Ki Sisa 5778

The foremost spice[1]

ואתה קח-לך בשמים ראש מר-דרור וגו’‏
You should take for yourself prominent spices: mor-dror[2]

There were many ingredients used in the making of the anointing oil and the incense offering, both used in the Temple. One of the spices is known as מר-דרור, mor-dror. What is this spice? The Rambam[3], among others[4], say it is “musk”, the congealed blood found in the throat of a well-known animal in India. It’s similar to a deer, one of its characteristics being that it’s free-roaming[5]. However, the Raavad argues and says[6] that it is “myrrh”, a type of gum resin produced by trees and shrubs[7]. He says that it is unreasonable to suggest that the blood of any animal, let alone of a non-kosher species, would be used in the Temple. How would the Rambam respond to such a claim?

One answer that is suggested[8] is that since the musk has completely changed its nature, from impure blood to an especially fragrant smelling dust, there’s no issue. We don’t consider what it used to be, we look at what it is now. This has halachic ramifications. There’s a similar fragrance called mussak, that also comes from the congealed blood found in the throat of a non-kosher animal. The halacha is if you smell it, you make a bracha[9]. However, there’s a dispute[10] if you’re allowed to eat this fragrance if you put it in food. Some say[11]  that since it’s the blood from a non-kosher animal, you can’t eat it. Others however say[12] that since it is now a nice smelling dust, its history no longer matters. We don’t care that it came from the blood of a non-kosher animal, and you can eat it. They bring a proof from honey, where if a piece of non-kosher matter falls into honey, after a while it becomes kosher to eat[13]. This is because honey has the power to turn whatever falls inside it into honey. Therefore, this piece of non-kosher is now considered honey, and its history is irrelevant[14]. This dispute about whether mussak is still considered blood or is now looked at as dust is the exact same dispute between the Rambam and the Raavad about mor; if its musk or myrrh.

Chazal ask the question[15] where we can find a hint to Mordechai in the Torah. The answer is the spice we are dealing with: the mor. The Aramaic translation[16] of mor dror is מרי דכיא, the same letters as Mordechai. This begs the question though, why is this the place to hint to Mordechai[17]? Especially since there’s a big dispute as to what this spice is. The answer[18] is based on a Midrash[19], which expounds the verse מי יתן טהור מטמא, who will bring out purity from the impure[20]. The Midrash brings many examples of such a concept, such as Avraham, who was the son of the idol-worshipping Terach, and King Chizkiyahu who was the son of the wicked Achaz. One example the Midrash gives is Mordechai, who descended from the sinner Shimi[21]. This shows one of the strengths of Mordechai. Even though he came from an impure place, through his abilities he was able to become pure. Where is such a concept hinted to in the Torah? According to the Rambam, the mor. It came from the blood of an impure animal, and ended up becoming one of the primary ingredients in the incense and anointing oil.

Something else has the power to turn the impure into the pure. It has the ability to help a person overcome their imperfections and become a better person: the Torah. The verse in Psalms says[22] that Torah is sweeter than honey. It’s one thing to say that Torah is sweet, but why sweeter? And why specifically honey? The answer[23] is based on the above observation: honey turns whatever is inside it into honey. However, this seems to contradict a story about King Herod. The gemarra says[24] that after a girl he desired committed suicide, he put her body in honey in order to preserve her corpse for seven years[25]. We see from here that honey is a preservative, not that it turns things into honey. An explanation is[26] that it depends: if it’s an entire entity, then honey preserves it. If it’s cut into pieces, then it will turn into honey.

Torah has the same power; it can take someone impure and make them pure. It can transform them into a better person. However, Torah is greater than honey; it’s sweeter than honey. That’s because honey doesn’t always change you. If you go in pieces, as a broken person, then it does. However, if you go in completely, as a whole person, it protects you. It keeps you where you are. This is unlike the Torah. Torah has no limits. Whether a person goes in broken, or goes in complete, the Torah has the power to transform them. These are the lessons from the incense spices, and the lessons from the heroes of Purim.

A freilichen Purim and Good Shabbos!

[1] Based on a shiur from Rabbi Reznick, given in 5773

[2] Exodus 30:23

[3] Mishneh Torah Hilchos Klei HaMikdash 1:3

[4] Rav Saadiah Gaon, Ibn Ezra, and Rabbeinu Bachaye ad. loc.; Abarbanel

[5] Rabbeinu Bachaye loc. cit. See there for two explanations of dror

[6] Hasagos to Mishneh Torah loc. cit.; also the Ramban ad. loc.

[7] From The Living Torah by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan

[8] Kesef Mishnah ad. loc.

[9] Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 216:2

[10] Brought by the Magen Avraham ad. loc. s.k. 3

[11] The Rama (Rav Meir HaLevi Abulafiah); see Machatzis HaShekel ad. loc.

[12] Rabbeinu Yonah, quoted by his students in Berachos 31b

[13] See note 25

[14] The Rosh to Berachos 6:35 uses this idea of the Rabbeinu Yonah to explain how honey is ever kosher. It is impossible to avoid having bees’ legs in the honey, as they get stuck in there while making it. This should be a kashrus issue. However, since the honey has the power to turn whatever is in it into honey, it’s all kosher

[15] Chulin 139b

[16] Targum Onkelos ad. loc.

[17] See The Vilna Gaon on the Megillah who has a length piece on this

[18] Rabbi Reznick didn’t cite a source, but the Chasam Sofer says this idea in Toras Moshe I to Exodus loc. cit. However, he doesn’t cite the Midrash, which is the main justification for calling Shimi impure. This could be Rabbi Reznick’s addition. The Chasam Sofer has another justification for this connection, as he calculates approximately five hundred years between Shimi and Mordechai, and the verse says the number five-hundred after mentioning the mor-dror

[19] Bamidbar Rabbah 19:1; Midrash Tanchuma Chukas § 4

[20] Job 14:4

[21] See II Samuel Chapter 16

[22] Psalms 19:11

[23] Rabbi Reznick quoted this from Rav Elyashiv zt”l

[24] Bava Basra 3b

[25] Either to gratify his desires with her body, or so he could brag to others that he married a prominent woman (ibid)

[26] Shach to Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 84:12 s.k. 37