Prologue: “All hands on deck!”
When we hit emergency situations, we call everyone in to help.
Yom Kippur is such an emergency. Thus, we introduce the Tefillos of Yom kippur with a declaration that we consider it permitted to daven with sinners. The truth is, that we should probably prefer to shy away from davening with sinners. After all, the Sefer Hachassidim encourages us not to daven next to a sinner because it causes us to have bad thoughts and drives away the Shechina. If that is the case, how can we declare it permitted in the times of our greatest crisis – Yom kippur?
Hagaon Harav Steinman Shlita (Yimalei Fi Teheelasecha) notes that the answer can be found in the Ketores process. After all, one of the major ingredients to Ketores was the Chelbona about which we are told, it had an awful smell. Still, when connected to the other ingredients in the Ketores, the Chelbonah would find its place and contribute to the sweet smell of the Ketores in general. The need of the time and the ability to bring out its proper place helped make the Chelbonah shine and become a contributor instead of a detractor.
The same can be said about the sinner. While it is true, that s/he has not always lived up to Torah ideals, the person has positive qualities and plays a vital role in joining together with the rest of Am Yisroel in prayer on Yom kippur by highlighting and contributing for his/her good qualities just like the Chelbonah did.
Yom Kippur would not be complete without the pivotal Ketores service. This week’s Chaburah also focuses on the lessons of Ketores. It is entitled:
The message of Ketores: Can I Write it down so I Don’t forget?
One of the beautiful practices in Judaism is the daily recitation of Tefillah. The Talmud identifies the concept of having our Tefillah stand in the place of Korbanos. Thus, the understanding of each aspect of sacrificial and temple service has its place in our daily Tefillah.
What about the section of Ketores? In temple times the Ketores would be offered daily, twice. Where is its proper mention?
The truth is, we read the Parsha of Ketores every day. Many have the practice to recite it again before mincha while still others read it from a Klaf – a parchment especially prepared for this purpose. What is the basis for these divergent customs and what should one do?
The Beis Yosef (O.C. 133) quotes the Terumas HaDeshen who notes how important it is to recite the section of Pitum HaKetores carefully. He adds that according to the Terumas Hadeshen, one must recite it from Ksav (parchment) lest one leave out one of the steps or ingredients and, as the text notes, would be held liable for capital punishment. This position is also cited by Rav Chaim Palagi in Kaf HaChaim (Siman TOV:18). He adds (in the name of the Mishpat Tzedek) that this is a good Segulah for Parnassa since Ketores in general is a segulah for wealth.
The problem is that preparing this type of a parchment seems to be in direct violation of the writings of the Shulchan Aruch. For elsewhere (Yoreh Deah 283:2) the Shulchan Aruch writes that one my not write subsections of the Torah on parchment. The Shulchan Aruch originally forbids the preparing for smaller sections even merely for a child to study from. The Ran (gittin 60a) notes that the Rif is lenient in the case of need – like for the child to study from. But the Rambam is strict and the Michaber supports his position. The other commentaries (Bach, Shach and Taz) seem to fight the Michaber on the issue and support the writing of smaller sections of the Torah on parchment in cases of need. The Tashbatz (I:2) notes that the Halacha is in accord with the Rif against the position of the Shulchan Aruch – because of the great need that comes out fo the fact that people do not know the words. The Taz limits this to the writing of charts and sections for educational purposes. That, he writes is a case of necessity (Eis Laasos L’Hashem). Rav Ovadiah Yosef surmises that the seglah for Ketores would not fit into this parameter of necessity. Clearly, this position is disputed by the Kaf HaChaim and those who follow it.
Interestingly, the Beis Yosef is the one who notes that perhaps for this reason many do not say the Ketores at all. The understanding is clear – if one were to say it and leave something out, this would be a danger to him (Sakana) so rather than risk Sakana, we leave it out (This is presumed to be the logic of the BeHag). The Beis Yosef does not think that this conclusion is logical since the reason for the death penalty (according to Rashi <Kerisus 6a>) is for walking into the sanctuary without a purpose – something irrelevant when there is no temple sanctuary.
The Rema (Darkei Moshe 133:4) notes that we don’t say Ketores on weekdays because we are too busy to concentrate but that we should say it on Shabbos and Yom Tov. He adds (in Shulchan Aruch 132) that when one does say it, one should read it carefully.
Bottom line, Pitum HaKetores is a beautiful and important Tefillah. Its beauty is enhanced when it is read carefully and properly.