Shimon is a nice boy. He likes to study, help around the house and share with his friends. But Shimon is only a young boy, and there are things he still has to learn. Like the proper way to daven.

Of course Shimon davens; he says every word loud and clear. But often he looks up from the siddur to make sure someone is watching.

Shimon knows that when a Jew davens, he should think about the words and imagine himself standing before HaShem. He knows that davening is between him and HaShem, and that it’s not to impress people around him. Still, Shimon’s eyes wander about looking to see who is watching and listening to his davening.

Perhaps we can help Shimon learn a lesson from this week’s Torah reading. Parshas Tetzaveh speaks mostly about the bigdei kehunah — garments worn by the kohanim while they served in the Mishkan. Yet in this parshah, we also read about one of the holy objects in the Mishkan — the mizbeach haketores, or incense altar.

Isn’t this strange? Shouldn’t this altar have been mentioned with all the other keilim in Parshas Terumah? Why is the mizbeach haketores singled out? How is it different? Didn’t it stand along with the menorah and the shulchan in the kodesh — the holy area of the Mishkan?

It did. But there is a difference between the avodah carried out upon the mizbeach haketores and the avodah of the other holy vessels. When the menorah was lit or the show bread was put on the golden table, other kohanim could be present. But when the kohain offered the ketores (incense) on the mizbeach, no one else was allowed to be in the holy area. Twice every day, in the morning and evening, the kohain would offer the incense standing alone — only him and HaShem.

The word ketores comes from the root ktar — a bond. A Jew creates a very special closeness between himself and HaShem when he is alone. There are many mitzvos which we do in public or which other people take part in, but there must also be a closeness with HaShem that comes only when a Jew is alone with Him.

(Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. I, Parshas Tetzaveh)