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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Ki Tisa

Mordechai Hidden in the Ktoret

the name of the hero of the Purim story, Mordechai, is alluded to in our Parsha which describes the spices that constitute the incense offering in the tabernacle and temple.
Rabbi Berel WeinAdar 18 5781
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I approach this week's Torah reading while still under the influence of the great holiday of Purim. As such, I have long noticed that according to the Talmud, the name of the hero of the Purim story, Mordechai, is alluded to in the portion of this week's Torah reading, which describes the spices that constitute the incense offering in the tabernacle and temple. The names of Haman and Esther, that the rabbis also connected to verses that appear in the Torah, are more easily found in the explicit texts that the Talmud makes reference to.

However, the name of Mordechai, that is hidden within the ingredients for the incense service, is more difficult to discern, and seems to be somewhat of an esoteric stretch. It seems there must be a deeper connection and message involved, as well as the link between Mordechai and the incense service of the tabernacle and temple.

All of the interpretations that appear in the Talmud contain far deeper meaning than the literal words. That is why the Talmudic commentaries are so abundant and seemingly endless, both in number and in the analysis and interpretations. So, when the rabbis of the Talmud associated Mordechai with this particular incense service, they wished to convey a deeper and more subtle message than merely a clever play on words.

The ideas and words of the Talmudic sages speak to every generation of Jews, in every circumstance and for all societies. The task of the scholars of Israel is to be able to ferret out the specific ideas that are intended for them and for their times.
The incense service was viewed by the Torah as having enormous positive, curative and ennobling powers. It could prevent plagues and pandemics, could purify the atmosphere, cleanse the temple of odors and flying insects and also serve as the protective cloud that preserved the priests who offered it on behalf of the people of Israel. However, at the same time, it also had the power of being lethal, destructive, with the ability to cause immense personal and national tragedy.

The sons of Aaron died because of this incense, while their brother Elazar was able to use it to allay the ravages of a plague. I feel that this depicts the specific connection between Mordechai and the incense service. In the hands of the righteous and altruistic holy servants of God, the incense serves as a blessing and has enormous curative powers. In the hands of those who wish only to profit for themselves and have base motives, even if only at the moment that they are performing the sacred service, the incense can be a lethal and destructive force.

The greatness of Mordechai was his humility and self effacement. It is his total devotion to the salvation of the Jewish people and his willingness to risk all in order to save the people, that elevates him to the highest rank of Jewish leadership and heroism. He becomes a living incense, with all of the blessings that this service entails and brought to the Jewish people. All of us should strive to be disciples of Mordechai and to sanctify ourselves with our spiritual incense service.
Rabbi Berel Wein
The rabbi of the "HANASI" congregation in Yerushalim, head of the Destiny foundation, former head of the OU, Rosh Yeshiva of 'sharai Tora" and rabbi of the "Beit Tora" congregation, Monsey, New York.
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