Amongst the laws of Menachot, the flour Korbanot, the Torah prohibits the use of several types of food in all Korbanot: “Chol Se’or VeChol Devash Lo Taktiru Mimenu Isheh LaHashem,” “You may not burn any leaven or any honey as a fire-offering to Hashem” (2:11). The Kli Yakar comments on this Pasuk that the Chametz and honey each symbolize a personal attribute that is unacceptable in the context of Avodat Hashem – the Chametz represents “Gaavah URdifat HaKavod,” “arrogance and chasing honor” (a symbolic interpretation which Chazal employ often), while the honey represents seeking physical pleasure and sweetness. Avodah or Torah performed for either of these goals, states the Kli Yakar, is considered “Shelo Lishmah,” not stemming from the proper intent. While this Kli Yakar compellingly explains the symbolic reason behind this Mitzvah, it seems to leave one aspect of the Torah’s logic unanswered: why is honey specifically used to represent physical pleasure? Sweet foods are certainly not the only ones that people eat for pleasure! Many would consider meat, for example, to be an even more appropriate food item for this purpose; indeed, one of the requirements for the Bein Soreir UMoreh, the rebellious son, is to show his gluttony by eating a specified amount of meat! Why, then, did Hashem specifically prohibit using honey in Korbanot, while meat constitutes the core of much of the Avodah?
Another question arises from a well-known passage in the “Beraita DePitum HaKetoret,” which Ashkenazim outside of Israel recite on Shabbat morning as part of the “Pitum HaKetoret” section of Mussaf. This Beraita records, “Bar Kappara also taught: if [the Kohen] were to place in [the Ketoret] a Kortov of honey, no man would be able to stand before [i.e. resist] its scent. And why do we not mix honey into it? Because the Torah said, ‘You may not burn any leaven or any honey as a fire-offering to Hashem.’” A number of commentators wonder about Bar Kappara’s questioning the reason for omitting honey. It seems rather like saying, “Pig meat actually tastes excellent. We would really like to eat pig. And why do we not eat pig? Because the Torah said that we may not eat pig.” Of course the reason we do not mix honey into the Ketoret is that the Torah forbids it! What place does such an apparently obvious comment have in a Halachic discussion?
The Radvaz offers a somewhat technical answer to this question. He explains that the Pshat of the Pasuk could be read to mean only that one may not bring a Korban entirely of honey or Chametz. However, Bar Kappara’s Derashah teaches that since the Pasuk uses the word “Mimenu,” “from it,” even placing a small amount of it in a larger offering is prohibited. Rav Meir Yechiel of Ostrovtzah suggests in a similar vein that the previous section in the Torah could have given the impression that it is not in fact fully forbidden to use honey. When describing Korbanot of birds, the Pasuk states, “Lo Yavdil,” “[The Kohen] shall not separate [the bird into pieces]” (1:17), which Chazal interpret to mean that he is not required to separate the bird apart entirely, but he may still do so. Thus, one might think that the same applies to honey – one is not required to put it into the Ketoret, even though it smells overwhelmingly pleasant, but he is allowed to if he wants to. However, the fact that the Pasuk connects the honey to Chametz, which the Torah would not have to tell us that we need not add in large quantities, shows that the Pasuk is in fact prohibiting the addition of both.
The Kotzker Rebbe offers a more philosophical answer, commenting simply, “Do not be too clever to understand the reason and to explain according to human reasoning; rather, the Torah commanded this, and it is enough.” Apparently, he understands Bar Kappara’s comment not so much as a statement of Halacha; the rule itself we already know ourselves just from reading the Pasuk. Rather, what Bar Kappara is teaching here is a lesson in Hashkafah: we may search, as the Kli Yakar does, for reasons behind the Mitzvot, but ultimately the answer to “why do we not do this” must be “because the Torah said….” This also answers, in a sense, our first question of why honey is chosen as the vehicle for the Torah’s message here. Of course the symbolism is always there and we must always look for messages for ourselves within the Mitzvot. But on a deeper level, we must accept that the particular technical specifications of any given Mitzvah – honey versus meat, pig versus goat – are simply the choice of God, Whose will we accept even when it defeats the limits of our powers of reasoning. Indeed, the pig analogy serves well here, as Rabi Elazar Ben Azariah teaches, “From where do we know that one should not say, ‘I find pig meat disgusting...,’ but should rather say, ‘I would like it, but my Father in Heaven decreed upon me [not to eat it]?’ The Torah teaches, ‘I have separated you from amongst the nations to be Mine’ (Vayikra 20:26) – your separateness should be for My Name” (Torat Kohanim 9:4). On some level, this is always the explanation – we act for Hashem’s Name, so we do exactly as He has decreed.
This lesson is particularly appropriate in the context of Avodah, an area in which we have a tendency to seek ways of worship that we personally find meaningful. However, the Torah underscores here that the appropriateness of a given form of Avodah is not determined by what we would find pleasant or what we can “get into.” From a human perspective, honey would seem to be the perfect clincher to a wonderful-smelling incense offering, yet the Torah unequivocally forbids its use. When it comes to Avodah, it implies, the ball is entirely in Hashem’s court; any service to Him that we perform must be done in accordance with the guidelines that He and He alone establishes. This was arguably Bnei Yisrael’s mistake in the Cheit HaEigel: they attempted to serve Hashem in a way He had not authorized, and had in fact completely prohibited. One of the messages that Sefer Shemot teaches repeatedly (as Rabbi Chaim Jachter developed extensively in his Shiurim at TABC) is the counter to that problem – the necessity of maintaining a distance between oneself and Hashem, and of keeping rigorously to the regulations He lays down. This is one explanation, for example, of why the Torah repeats all the Mishkan specifications after the Cheit HaEigel – it is stressing that this time, Bnei Yisrael fixed their mistake and performed everything “as Hashem commanded.”
The Mishnah in Avot writes in the name of Raban Gamliel the son of Rabi Yehudah HaNasi, “Aseih Retzono KiRtzonecha, Kedei SheYaaseh Retzonecha KiRtzono,” “Make His will like yours, so that He will make your will like His” (2:4). In the Zechut of our accepting Hashem’s will unquestioningly and performing His commandments exactly as He specifies, may we merit to see Him answer all our Tefillot and implement our will as His own.
--Adapted from several Divrei Torah in Itturei Torah