This week’s Torah portion is “Ki Tisa” (Exodus 30:11–34:35) and it is action-packed, most notably, with the episode of the Golden Calf.
By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
Another feature in this week’s Torah reading is the “ketoret” ceremony, the burning of the incense. Incense was burned in the Tabernacle, and later in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, every day, once as part of the morning offering, and once as part of the afternoon offering. The incense was made up of 11 ingredients, and the recipe was a very closely guarded secret.
During the second Temple era there was only one family –the Avtinas family– who was in charge of the incense and knew how to properly prepare it for the Temple service. We are told that when the rabbis asked the Avtinas’ for the recipe, they were rudely told, well, to mind their own business. The rabbis were angry with their response, to say the least, and fired them from their role as the incense makers.
To fill the role of the incense makers, the rabbis brought in spice experts from Egypt who were given the job of reproducing the incense for the Temple service. These experts, however, were simply unable to produce the Avtinas family’s perfect incense mixture, to which the people had become accustomed. So too, there was something very unique and unusual about the incense produced by the Avtinas family: when the priest would burn the incense, the pillar of smoke would ascend heavenward in a perfectly straight line. The new incense crew were unable to figure out how to accomplish this.
As such, the rabbis were forced to go back to Avtinas family and beg them to take their old job back. But they refused the offer! They would only agree to resume manufacturing the incense if they would receive double the pay they had received previously (and still never reveal the secret recipe!)! The rabbis had no choice but to cave in. And so it was.
The commentators use this story to illustrate that when God has decreed that something is ours, there is no power in the world that can come in the way of that. Every person gets exactly what God has decreed for them. It seems that God decreed that the Avtinas family would be blessed with the gift of incense and its salary,no ifs, ands, or buts.
This story should teach us to have faith. The Avtinas family was fired–things looked bleak–and a short while later, they were wealthier than they could have ever imagined, through a sequence of events that they could never have imaged! This is God playing behind the scenes at its best.
Let us remember the story of the Avtinas family and strengthen our faith in God. Whether it is a promotion or demotion…everything is in God’s hands. We will always get exactly what God wants us to have!
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