Parsha Ki Sisa:

"CommUnity" by Rabbi Mordechai Shifman

"Take yourself spices - stacte, onycha and galbanum..." (30:34)

The Torah records eleven ingredients that were offered on the Golden Altar twice daily. Among the spices listed is galbanum which has a foul aroma. From the inclusion of the galbanum, the Talmud derives that a community is obligated to include sinners in communal prayer services. This is the source for the widely accepted custom instituted by Rabbi Meir of Rothenberg that prior to the onset of the Yom Kippur service, a formal declaration is proclaimed permitting all sinners to join with us in prayer. What insight can be gleaned from this requirement?

Including the foul smelling galbanum in the Ketores offering defines for us the requirements of a community. A Jewish community can only be referred to as a "community" if there is no segment being excluded. As a community, we have a responsibility to focus upon the needs and welfare of each individual, not just those who share common ideologies and interests with us. If we segment ourselves and become polarized, we transform from a community into a cult. It is therefore a prerequisite on Yom Kippur eve, prior to receiving our communal atonement, to declare that we are gathered together to pray with all members of the Jewish community, none being excluded. Excluding any member would prevent us from being afforded the special dispensations of atonement that are granted exclusively to a community.

G‑d forgives, but says that the effect of their sin will be felt for many generations. At first G‑d proposes to send His angel along with them, but Moses insists that G‑d Himself accompany His people to the promised land.

Rabbi Mordechai Shifman