The Parsha this week is Parshas Devarim. It is also the Shabbos before the national Jewish day of mourning, called Tisha B’av. The name given to this particular Shabbos is Shabbos Chazon. This name comes from the words of the Haftorah that begin “Chazon Yishaya – A vision of Isaiah”. In this famous prophecy, Isaiah bemoans the sins of the Jewish people and foretells of the upcoming destruction of the Temple and punishments that will befall the Jewish people. In his prophecy, Isaiah tells the Jewish people “No longer should you bring a vain Mincha offering (an offering that was brought in the Temple of flour mixed with oil), the Ketores offering (an offering of spices brought daily in the Temple) is despised by Me”. There were many different types of offerings offered in the Temple; why does Isaiah single out these two particular offerings – the Mincha / flour offering, and the Ketores / spices offering?
In a brilliant analysis, the Meshech Chochmah offers the following insight: From all the offerings in the Temple the only one that could not be brought by people in partnership with each other was the Mincha offering. If two people wanted to pool their resources together and buy an Oleh sacrifice, or a Shlomim sacrifice, they may do so. However, a Mincha offering can only be brought by one owner, not by partners. Nevertheless, the entire Jewish people may, and in fact do, bring a communal Mincha offering together. Why is that allowed? If the offering can only be offered by a single person, why are we allowed as a people to offer a communal Mincha offering? The answer, the Mesech Chochmah explains, is that when we stand united as a whole, we are like one person. We are no longer considered a group of people joined together, but as one single unit.
The Ketores is made from eleven spices. Ten of them smell good, while the eleventh, the spice called chelvenah, has a bad smell. Although if it is by itself it had a bad smell, when mixed with the ketores the entire spice mixture smelled good. The chelbenah was required to be in the ketores mixture – if it wasn’t there then the whole ketores was invalid. The Talmud derives from here that if we have a fast day and don’t have sinners in the group fasting, the fast day is invalid. All Jews must be present when we unite to serve Hashem.
The lesson from both the Ketores and the Mincha is that when Jews join together, they make a harmony that as a whole is desired and cherished by Hashem. This, the Meshech Chochmah explains, is because they complement each other. If one Jew has a strong feeling of love for Hashem, another has strong feeling of fear of Hashem. One is better in prayer, another in kindness, another in Torah study,… they all complement each other. As a unit, they form the perfect harmony of a people that serves Hashem,
However, this is all true when the people don’t share one common fault. Then the different people can atone for each other. However, if the people all do the same thing wrong, then the fact that they are many doing the same thing just makes the sin even worse. This was the complaint of Isaiah: the mincha offering was in vain – the unity of Jews did not produce one unit that came together to serve Hashem. The Ketores was despised – for the other Jews didn’t cover the bad smell of the chelbanah, but just made it worse.
The lesson of Isaiah to our day remains crystal clear: We most promote unity among Jews: We must promote unity of Jews who will come together, strengthen each other, look away from faults in each other, and who will unite for the one purpose of serving Hashem and bringing honor to His name.