Parashat Teruma begins with God’s command to Benei Yisrael to collect voluntary donations of materials for the construction of the Mishkan, listing the specific materials that were needed (gold, silver, copper, dyes, flax, goatskins, acacia wood, and so on). This list of materials includes olive oil and spices, which were needed to prepare the anointing oil with which the kohanim and the Mishkan’s furnishings were consecrated, as well as for the kindling of the menorah and for the ketoret (incense).
A number of commentators raised the question of why oil and spices were included in this list, which consists of materials needed for building the Mishkan, not for the rituals performed in the Mishkan once it was built. God at this point did not command Benei Yisrael to bring animals for sacrifices or flour for the lechem ha-panim (“showbread”), because this command was to collect materials to construct the Mishkan, not to facilitate the rituals that would be performed in the Mishkan once it was built. Why, then, did God include in this command the donation of oil and incense? As for the oil, we could perhaps understand that the process of anointing the Mishkan and its appurtenances marked the conclusion of the Mishkan’s construction, and so the anointing oil is included in this list. However, in presenting this list God mentions the need of oil “la-ma’or” – for illumination, and not only for the anointing oil. And, as mentioned, He also mentions the need of spices for the ketoret. What is unique about these two rituals – the kindling of the menorah and the offering of spices – that the materials they required were included in the list of materials needed for the construction of the Mishkan?
Evidently, as the Tosafists explain (in Da’at Zekeinim, and in Peirush Rabboteinu Ba’alei Ha-Tosafot), the illumination of the menorah and the fragrance of the incense constituted part of the very structure of the Beit Ha-mikdash. The kindling of lights and the offering of incense were required not merely as part of the daily routine of rituals in the Mishkan, but rather as an essential feature of the Mishkan itself. The Tosafists write that kings’ palaces were both illuminated and scented, such that the lights of the menorah and the fragrance of the ketoret were, in a sense, essential parts of the building. Hence, God included oil and spices in His list of items that were needed for the construction of the Mishkan.
This insight of the Tosafists can perhaps answer a number of other questions that arise. One such question emerges from the Gemara’s remark in Masekhet Ketubot (106b) that the incense offered in the Beit Ha-mikdash, just like the other public offerings, was funded by the annual half-shekel tax imposed upon the entire nation. The money from this tax was used to purchase the sacrifices which were offered on behalf of the entire nation, and the Gemara notes that this included the ketoret. But if this is the case, then why did God include spices for the ketoret in His list of materials that should be voluntarily donated for the Mishkan’s construction? If the ketoret is to be purchased with money collected from the half-shekel tax, then why did God call for voluntary donations of incense for ketoret when He called for donations of materials for building the Mishkan?
Rav Velvele Soloveitchik is cited as answering that this voluntary donation of incense was needed to supply the ketoret during the seven-day milu’im period, when the kohanim offered special sacrifices as part of their consecration process. Funds from the half-shekel tax were not used until after this period, and thus God called for voluntary donations to supply incense for the ketoret during these seven days.
However, this assumption – that ketoret was offered during the milu’im period – itself requires explanation. The standard routine of public sacrifices began only the day after the milu’im. Why, then, would incense be required during these seven days? If the other standard offerings did not begin until after the milu’im, why was the incense offering different, beginning already during the milu’im period?
According to the theory advanced by the Tosafists, the answer is clear. The ketoret is not only one of the offerings in the Beit Ha-mikdash, but also part of the very structure of the Beit Ha-mikdash. Therefore, as the milu’im rituals were performed in the Mishkan, the Mishkan needed to be fully constructed – and this requires ketoret. As such, although the ketoret offering brought as part of the daily service in the Mishkan began only after the seven days of the milu’im, it was nevertheless required as part of the building right from the outset, even during the period of the milu’im.
(Based on Rav Chaim Meir Steinberg’s Mishnat Chayim – Shekalim, chapter 36)