spices, ingredients, scent-2902439.jpg

The Scent & the Spirit

The pictures from my daughter’s wedding arrived in my inbox this week. Our Simcha took place six weeks ago, and it already feels like moons ago. But scrolling through the pictures, memories of that captivating night cascaded within me. Transported to that August evening, I marveled at the joy we felt.

As Jews, we go to great lengths to make our weddings joyous. The wedding is a new beginning, and beginnings are consequential. While the dancing ends, the celebration sets a tone for what is to come.

When Noach left the Teyva (arc), our world faced a new beginning. G-d swore there would be no more massive floods, and Noach felt he had to do something consequential. He emerged into a world desperate to be rebuilt. But before erecting his own tent, Noach built a place of worship.

Here is how the Torah puts it:

Then Noach built an altar to HaShem… and offered burnt offerings on the altar. HaShem smelled the satisfying aroma, and G-d said in His heart, ‘I will not continue to curse again the ground because of man…’

What is the meaning of this passage? How can G-d be satisfied by a human aroma? The Malbim, a great 19th century commentary on Tanach, probes the Hebrew word Reyach (scent). He points to a connection between Reyach (scent) and Ruach (spirit). The two Hebrew words are nearly identical. Why is that so?

The words for “scent” and “spirit” are connected because their meaning is so close. Scent is an inner essence, the spirit of something. Consider the various human senses: sight, sound, touch and smell. Smell is the least tangible of these. It is something delicate, unseen, and yet powerful. Think back to a familiar smell in your own life, such as the scent of your grandparent’s house or a person you grew up with.

As soon as you encounter that smell, a flow of memories arises, and you travel back in time. Several years ago, I visited Jerusalem. As soon as I entered its streets, the smells of the sacred city filled my heart with memories of holiness.

Scent is an essence we don’t see—a deeper spirit within. When the Torah says that Noach’s sacrifice had a “savory scent”, Noach was dedicating a deeper spiritual essence of the world to G-d. The words for scent (Reyach) and spirit (Ruach) are also connected to the word “Yareyach”, or the moon, which itself is a reflection of a hidden light.

Emerging into a desolate world, how did Noach rebuild? The first thing he did was to dedicate a place, connecting our world to the Creator. He consecrated that space and gave the scent—the inner spirit—to G-d.

Today, the Jewish people have left the protective shell of Tishrie for the fall and winter months. The music of Tishrei has ended, but it still sets a tone for what will come. In these days, find a corner of your world where you can connect to the Creator. Perhaps it’s your Shabbat table or a private place you pray.

Make a holy corner in your life and dedicate it to G-d. There’s a spirit there that can fill you for moons to come.