Anointing Oil
Moshe Ben-Chaim

Question: My question is simple: "What do the five elements of the Holy Anointing Oil represent?" (Exodus 30:22-33)
I have asked this question to various Rabbis and have received answers uniformly along the lines of (well,,"it smells right."
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".

- Ramirez
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 initial inauguration.
Perhaps also the oil's duration throughout the generations attests to the unique level of designation into which Moshe imbued this oil.
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