Part of the psychedelic culture of the 60s was the burning of incense. As a teen, it seemed so exotic and “counterculture” to buy one of those fragrant sticks and burn it in my bedroom. (Yes, that was about as counterculture as I ever got!) But, we can open the book of Exodus and find incense used in the ancient tabernacle too. Tetzaveh describes a special altar set up for just this purpose. (Ex 30:1) Why did this ritual go by the wayside in Jewish observance while it plays a prominent role in other religions? One answer is suggested by Maimonides: He “regards the incense-offering as designed originally to counteract the odors arising from the slaughtered animals and to animate the spirit of the priests.” (Jewish Encyclopedia). Anything that was closely identified as part of the ancient Temple rituals was forbidden in the synagogue, as a way of keeping the two types of Jewish worship distinct. The only vestige of using spices that remains in Jewish life is the spicebox of Havdalah.
Rabbi D. Feingold