You know that spring is here when you get up one morning and there's that special spring scent in the air. It's not the crispness that bounces off of a person who has walked in from the winter cold, nor is it the dampness we inhale from the leaves and earth in the fall, and neither is it the heat that you can literally smell in the summer. It's that special spring aroma.
We associate scents with a lot of different things. But can you imagine someone telling you that there's such a thing as a "Jewish scent"?
It's not unusual for us to expect to "see" signs of a home being Jewish -- starting with a mezuza on the front door (and hopefully on all of the required doors therein) and including Jewish artwork, Jewish objects and Jewish books.
But how many of us ever considered it important for a Jewish home to "smell" Jewish? Yet, many of us do associate certain scents and aromas with Jewish holidays or observances!
Who can resist the urge to smell the etrog-citron when blessing the lulav and etrog on the Sukkot holiday?
The Rosh Hashana aromas of brisket and tzimmes, challa and gefilte fish help us fondly recall previous family gatherings of years gone by to welcome the New Year.
Chanuka brings with it the scent of frying potato latkes and burning wicks in the Chanuka menora.
And in the weeks preceding the holiday of Passover, as soon as the first person notices that "spring is in the air," many Jewish homes are filled with the smells of Lysol and Windex, ammonia and bleach.
These scents, of course, are just a prelude of the much more enticing fragrances to come: the sweet charoset; the charred, roasted bone; wine in abundance; crispy matza; soup; gefilte fish; fruit compote.
Judaism teaches, "Which sense does the soul enjoy but not the body? This is the sense of smell." In other words, smell is spiritual.
Thus, we attempt to revive a person who has fainted with smelling salts, because scent reaches the essence of the soul, which is never unconscious. The soul, which is revitalized by the scent, then infuses new life into the body. At the Havdala ceremony performed after Shabbat has ended, we make a blessing on aromatic spices, and then smell them, to refresh our souls which are saddened by the loss of the special Shabbat dimension.
Whereas other senses convey only a partial impression of that which the sense perceives, the sense of smell symbolizes the ability to reach to the essence of all things.
It's not surprising, then, that when we really want to get to the bottom of a particular matter, we speak in terms of "sniffing around" or "smelling" the situation out. The sense of smell is truly, very deep.
This year, with the approach of Passover, let's fill our homes with Jewish scents. As they reach to the essence of our souls, they will make more and more sense!