- Anointing Oil
- Moshe Ben-Chaim
- Question: My question is simple: "What do the
five elements of the Holy Anointing Oil represent?" (Exodus
I have asked this question to various Rabbis and have received
answers uniformly along the lines of (well,...um?),"it smells
Bearing in mind that this unique mixture was used in the anointing
of not only the Tabernacle, but All of the furniture of the Tabernacle,
All of the utensils of the Tabernacle, Aaron and his sons, and
the Kings. Without this unique anointing being applied, all mentioned
(you fill in the blank) were unqualified to be of use in the
service of God. As such, it can easily be said that the Holy
Anointing Oil is higher/greater/of more import than the Tabernacle,
all of it's contents, and the priesthood because IT was applied
to THEM .
I don't mean to sound flippant, I am just a bit frustrated. One
might think that since the time of the Tabernacle someone would
have discerned the meaning of this most significant if not forgotten
item. I have done my own study to be sure, yet before I go shooting
off my mouth I'd like a confirming or negating word a bit more
studied than,"I dunno".
- Mesora: There are a few
main questions we can ask regarding the nature of the anointing
oil (Exod. 30:22-33);
1) What is the necessity to anoint the Tabernacle and the vessels?
What is lacking if they are not anointed? The structure of these
objects do not change subsequent to the anointing. They can function
equally well without the oil. Why then is there a need for anointing?
2) The passage (Exod. 30:22-23) reads, "God said to Moses
saying: "YOU take (such and such spices...)". What
is the nature of the oil that Moses was instructed himself to
create this oil? Why is such urgency placed on Moshe here, but
not in other cases? Additionally, the medrash says that the oil
which Moshe made had numerous miracles performed throughout.
It actually endured more usage than its volume should have realized.
Again this pays homage to Moshe's exclusive involvement, but
what is the idea behind these miracles? 3) Why does the passage
need to mention "to minister to Me (God)"? Who else
would Aaron and his sons minister before in God's Temple?
I would commence by underlining a few points: Oil is a mixture,
it must be made with chochma. The length at which the passages
discuss the ingredients points to this. Moshe - to the exclusion
of all others - was instructed to make the oil. What significance
does Moshe lend to this oil?
We know that Moshe's distinction was his unique level of prophecy
and wisdom, never to be approached by any man before or after
him. Moshe is synonymous with high intelligence. There is some
relationship be placed between the oil and intelligence.
I suggest that the emphasis on wisdom here is to indicate that
vessels do not possess inherent value, despite their precise
design. Without proper understanding of the purpose and meaning
of the Temple's vessels, there is a danger that the people would
project importance onto the physical structure themselves, divorced
from their goals. Even after designing the Tabernacle's vessels,
proper intent of their usage must exist, otherwise there is a
danger that one might feel that there is something unique to
these objects in themselves. To counter the notion that physical
objects have inherent meaning, and additionally, to teach that
all matters pertaining to the Temple and God must be approached
with the utmost wisdom, only Moshe was allowed to make this oil
- displaying thereby that accurate designation of the purpose
of the Temple's vessels can only be made by one with the highest
level of knowledge, Moshe. Moshe represents true understanding
par excellence, and by association, Moshe lent correct understanding
that inauguration of the vessels was not simple, but required
to be approached with wisdom. These vessels have no inherent
value. However, if designated by Moshe - a wise man - with oil
made with care and understanding, then man's relationship to
the vessels will be guided by the overtone of Moshe's reputation.
Man would understand that these vessels aren't simply entitled
to be in the Temple without an understanding of their purpose.
This leads us to a crucial lesson. The very selection of Moshe
to annoint these objects demonstrates that we are to approach
our commandments not as meaningless, Torah-bound performances,
but with understanding. Rashi teaches that fulfillment of commands
without understanding are worthless. This does not mean we may
abandon commands, the meaning of which we are bereft. It means
that God's goal in giving man the Torah is to approach Him, and
with no understanding of our commands, there cannot be any possible
approaching of God. As Maimonides teaches, "Love of
God is in direct proportion to our knowledge."
The reason such concern for understanding is placed on Temple
related phenomena, is that this is the area in which man's religious
emotions can run wild and lead him astray, even though the Temple
and Tabernacle are Torah commands. The Talmud states that the
evil inclination appeared as a fiery lion exiting the Temple's
Holy of Holies. This metaphor teaches that in this area, there
exists the most danger - the evil inclination yearns for "holy"
things. The true approach to understanding the Temple's vessels
is to realize that through them we come to understand God. Since
the Temple is a vehicle by which we approach God(1) by definition,
we must stress that wisdom be present in all areas, even the
- Perhaps also the oil's duration throughout the generations
attests to the unique level of designation into which Moshe imbued
- This theory also explains why the Rambam teaches in the Mishne
Torah that during the Simcha Bais HaShoavah, only the chachomim
- the wise men - were allowed to dance. This is to teach that
they are the ones who have the accurate understanding of Torah,
and therefore their gladness is the only true gladness which
results in dance. To allow others to dance allows others to believe
that they have arrived at true Torah knowledge. It also falsely
teaches that happiness may be arrived at without perfection in
Torah study. Even during the Rambam's time, men thought to be
"the wise men of Israel" (2)
had corrupt ideas.
- When King Solomon brought the ark into the Temple, he too
initially invited the elders and princes - those who portray
intelligence. (Haftoras Pekuday; Malachim 1, Chap. 8)
- (1) See
our article. "The Tabernacle"
- (2) Maimonides,
"The Guide for the Perplexed", Dover Ed. pp161