Uncommon Scents: Pinhas 2016

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: What senses do you engage most when you learn? Are you more of a visual learner or an auditory learner? Or do you need to use other senses more than your sight or hearing?

As this week’s Torah portion concludes with an exhaustive list of commanded sacrifices, we learn that the success of this ritual depends chiefly on the sense of smell.

The Pitch: “An offering by fire of pleasing odor to Adonai” (Numerous times in Numbers 28-29)

Swing #1: “Any formal mode of communication also involves esthetic dimensions, especially the form that the communication takes (whether regular or irregular). Ritual can be a manifestation of an esthetic that constructs and is constructed in the larger context of daily life. The esthetic dimension of rituals may involve visual elements that interact in a pleasing manner. In the Hebrew Bible, the reference to turning all or part of sacrificial animals into smoke could be connected to the esthetic dimension of ritual, particularly the reference to the reah nihoah, ‘pleasing odor,’ that often occurs in these contexts. Smells have an esthetic quality, especially considering the importance of perfumes or ritual elements connected to smells. … The pleasing odor for YHWH suggests a successful completion of a particular sacrificial rite and marks the final section of these rites. In this sense it marks the human compliance with YHWH’s explicit commands that results in a ‘pleasing odor.’” – Gerald A. Klingbeil, Bridging the Gap: Ritual and Ritual Texts in the Bible

Swing #2: “This smell is a special fragrance that brings down the spiritual energy of God, and, consequently, gives us serenity here on earth.” – Bahir

Swing #3: “This teaches you that whether a person gives a costly one or an inexpensive one, as long as he directs his heart to heaven, the type is irrelevant.” – Menachot 110a

Late-Inning Questions: Has the need to engage in multiple senses during ritual increased or diminished over time? How does the sense of smell increase our Jewish identity today, if at all? Or is scent only important when understanding ancient ritual? How might we use our senses to feel connected to God and the commandments more effectively?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Thanks again to everyone who participated in our Adult Education Parlor Meetings last month. To continue getting feedback, please fill out a quick survey so we can offer classes that interest you at times convenient for you. The survey can be completed in about two minutes. Please visit here between now and August 2nd.

The Big Inning at the End: A flurry of activity is expected over the next 24 hours, as the non-waiver trade deadline approaches. Teams expecting to compete for the World Series are considering both minor and major moves to upgrade their rosters for the season’s stretch run. Each year, pundits argue whether it is better for a team to keep their young, inexpensive prospects, or whether these players have greater value as bargaining chips to lure more established talent. It’s a struggle between trying to win now or later. In many ways, it’s a larger metaphor for decisions we make every day.

Shabbat Shalom!