You shall make an altar for bringing incense up in smoke. . . . Aaron shall make incense of spices go up in smoke upon it; every morning when he sets the lamps in order, he shall make it go up in smoke. And when Aaron kindles the lights in the afternoon, he shall make it go up in smoke, continual incense before the L‑rd for your generations. (Exodus 30:1, 7–8)

Originally, this was two separate canvases. Both were saturated with color and mingled with pools of water, to which heavier and thicker paint was added with hands and fingers. In the painting, the menorah is alive and vibrant, containing the full spectrum of color, and looks like a primordial tree of life. Actually, the menorah of the Holy Temple evoked the image of a tree. Its central branch was like a trunk, and the other lamps were its “branches.” The decorations were referred to as almonds, buds and flowers. Here the menorah looks like a tree of light, a tree of life and a tree of fire.

In the abstract rendition of the golden incense altar, a cloud of smoke rises upward from a fiery red background. The incense offering, ketoret, relates to the root word ketar, Aramaic for “bond.”1 The essence of the incense offering is when matter and spirit get connected through a cloud of fragrance, an experience that brings man closer to G‑d.

In the Torah portion of this week, Tetzaveh, the kindling of the menorah is coupled with bringing the incense offering. Hence the artist joined the two canvases into one painting to enhance their connection. (It is interesting that Tetzaveh relates to the word tzavta, which also means “connection.”) According to the Rebbe, the kindling of the menorah was intended to draw and spread light into the world. It is through the menorah that the inner bond established through the incense offering was radiated throughout the world. Here in the painting we sense their connection through the fiery red hues which seem to transform earth into spirit.