THE BLESSINGS ON SCENTS
The gemara in Berachot 43 discusses the obligation for one to make a blessing upon smelling any product whose scent is pleasant. The gemara gives the source of this obligation as being the last verse in Tehillim: "Every soul (neshama) will praise God." On this verse the gemara comments that the only pleasure that the soul receives that the body does not is that of smell, and as such this verse comes to obligate us to make a blessing before deriving such pleasure. TheTur (O.C. 216) connects this obligation to the obligation to make a blessing before eating. The Bach asks how he can do this, seeing as the gemara does not make such a connection! He answers that the verse cited in the gemara opens the door for this comparison - just as scent is pleasure for the soul , so too is eating pleasure for the body.
The Sefer Bnei Yissachar asks why a verse is needed at all. He points out that we know that one must bless before eating from the fact that it is forbidden for one to have any pleasure from this world without first making a blessing on that pleasure. Why does the same logic not apply here? He answers that it is possible to reason that there is no need to make a blessing on scent. Why not? By the sin in the Garden of Eden, the Torah describes the incident using verbs connected to four out of the five senses, but not to the sense of smell. As such, pleasures derived by the other senses are now a mixture of good and evil, and thus we need a blessing to focus on and separate out the good. However, those pleasures pertaining to the sense of smell were untainted by the sin, and thus one might think that no blessing is needed. Thus, the gemara has a need to learn this law out from a specific verse.
Unlike food, scent does not require one to make an afterblessing. Why not? Many Rishonim and Poskim cite the reason for this as being that once the smell has passed, it is comparable to food that has been digested, on which one does not say an afterblessing. TheAruch HaShulchan states the reason as being the fact that there is no measurement (shiur) to scent, and as we usually require that a certain shiur of food be eaten in order for one to be required to say an afterblessing, we lack the reason in this case to impose such an obligation.
II. A BLESSING FOR YOU, A BLESSING FOR YOU...
There are three main blessings that one could make upon smelling something. The gemara states that one says "borei atzei besamim" - blessing Hashem for creating fragrant trees - on all types of spices that are (or at least in the "good old days" were) burned so as to produce a scent. The exception to this rule is musk (there is on debate among Rishonim and Poskim as to what musk actually is, although it is generally agreed that it comes from some type of animal), on which one says "borei minei besamim - blessing Hashem for creating various species of fragrances.Ritva adds a third blessing to the list, that of "borei asvei besamim" - blessing Hashem for creating fragrant grasses.
The guiding principles concerning these three blessings are fairly simple, although many of the applications are somewhat more complicated. First, there is a debate as to what things borei atzei besamim are said on. The gemara, as interpreted byRashi, continues to state that this blessing is said only on myrtle leaves and things similar to them, defined as species whose branches are also fragrant. Rashba interprets this gemara to mean that this blessing is said on anything that is similar to myrtle in the sense that its main purpose is scent (as opposed to being primarily a food), a view that echoes that of the Behag. However, Ritva states that any scent which is produced by something that grows from the ground and is hard requires a blessing of borei atzei besamim, while any such things which is soft requires a blessing of borei asvei besamim. Any scent, which is not produced by something, which grew from the ground requires the more general blessing of borei minei besamim. This is codified by the Tur, who adds that if one says borei minei besamim on any fragrance he has fulfilled his obligation, as this blessing includes the other two. The Perisha points out that the Tur does not mean that one should do this optimally, but that if one does he does not need to make the correct blessing.
There are two other blessings made on scent. The gemara states that one says "borei shemen areiv" - thanking Hashem for creating fragrant oils - when smelling persimmon oil. The initial reason given for this special blessing is that such oil is unique to the Land of Israel and thus merits its own blessing as a form of additional praise for the land. However, the Bach points out that this blessing is said in other cases, and thus proposes that the reason that it is said is that such oils do not fit under the category of being either fragrant trees or fragrant grasses. The last possible blessing that one could make on a smell is brought down by the gemara in connection to the oil of an etrog, namely the blessing of "she-natan rei'ach tov ba-peirot" - thanking Hashem for placing a sweet smell in fruits. According to the Tur, this blessing is said on any fruit.
What about cases where the source of the aroma is not apparent?Rosh quotes Ra'avad who claims that one says only borei minei besamim on a spice which came from a tree in a case where the branch has been removed (a view shared by the Bach). Similarly, Ritva states that if one places redolent branches into oil the blessing said is borei atzei besamim. However, if the spice is finely ground, then there are two possibilities - either one says borei shemen areiv, or no blessing is said at all (this view is also held by Ra'ah, as cited by the Meiri). The Rosh himself holds that one says borei atzei besamim in such a case, and the Shulchan Aruch sides with the opinion that no blessing is said at all.
With regard to making a blessing upon smelling food, Ritva holds that one does not make such a blessing until one has the specific intention to smell the fruit, and not merely when one smells it in passing before eating it. TheMaharam MiRutenberg says that one says borei atzei besamim on cinnamon stick, while Rosh disagrees and requires instead that one say she-natan rei'ach tov ba-peirot, as its primary purpose is to be eaten, not smelled. The Aruch HaShulchan writes that if one takes a fruit for the purposes of both smelling it and eating it, the blessing on the scent comes first, as the fragrance is sensed before the taste is.
Before moving on, we should discuss the case of an etrog during Succot. TheMordechai brings down an dispute between Ra'avyah and Rabbeinu Simcha. According to Ra'avyah, the etrog is a fruit and thus one should say she-natan rei'ach tov ba-peirot. However, Rabbeinu Simcha points out that an etrog on Succot is designated for the purpose of fulfilling a specific mitzva (huktza l'mitzvato), and thus one does not make a blessing on it and should not even consciously smell it. The Tur quotes the Avi Ezri who claims that one may smell and make a blessing on an etrog. The Perisha and the Aruch HaShulchan both advise against smelling an etrog on Succot, and claim that one should certainly not make a blessing since we are generally lenient in cases of doubt that involve blessings (lest one come to mistakenly mention the name of Hashem).
III. U CAN'T SMELL THIS
There are several cases in which one would not have to make a blessing on a scent. There are two main categories discussed in this context - those aromas that are in some way connected to a sin, and those that are not intended for themselves.Rambam (Hil. Berachot 9), the Tur (O.C. 217) and others list three scents on which one does not make a blessing - a scent which comes from something forbidden such as idol-worship; a scent whose purpose is solely to remove a foul odor, such as perfumes placed around a dead body; and a scent that is not intended to be smelled, such as incense burned under clothing or vessels. Meiri further notes that one does not make a blessing on any smell that is on one's hands.
The category of scents that are connected to a sin also includes those scents that are in some way related to illicit sexual relations.Abudraham claims that this refers to perfumes worn by a woman. As smelling such perfumes would likely lead to far more forbidden acts, they are forbidden to smell, let alone make a blessing on.
IV. YE OLDE SPICE SHOPPE
Rambam states that one who enters a spice shop says borei minei besamim, as that blessing works for all types of spices, and such a person only make this blessing once in a day, unless he continually leaves and then re-enters the store. TheDerisha fine-tunes this law by stating that even though one is normally obligated to make a separate blessing on each category of fragrance (tree, grass, miscellaneous), in this case only one blessing is needed. The reason for this is that separate blessings are needed only when each species is presented to a person, however in this case the person does not distinguish one scent from the other, but rather inhales the combined aroma of all of the spices in the shop.
The Aruch HaShulchan asks why a blessing is needed at all in this case, as spices in a store are there to be sold and not to be smelled? He answers simply that the owners of the store do intend for people to smell their wares so that they will enter the store and buy from them.
V. A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME
What blessing does one make when smelling flowers? Ritva, Rashba, and Meiri all contend that the proper blessing is she-natan rei'ach tov ba-peirot. Rambam, however, argues that all flowers fall under the category of atzei besamim, as they have hard stems and thus qualify as "trees." Rosh further argues that flowers are certainly not fruits (as Ritva, et al. hold), as they are not primarily intended to be eaten. However, theBeit Yoseif quotes a responsa of Rashba that claims that roses are considered to be fruits, since they can be eaten, or at least mixed into food, if they are ground up.
IV. WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE
Finally, we focus on various smells of foods. The Beit Yoseif (O.C. 297) brings down an opinion that there is a special blessing made on fresh warm bread, that of "she-natan rei'ach tov be-pat" - thanking Hashem for making a pleasant aroma in bread. However, as this blessing lacks any basis in the gemara, he advises against saying it. The Aruch HaShulchan also says not to make a blessing on the smell of bread. However, theKol-Bo claims that if one finds the scent of warm bread to be pleasurable (as this author does), one should certainly make this blessing. The general practice is to follow the view of the Beit Yoseif and not to make the blessing. In a similar vein, one does not make a blessing upon smelling foods that are being cooked.
TheBe'er Heitev claims that one does make a blessing when smelling ground coffee, presumably borei minei besamim. Finally, there is an argument with regard to smelling mint. The Ginat Veradim says that no blessing is made, while the Perach Shoshan says that one says she-natan rei'ach tov ba-peirot (while this may not be such a major law, we could not resist including these two books in this Chabura - their names could not be more appropriate!).
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