Sweeter than honey

The Torah forbids honey in ketoret (incense). Why would a sweet, natural food for which the Land of Israel is praised, be forbidden? .

Rabbi Shlomo Sobol ,

Rabbi Shlomo Sobol
Rabbi Shlomo Sobol
INN: Daniel Malichi

Last week's Torah portion spoke about the building of the Mishkan. In the Mishkan G-d bestowed his presence on us with the “spiritual direction” coming from above to below, and the nations of Israel expressed their bond with G-d by offering sacrifices and burning incense, with the “spiritual direction” being from below to on high. The first part of Sefer Vayikra – which we will begin reading this Shabbat - discusses the sacrifices and incense.

When discussing the laws of the sacrifices, the Torah says "…and any honey you shall not use for incense before G-d." The question is, what is the reason for the ban on bringing honey as a sacrifice/incense on the altar? After all, honey is a sweet thing and even the Land of Israel is called "a land flowing with milk and honey"?

The Sefer HaChinuch is a book which brings reasons and sources for the mitzvot. The author writes that he brings the reasonings so that children as well as adults can be inspired to do the mitzvot because the mitzvot of the Torah all have logic and purpose and if G-d forbid, the Torah appears to some as a “closed book” then it may be difficult for them to perform the mitzvot and they may reject them. However, he writes that the reasons that he brings for a particular mitzvah may not be the only reason and there may be others as well.

Bearing in mind this introduction, the Sefer HaChinuch offers an educational reason for the ban of offering honey as incense, saying: "In the matter of (not offering up) the honey, it is a lesson for children that they should not always run after food that is sweet to their palate as is the manner of gluttons who are always chasing sweet foods. Rather, they should turn their hearts towards foods which are beneficial to the body, are needed for survival and that keep them healthy. And any wise person should use those parameters to direct his food choices, not just what is tasteful to his palate.”

After we have heard the explanation of the Sefer HaChinuch, we will try to give an additional reason for this mitzvah, this time according to the Torat Hachasidut. The word קרבנות (sacrifices) comes from the root קרב which means to come close, and they express our desire to draw nearer to G-d. By the prohibition of offering honey on the altar, the Torah teaches us that when we perform the work of G-d we do not begin with honey. No one connects with G-d just because of the fact that the mitzvot are pleasant, sweet, comfortable for him or cure his diseases. The foundation of the relationship between man and G-d is the fundamental truth of the relationship. The truth does not depend on “taste” or reason, it stands on its own, and even if it is bitter as an olive it is the fundamental truth.

Therefore, observance of mitzvot needs to be founded on the fact that the Torah is truth, and not conditioned on the feeling of the sweetness of the Torah. Of course, in the Torah there is infinite sweetness, but not all of us get to feel the sweetness in every mitzvah. On the contrary, whoever observes the Torah from deep conviction, even when he still does not feel the sweetness in it, will eventually get to feel the “honey” of the Torah.

Rabbi Shlomo Sobol is the head of the Barkai Rabbinical Organization and the rabbi of the Shaarei Yonah Menachem community in Modi'in.



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