The Routine vs. The Novel

The rituals of the tabernacle and Temple called for strictly defined roles--but also allowed for new expressions.

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The altar and the incense offered upon it are signs that it is possible, and moreover necessary, to seek out freshness within the bounds of tradition. While some novel modes of religious expression, like the Golden Calf or the incense of Nadav and Avihu, are "outside the bounds" of Jewish practice, there is a place for the golden incense altar, legitimately created to address new needs and situations. The Meshekh Hokhmah's understanding of the role of the altar encourages us to consider the value of the optional, of the additional, alongside the mandated minimums. The lottery of the incense reminds us of the necessity of inclusion, of finding ways to see even the most mundane daily practice through new eyes and of making every time feel like the first time.

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Rabbi Joshua Heller

Rabbi Joshua Heller is the rabbi at Congregation B'nai Torah in Atlanta, GA. Previous to that, he served as director of the Distance Learning Program at the Jewish Theological Seminary.