The final section of parashat Tetzaveh sums up its common thread, that Aaron, through the power of Moses' essence, is capable of revealing the essence of the Jew, the aspect by which we are all equal. It is for this reason that the command to build the incense altar is placed in parashat Tetzaveh, which speaks primarily of the garments, and not in the previous portion, parashat Teruma, which speaks of the vessels of the Tabernacle (including the other altar).

Our sages tell us that any public fast that does not include the sinners of Israel is not a real fast. This is alluded to in the fact that galbanum is one of the herbs offered on the incense altar. It emits a bad odor, yet the Torah includes it as one of the ingredients of the incense. This demonstrates the sublimity of the incense altar, that it was capable of including even the sinners in its offering.

Even the angels could not be present in the Sanctuary when the incense was burned….

Logic would dictate that the altar be discussed at the same time as all of the other vessels of the Tabernacle, in the portion of parashat Teruma. Its placement here, at the very end of all of the discussions pertaining to the Tabernacle and all that was in it implies that this altar has a unique significance, above and beyond all of the others.

What was different about this altar and the service of burning the incense? Every other service that was done in the Temple had spectators. There were other people around at the time that could watch as the priests served G‑d. When the incense was burned on the inner altar, however, there was no one present - only the priest burning it and G‑d Himself. (Mishna Torah, Tamidim uMusafim 3:3) In fact, our sages point out that even the angels could not be present in the Sanctuary when the incense was burned. (See Jerusalem Talmud, Yoma 5:2.) It was specifically this private service that caused the Divine Presence to be most manifest.

The lesson of the incense rings very true in our modern, and loud, world. The ultimate in divine service, and especially in areas of kindness and charity, is when the cameras are not rolling - when one exhibits generosity without publicity or press, merely because it is the right thing to do.

It shall be square, one cubit long and one cubit wide. (Ex. 30:1)

Whereas the dimensions of the other vessels of the Tabernacle make use of the measurement of the half-cubit, those of the inner altar are in single cubits. This alludes to the fact that the service of the incense addresses the singularity of the Jewish soul, i.e. the highest of its five levels, called Yechida (literally, "the single one"). This is the level of consciousness in which the Jew is totally one with G‑d and has risen far beyond any awareness of himself as a separate, self-aware individual.

[Adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Likutei Sichot, vol. 1, pp. 171-2; vol. 21, pp. 179; Sefer HaSichot 5752, vol. 2, p. 414]

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