I have a hard time with self control and portion control. I like sweets, I like salty foods, I like a glass of wine. I can usually set a limit for myself, but there are moments of weakness when I simply want to eat all the food I see. In particular, my sugar addiction is so strong that I actually wake up excited to take my daily vitamin, which comes in the form of a gummy bear. But, I have to remind myself that just because it is sweet and delicious does not mean that I can take more than the recommended dose.
As with so many things, moderation is key, and there are limits to safe usage. Whether we’re talking about food or video game playing, watching TV or taking medicine, there are guidelines for appropriate use so that we maintain a healthy life and lifestyle. The Torah drives home this point in Parshat Tetzaveh. Parshat Tetzaveh begins with the instructions on using the anointing oils by the high priests and the directions for the sacred clothing of Aaron and his sons. It continues with the directions for building the breastplate and the tunic, the jacket, and the pants for the priests and then details how to sanctify Aaron and his sons in seven days of service.
What I find intriguing is the final direction in the parshah. The final section of this text details the safe and appropriate use of the incense and other spices of the tabernacle. This is the first time that the Israelites will be engaging in this type of ritual and so, like the pharmacist distributing a medication for the first time, the Torah gives clear guidelines as to where, when, and how much might be used. As a refined recipe calls for just a pinch of a stronger spice, so too the Torah reminds us just a pinch of spice, a bit of incense can go a long way in establishing both ritual and sacred space.
A little goes a long way. Often we think of life in terms of bold flavors, grand gestures, big ideas, and major milestone moments. However, this week the Torah is reminding us that while all of those have their place in the world, the rest of life is made up of the intricate, delicate details. A light dusting of an unusual flavor, the handwritten thank-you card, a pink sunset – these are the things that bring life pleasure.