- Offering The Ketores קטֹרת

Offering The Ketores קטֹרת

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Offering The Ketores קטֹרת

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by Esther Livingstone 

Offering The Ketores/ קטֹרת- Incense   (Part 2)

It is a mitzvas aseh to offer the קְטֹרֶת/ incense on the מִזְבֵּחַ הַזָהָב/golden altar twice daily.  Concerning this the Torah says:

 “And Aaron shall burn on it the incense of fragrant spices every morning... “

            בּבֹּקר בּבֹּקר  והקטיר עליו אהרן קטֹרת סמים

“And when Aaron kindles the lamps in the afternoon, he shall bring it up in smoke... וּבְהַעֲלֹ֨ת אַהֲרֹ֧ן אֶת־הַנֵּרֹ֛ת בֵּ֥ין הָעֲרְבַּ֖יִם יַקְטִירֶ֑נָּה   (Shemos 30:  7-8)    

 (HTU=  Hilchos Temidim U’Musafim)


  1. When was the Ketores offered?

  2. Where was the mizbei’ach hazahav/ the golden altar located; and what were its dimensions?

  3.  How was the kohen who merited offering the ketores chosen; and what was particularly special about offering the ketores?

  4. When the incense was offered in the heichal, who was present?

  5. Why was no one else to be present during the offering of the ketores?

  6. Before offering the ketores, a kohen needed to remove the ashes from the previous day first- how was this done?

  7. What four activities did the kohen who merited bringing the ketores then do?

  8. Why did the bezech/spoon have a covering, and why was the kaf covered with a cloth?

  9. What was the procedure for collecting the coals into the  מַחְתָּה/fire-pan?

  10. What was the procedure after the coals were collected (but before offering the ketores); & how many kohanim were involved in it?

  11. What warning was the remaining kohen- for whom this was most likely his first time offering the ketores- given?

  12. What was the sign for the kohen to begin offering the ketores?

  13. In what manner does the kohen pour the ketores out; and what does he do afterwards?

  14. What is done with any incense which may fly off of the mizbei’ach?

  15. Which Kohen merited to offer the ketores in the afternoon?



  1. It was offered in the morning and   בֵּין הָעַרְבַּיִם/ in the afternoon. (HTU 3:1)

  2. It was located in the heichal, midway between the north and the south, between the shulchan and the menorah. It was one cubit by one cubit square. A cubit is  54 cm/ 21.25 inches. (Shemos 30: 1-3). (Hilchos Beis HaBechira- 3:17)

  3. The kohen who won the 3rd lottery that morning merited offering the ketores; and one could only participate in that lottery if he had never previously offered the ketores. Chazal say that bringing the ketores was a medium to draw down to oneself the bracha of prosperity! (Yoma 26a) (HTU 3:7)

  4. Except for the kohen offering the ketores, no one was to be in the heichal, nor in the outside area between the אוּלם/entrance hall and the mizbei’ach, until the departure of the kohen who offered the ketores.   (HTU 3: 3)

  5. Because the Torah says “And no person should be in the Ohel Moed when he enters to atone in the holy place” (Vayikra 16:17).  Although this pasuk refers to the ketores offered by the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur, through a בִּנְיַן אָב Chazal derive from here that the same applies to all atonements made in the heichal.  (Yoma 44a) (HTU 3:3)

  6. A kohen (“kohen A”) who merited removing the ashes in the 2nd daily lottery, would enter the heichal with a consecrated gold vessel/ כלי קֹדשׁ called a teni/ טֶנִי. He would scoop up the ashes and the coals that were on the altar with his hands and deposit them in the teni. He would then sweep the remainder into the teni, leave it there and depart. (HTU 3:4)

  7. a. He would take a spoon-like vessel with a cover called a bezech/ בָּזָךְ that was filled to overflowing with ketores.

b. He would place this in another vessel called a kaf/ כַּף. (The bezech and kaf were utensils resembling ladles, and both had long arms)

c. He would cover the kaf with a small cloth, and hold it in his hand.

d. He would then enter the heichal, together with another kohen who held a מַחְתָּה/fire-pan with flaming coals. (This was the same kohen who merited the terumas hadeshen/removing some ashes from the main altar- in the 1st daily lottery. (HTU 3:4))

  1. The bezech/spoon had a covering to prevent any dust or soot from falling into the ketores and invalidating it. (Raavad). The cloth covering prevented the aroma of the ketores from dissipating before it was offered, and kept its aroma potent and powerful. (Rosh)  (Avodas Hakorbanos p. 80)

  2. The kohen (“kohen B”) would take a silver fire-pan (that held 4 kabbim), ascend to the special ketores pyre on the mizbei’ach, move the coals to the side, and take coals that were consumed by the fire. He would then descend and transfer these coals into a golden fire-pan. (HTU 3:5)

  3. a. The kohen (kohen A) who had removed the ashes previously, would enter the heichal, take the teni full of ashes, bow and leave.

b. The kohen (kohen B) holding the fire-pan would place the coals on the altar, spreading them out with the bottom of the fire-pan.  He would then bow and leave.

c. The kohen (kohen C) holding the kaf would then remove the bezech from it and give it to a chosen friend/relative to hold.

d. This kohen (kohen D) would then place all the ketores into the cupped hands of kohen C –the one who merited offering the ketores.  Kohen D would then bow and leave.

Thus, 4 different kohanim were involved in this mitzvah. (HTU 3:7)

  1. “Be careful. Do not begin (releasing the incense) in front of you, so that you shouldn’t become burned.” (ie: The Kohen  stood on the east side of the mizbei’ach, but was to begin spreading the ketores on the western side, so that he shouldn’t be leaning over the part of the altar where the incense was already burning, as he could be burned by the rising smoke and heat.) (HTU 3:8)

12.  The kohen did not offer the ketores until the memuneh/admininstrator said to him “ הַקְטֵר/offer it”.  He said this from outside the heichal, but in a loud voice.  Waiting for this instruction showed that offering the ketores was an honour, and it was not simply performed without direction. (Tiferes Yisrael/Be’er Sheva- Avodas Hakorbanos p85)   (HTU 3:9)

13. He pours the ketores on the fire “gently, like one who sifts flour, until it is spread over the entire fire”- as it needed to be spread thinly so that it would burn properly. He then bows and departs.  (HTU 3: 8)

14.  It is not returned to the mizbei’ach, but is rather entombed. (Radbaz) (HTU3:2)

15. If there were kohanim present who had never before offered it, a special 5th lottery was held in the afternoon for this  purpose.  If all kohanim of that Beis Av had offered the ketores previously, then they were all able to enter the 3rd daily lottery, and the one selected for the morning ketores also offered it in the afternoon! (-as with all the other tasks associated with the Korban Tamid of the afternoon.) (HTU 4:8)

  • “Whoever occupies himself with reciting the ketores every day with sincerity and comprehension will have a share in this world and the next, and will be spared from the forces of impurity, negativity, and judgment, and will be linked to the source of life. (Zohar 1:230a, 2:218b)

  • The Arizal writes that reciting the ketores in davening with care and devotion is very helpful in bringing one to teshuva.



  Sefer Ha’Avodah- Rambam- With commentary by Rav Eliyahu Touger- Pub-Moznaim -2007

Avodas Hakorbanos- by Rav Aharon HaKohen (Kagan ) Translation- Rabbi Moshe Weiss – Pub -Artscroll  2020


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