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Blessing over scents

Rabbi Julian Sinclair's guide to practice

    The rabbis single out smell as the uniquely soulful sense. “What is something that the soul enjoys but not the body? It is the scent” (Talmud Berachot 43b). Perhaps its intangibility distinguishes scent from other pleasures.

    The general blessing for smells is “Blessed are You… who creates the various spices [borei mini besamim]” . But there are at least four other versions for more specific scents including persimmon oil.

    Scent plays a role at the departure of Shabbat. When the spiritual high of Shabbat leaves us, we need refreshment. Hence smelling spices or fresh herbs are part of the havdalah ritual.

    Some communities have the custom to place mint and lemongrass in the synagogue on Shabbat night to give people the chance to bless “who creates fragrant plants” — a beautiful tradition for the home as well.

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