In this week’s Parsha the Torah commands us “and you shall make an altar on which to bring incense up in smoke.” The daily incense offering is called the “Ketores”. Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl , the Rabbi of the Old City of Jerusalem, commented that it is assumed that the root of the word “Ketores” is "Kitur" - smoke, for the smoke rises from it. In this case, the smoke gives off a nice fragrance. He added that our Rabbis teach that the “Ketores” may also be derived from the Aramaic word “Kitra” – a knot or a bond.
Rav Nebenzahl explained that perhaps there is a similarity between both of these explanations. Smoke has a tendency to rise in knot-like shapes. The Ketores serves to create a bond between G-d and the Jewish nation. Most other offerings in the Bais Hamikdosh are offered on the bronze altar, which is in the courtyard. The Ketores is offered on the golden altar, which is in the Holy—inside the actual building of the Bais Hamikdosh, the room that leads to the Holy of Holies. Other offerings are called Korbanos – from the word “Karov” - close. They serve to bring us closer to G-d. The Ketores goes further and bonds us with G-d. The offering of the Ketores was done in complete seclusion. The Torah commands that nobody else is permitted to be present when the Kohein Gadol or any other Kohein performs this service.
What is the reason for the unique status of the Ketores offering? Our Rabbis teach us that the Ketores atones for the sin of Loshon Hara – slander - spoken privately. Lashon Hara causes a rift among people - and consequently between us and G-d - while the Ketores binds us to G-d.
Why does Lashon Hara create such a tremendous rift between G-d and the Jewish people? The Satan always tries to find accusations against the Jewish people, but, G-d counters these accusations with something positive about His people. However, one who speaks Lashon Hara is focusing on the negative aspects of another person. Since the person did not look for anything positive to say about the other person, then - measure for measure - G-d does not look for anything positive to counter the claims of the Satan.
We must focus on the positive aspects of other people. One of the obligations that the Torah places upon every person is to judge others favorably. A wise man once said that there is a purpose to everything that G-d created, including warped logic. Straight logic aids our learning Torah and daily life objectives. However, warped logic helps us judge others favorably, even when we must bend over backwards to do so.
The Torah obligates us to help other people - not only in action - but also in our words. We must give people the benefit of the doubt . . . judge others favorably. Then we won’t only be closer to G-d, but, just as the Ketores, we will be bound to G-d and His Torah.