“Besamim” for the “Ketores HaSamim”?

 בְּשָׂמִים לְשֶׁמֶן הַמִּשְׁחָה וְלִקְטֹרֶת הַסַּמִּים

Spices for the anointing oil, and for the incense of spices (25:6)

Background: “Besamim” and “Samim”

The Meshech Chochmah begins his comment on this verse by referring the reader to the commentaries of the Ramban and Ibn Ezra. When we consult these sources, we see that they were both bothered by the same basic question. The verse implies that “besamim” spices were needed for two things:

1.   The anointing oil

2.   The Ketores

Yet the verse itself refers to the ketores as “the ketores of samim”! If we assume that the terms “besamim” and “samim” are not the same thing, but rather refer to two different types of ingredients,[1] then why does the verse say that “besamim” were needed for ketores that is made up of “samim”?

The Spices Mentioned in Ki Sisa

In preface to his approach to this question, the Meshech Chochmah directs us to the verse in Ki Sisa where Hashem commands Moshe concerning the Ketores:

קַח לְךָ סַמִּים נָטָף וּשְׁחֵלֶת וְחֶלְבְּנָה סַמִּים וּלְבֹנָה זַכָּה

Take for yourself spices, stact, onyca and galbanum – spices and pure frankincense.[2]

We know that the ketores comprises eleven ingredients, yet the verse appears to mention only four of them. Indeed, the Gemara expounds the words in the verse to total eleven, with the identity of the remaining seven being a matter of oral tradition.[3] However, the question remains: Why were only four out of the eleven ingredients mentioned by name in the verse?

The Meaning of the Word “lecha”

The Meshech Chochmah explains that the key word in the above-quoted verse is the word “lecha”. A straightforward reading would simply translate it as “yourself”, and perhaps not ascribe any substantive meaning to it at all. However, commenting on that verse, the Gemara explains that the word “lecha” means “mishelcha – from yourself”, indicating that the ingredients of the ketores need to come from the person being addressed – Moshe Rabbeinu![4] However, this would seem to conflict with the verse in our parsha, which lists the spices for the ketores among the items that are to be collected from the Bnei Yisrael!

The Meshech Chochmah explains that all of these questions, when placed together, answer each other! The ingredients for the original ketores were a combination of spices contributed by Moshe and the Jewish people, with the two contributors being addressed in the two separate verses:

·      The verse in Ki Sisa mentions four spices by name, as they were the ones that were to be contributed by Moshe (“lecha - mishelcha”).

·      The verse in our parsha refers to the seven additional spices which were to be contributed to the Mishkan by the Jewish people.

Additionally, the four spices that Moshe was commanded to give were in the category of spices called “samim”, and indeed formed the basis of the ketores, after which it is called “ketores hasamim”. The spices mentioned in our parsha, on the other hand, are all in the category of “besamim”. Hence, the verse indicates that the people were to contribute, not only the “besamim,” for the anointing oil, but also the seven “besamim” for the “ketores of (Moshe’s) samim”!

Additional Ramifications: The Anointing Oil

Continuing in this vein, the Meshech Chochmah notes that the ingredients for the anointing oil in Parshas Ki Sisa are also introduced to Moshe with the words “kach lecha – take yourself.” [5] Based on the above principle, it emerges that these, too, were to be provided by Moshe himself. Returning to our parsha which deals with communal contributions, the implication is that the Jewish people were similarly instructed to contribute additional ingredients for the oil. However, unlike with the ketores, we have no tradition as to what these additional ingredients were. The reason for this difference is that ketores was something that was required on an ongoing basis, hence, we need to know all of its ingredients – both those mentioned in the verse and those known by tradition. By contrast, the Gemara informs us that the anointing oil was only made once for Moshe to anoint the vessels of the Mishkan. Hence, there was no need for an oral tradition to be passed down identifying the ingredients not mentioned in the verse. 

[1] See e.g. Ibn Ezra who writes that besamim are spices that are edible while samim denote spices that are more medicinal in nature.

[2] Shemos 30:34.

[3] See Kerisus 6b, cited by Rashi to Shemos ibid.

[4] Yoma 3b.

[5] Shemos 30:23.