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The Most Delightful Aroma

Friday, 14 February, 2014 - 7:00 am

I had the opportunity to be the spectator at two sporting events this week. One was a professional hockey game. The other was my ten-year-old son’s basketball game. At each of them there was a lot of cheering and celebration. But the loudest cheers resulted from the most different of causes.

At the hockey game there were plenty of fans rooting for their team. When a point was scored or a goal defended, the applause went up. But the cheering that took down the house was one that startled me.  At first I did not realize what had caused the thunderous ovations. But soon enough it became evident that a fight had broken out on the ice. Two players were engaged in protracted, vicious combat, which could easily have resulted in serious injury.

The crowd was plainly overjoyed.  Personally, my stomach turned inside.  Not because I can’t stomach a physical sport – I’ve been known to enjoy viewing professional football.

My dismay was channeled at the glee that others took in watching two human beings throw punches at each other.  The cheering was incomparably louder than any other moment of the evening.  Clearly, the fight was what turned on the crowd.  More than the sport itself.

Why do humans enjoy seeing another human get hurt?

***

One of the daily offerings in the Bait Hamikdash (Holy Temple) was the incense offering.  This week’s parsha, Ki Tisa, details the instructions for the 11 unique spices that were burned every day on the altar.

The commentaries explain that the uplifting aroma of the incense was meant to eliminate the animal smells that prevailed in the Temple (from other sacrifices).  According to the Zohar, the deeper significance of the incense – as a catalyst for internal devotion – was to neutralize the negative ‘odor’ produced by the animal soul within each of us.  The incense offering appealed to the loftiest of our senses – smell.  This represents the Divine soul’s fragrance which can subdue and eradicate the animal soul’s influence.

Interestingly, in all other sacrifices, edible items were offered. The spices for the incense, however, were specifically inedible. Nonetheless, it is particularly the incense that triumphed over the other sacrifices.

This, observed the Lubavitcher Rebbe, is a reminder for all of us.  The incense offering was intended to – and capable of – uplifting the lowest elements, even that which is inedible.  The highest achievement is when the lowest is uplifted. The ultimate failure is when the highest falls.

***

At my son’s basketball game, the opposing team fielded a player who was apparently developmentally disabled.  Nevertheless, he participated just as much as the other boys.  His teammates made a concerted effort to get him the ball.  The other team was equally graceful in allowing him to play, while never suggesting that they were going easy on him.

Suddenly, the entire gym burst out in raucous applause. He had scored!  His teammates lifted him up like a hero!  Everyone was celebrating his basket.  A short while later, he scored again. And yet again, all the assembled erupted in merriment.

It was a truly moving testament to the greatness of the human spirit.  These boys all came together to celebrate something much more precious than a ballgame. They were hoisting the human spirit.

***

As humans we can choose to look at ourselves as animals blessed with intelligence or as divine souls encased in bodies.

The incense reminds us to choose the latter.  Even the most gifted athlete and loyal fan and can surrender his soul to his body when choosing the former.

Choosing the latter ignites the soul in each of us, allowing the divine to shine through every body.

And that is the most delightful aroma. To G-d, to people and to the world.

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