However, I would be in violation of the second proscription [u’v’maskunto lo sa’asu kamohu] which forbids following the recipe used by Moshe to create an anointing oil with the very same ingredients in the same proportion. Should I or someone else use that oil, however, there would be no additional violation. In other words, as regards the oil produced by Moshe there is a prohibition of using it whereas as regards oil that I make on my own, the prohibition only pertains to production. The punishment for either prohibition is kares.
The next parashah deals with the production of the k’tores used on the interior mizbeach. The Torah (ibid. :38) states: ish asher ya’aseh chamoha l’hariach bah, v’nichras mei’amav - a person who makes something similar to smell, and he shall be cut off from his people. Rambam (Klei ha-Mikdash 2:9) notes that the prohibition is dependent upon the producer’s intent; i.e., if they intended to use it as incense, they are in violation even if they did not actually use it. Moreover, if one used ktores but did not actually produce it, he would not be punished with kares; rather he would be subject to the same fine as anyone who derived benefit from anything that was consecrated. In this sense it would seem that the k’tores is similar to the second shemen hamishchah prohibition in that the laws concerns production rather than use.
However, this is not entirely accurate, for as regards the ktores, one is in violation even if one does not use the same amounts provided that one uses the same proportions. As regards shemen hamishchah, one is only in violation if both the proportions of ingredients and weight are precisely the same as in Moshe’s recipe.
A number of questions present themselves. In only a few other cases concerning the Divine service in the Mishkan/Mikdash do we find similar halachos calling for punishment for having duplicated something. One is specifically forbidden to create a human form of gold or silver like the keruvim [see 20:20 and Rambam, Avodah Zara 3:10-11] or exact replicas [e.g., a seven branch menorah] of the vessels used in the Mishkan/Mikdash] or playing the chatzotzrah made by Moshe. If one does so, however, he is not liable for kareis as he is here. Hence, we need to determine why non-sanctioned production/use of shemen hamishchah and k’tores is dealt with so stringently [kareis!]. Moreover, why does the Torah differentiate between the two, each having a stringent side [using the shemen hamishchah made by Moshe and making k’tores with non-identical weight] and a lenient side [the k’tores if not used to smell and anointing oneself or another person with private label shemen hamishchah].
As was the case with the clothing of the kohanim discussed in last weeks parashah and the utensils used in the Mishkan/Mikdash discussed in parashas Terumah, it is obvious that the incense and anointing oil have great symbolic value. Although we do not know understand why they used those particular ingredients in that particular mixture and with these weights, we can understand the symbolism of both products. The essence of the Divine service in Judaism is to elevate that which appears to be natural and extend to it spiritual meaning. This is the basis of the concept of korbanot, for example. Netziv explains that the sacrifices are referred to as lechem - bread - related to lechem - to bond. Bread is both the very basis of natural life [along with water of which Torah is symbolic] and of spiritual life [the offering to G-d who has no natural needs] and as such provide the bond between man and G-d.
Shemen and k’tores are also part of this process and b’ezras Hashem we will try to examine their meaning and answer the questions we posed.