This week’s portion, Tetzaveh, contains the command to construct the golden altar that was placed inside the Sanctuary. Last week’s portion related the command to construct the altar that was placed in the court-yard of the Sanctuary. Why aren’t the two altars mentioned together?
The answer to this question is based on the concept that the Sanctuary represented the private sanctuary each one of us possesses in our hearts. An altar points to man’s efforts to approach G-d. Just as, within our own hearts, we have feelings that we show to others, and inner, more powerful feelings that we usually keep to ourselves; so, too, in the Sanctuary, there was an outer altar in public view, and an inner altar within the Sanctuary itself.
The sacrifices were offered on the outer altar. Karban, the Hebrew word for sacrifices, comes from the root karov, meaning “close.” The sacrifices brought a person closer to G-d.
The incense offering was brought on the inner altar. Ketoret, meaning “incense,” shares a connection with the word keter, meaning “bond.” The incense offering did not merely draw us close to G-d; it established a bond with Him.
What are the differences between the two? Wanting to be close indicates that there exists a distance, and that the person who desires to be close feels as a separate entity. He may love that person powerfully, but ultimately, the relationship is between two separate people.
When people bond, they subsume their personal identities to that of the new entity which is formed. A couple are not merely two people in love; they have bonded themselves into a new and more complete union.
The incense offering refers to the establishment of such a bond with G-d. A person loses sight of who he or she is and identifies with G-d and His purpose. He is no longer so concerned with his own personal wants or needs, but begins looking at the world from G-d’s perspective.
This difference is also reflected in the substances of the offerings. On the outer altar, meat, fats, and blood were offered, substances identified with the body. On the inner altar, incense – spices which produce a pleasant fragrance – were offered. Our Sages speak of fragrance as a substance from which the soul, not the body, derives benefit.
Thus the outer altar represents our drawing close to G-d from the perspective of our bodies, while the inner altar represents the bond with Him established by our souls. Since they represent two different aspects of our Divine service, the two altars are mentioned in different portions.
Our desire for Moshiach’s coming can also be seen from these two perspectives. There are some who desire the material prosperity that will accompany the Redemption. Others yearn for the outpouring of G-dly knowledge that will characterize that era. There is, however, a common denominator between these approaches. They look at the Redemption from man’s point of view: what he will get out of it.
There is another perspective. G-d created the world for the sake of Moshiach. From the beginning of existence, G-d sought a dwelling in this world. Our desire for Moshiach should focus not on what we are lacking, but on what He is “lacking,” that His desire has not yet been fulfilled. Moshiach NOW!!!