What is levona (frankincense)?
Levona is mentioned over 20 times in the Tanach. Here are some examples:
In Parshat Tzav (Vayikra 6:7-8), we read about the Levona:
This is the law of the meal offering (mincha). The sons of Aharon bring it before God, to the front of the altar. He shall separate from it, when he takes his fistful, from some of the meal offering’s fine flour and some of its oil and all the frankincense which is on the meal-offering. He shall burn, on the altar a pleasing fragrance; its memorial portion to God.
We are already familiar with the Levona from Shmot 30:34, where the Levona is listed as one of the spices used for the Ketoret (incense).
In Parshat Vayikra, Levona appears four times as part of the mincha offerings as well as once (Vayikra 5:11) where we learn that if a person brings a guilt offering/sin offering they should not put Levona on it as it is a sin offering.
In Vayikra 24:7, Levona is mentioned in relation to the Lechem HaPanim.
In Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs) 3:6, Levona is considered a perfume:
Who is coming out of the wilderness, like columns of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the merchant?
What exactly is the Levona and what is so special about it?
Levona is an aromatic resin (hardened gum like material) that comes from the trunk of Boswellia trees. It is called Levona because it is white (lavan). In English it is called frankincense from the French words “franc encens” meaning pure incense. Its main use was for incense in religious rituals.
At the end of the Book of Shoftim (21:19), when we read about the sons from the tribe of Binyamin getting married, we learn about a place called Levona:
They then said, Behold, there is a yearly feast of the Lord in Shilo which is on the north side of Beit El, on the east side of the highway that goes up from Beit El to Shchem and on the south of Levona.
Yehuda Maccabi fought in the area of Levona as mentioned in Sefer Chashmonaim.
A modern day settlement in the Shomron, called Maale Levona, just south of Shchem was established in 1984. A lot of proof was found that Levona was grown in the area since Biblical times which makes it likely that this is the same Levona that is mentioned in Shoftim.
In folk medicine, its oil is used to dress wounds, cure diseases, as a remedy for snake bites and for aromatherapy. Some say that it can also help those who are suffering from depression as well as kill bacteria and fungi.
Levona is also used as a fragrance in soaps, lotions and perfumes.
In Shir HaShirim 4:14, it is listed with all of the most expensive spices:
…Nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense, myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices.
It is amazing that the Levona has still not lost its touch.
May the time come when we can return to using the Levona for holy purposes.