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2 Kislev 5761 - November 29, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
The Sense of Scent

by L. Jungerman

"And he smelled the scent of his clothing and he said: See, my son's scent is like that of the field which Hashem has blessed.

"Chazal say in the Midrash: Do not read begodov but bogdov, his traitors. Yaakov smelled the scent of those sinners who rebel against Hashem but who eventually repent, like Yosef Meshicha and Yokum from Tzroros. Who was Yosef Meshicha? When our enemies sought to enter Har Habayis, they said: Let one of them [the Jews] enter [this holy place] first. They approached him and said: Go in to the Beis Hamikdosh and seize any precious thing for yourself. He entered and claimed the golden Menora. They said: But it is not seemly for a commoner like you to use such a grand object. Go in again and take something of lesser importance. But he refused to enter a second time. R' Pinchos said that they offered him a three year exemption of all taxes, but he still refused. He said: `Is it not bad enough that I entered [the sanctuary of my G-d] once? Shall I provoke Him a second time?' What did they do to him? They laid him upon a carpenter's worktable and sawed him to pieces. As they were doing this, he screamed: `Woe unto me for having angered my Maker.'

"Yokum of Tzroros was the nephew of the Tana R' Yosef ben Yoezer of Tzreida. He was riding on a horse on the Shabbos that his uncle was being led [by the Romans] to his death. He mocked him and said: `Look at the fine horse which my master has given me, and look upon the horse, as it were, upon which your Master has mounted you,' meaning: Look at my pleasant lot, despite my sinfulness, as compared to your plight, where you are being led to your death, in spite of your righteousness. And R' Yosi replied: `If this is the lot of those who provoke Him, how much greater will be the reward of those who serve to please Him!' Yokum asked: `Was there anyone who did more to serve Hashem than you? Why are you being led to the slaughter?' And the uncle replied: `If it is so [that Hashem is so exacting] with those who do His bidding, how much more will the punishment be to those who defy Him!'

"These words penetrated like a snake's venom and he went and contrived a combination of the four forms of death executed by beis din: stoning, burning, death by sword and choking [hanging]. At this point, R' Yosi ben Yoezer dozed off and saw a vision of a bier flying aloft. He said: How was he able in such a short time to precede me to Gan Eden?" (Midrash Aggodas Bereishis 43; Midrash Rabba Bereishis 65)


The power of smell remains active even when the other senses are not operating. A poisoned fruit, looking delectable, can nestle among a pile of good fruit, with no way to detect the difference. A person can take it into his hand and none of his senses will reveal the danger inherent -- save for his sense of smell, which will arouse his suspicions that something is amiss, though he may not be able to isolate the reason why. His sense of smell will warn him to be wary. The opposite is also true.

A man may use his eyes as a guide to the external condition, but his sense of smell will penetrate to the inner condition and provide the necessary information that is not yet revealed to the eye.

When Yaakov Ovinu entered the tent of his father, Yitzchok, to receive those blessings that would stand by his children for all future generations, he entered together with those future offspring. Not in actuality, of course, but he did bring along the reservoir of potential that was planted in him, from which the future Jewish nation would germinate and spring forth. In his sanctity, Yitzchok sensed that Yaakov's core was pure, through and through, to such an extent that even the traitors and sinners who would emerge in the future will be preserved by the good smell, the innate quality of goodness.

Jews would never be totally estranged or severed from the wick- thread that binds them to Yaakov. They might succumb to sin, even grievously so, but that flickering wick would continue to burn, if weakly, until the moment they encountered the great fire. Then, instantly, it would ignite to a strong flame, just like the wicks of a candle that join to create a torch of fire.

This was the case with Yosef Meshicha. What speck of Judaism still remained of this base sinner and renegade who volunteered to enter the holy Sanctuary and desecrate it, at a time when even our enemies were loathe and afraid to do so? But the ember within him still glowed, deep, deep inside. It was not extinguished. A tiny flicker remained that fought for its life and begged for reinforcement. And the reinforcement came to the rescue. Yosef entered one time -- but refused to go in again and under no circumstances would he provoke his Creator another time.

What happened? He had entered the Beis Hamikdosh! That was enough to inject the necessary reinforcement, to stoke the little flickering flame. Not even the excruciating torture of being hacked to pieces alive could douse the fire that had been ignited to full force. He screamed with pain, but what were his words? "Woe unto me for having angered my Creator!"

To sense the existence of that tiny flame still present in the heart of Yosef Meshicha is possible only through the sense of smell! And Yitzchok Ovinu sensed it. He saw the aroma of the [Jewish people's] renegades.

The same applies to Yokum of Tzroros. What can one think about a brazen apikores who, upon meeting up with his holy uncle, a veritable holy man who was being led to a martyr's death, had the audacity to taunt him with his own Sabbath desecration, to provoke him and despise him? Were these the only parting thoughts he could think of saying -- words of incitement and ridicule? Who can believe that in such a wicked heart there still flickered an iota of Jewishness?

But this was apparently so! The few words of rebuke that issued from the holy mouth served as the fuel to stoke that lone spark still burning weakly and fan it to a great fire. A fire that spread throughout his being until not a single spot remained that was not captured by remorse and repentance. A few words sufficed to catapult Yokum directly into Gan Eden -- and to get him there even before his uncle.

One cannot distinguish that tiny spark when it is almost suffocated by mounds of refuse. But one can smell its presence. He, Yitzchok, sensed the presence of those renegades that would yet return.

R' Chono bar Bazno said in the name of R' Shimon Chasida: Every fast day that does not include Jewish sinners is not a legitimate, effective fast day, for the compound galbanum (chelbono), which had an offensive smell was, nevertheless, included among the ingredients of the fragrant incense of the Ketores. Burnt alone, it is malodorous. But as soon as it is combined with sweet smelling ingredients, like balm and cinnamon and other herbs, it is incorporated into an incredibly sweet smelling incense.

The same is true with Jewish sinners. Alone, they are malodorous, they exude a repelling smell. But if they join with the body of Jewry, they become sweet smelling, too. So, too, in those moments of truth, when Jewry suffers times of trouble and they proclaim a fast, they draw in their erring brethren. And something gives. A twinge of regret, and the flicker suddenly bursts into flame, is revived into a fire, is rejuvenated, and that flame is drawn to the great fire. And it burns strong and fierce.

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