Sunday, Jul 21, 2024

Hashem’s “Sense of Smell”

Often, after learning, reading or observing the same thing numerous times, one can gain new insight into something that he has seen or learned many times in the past. That is exactly what happened recently when learning a Rashi in Parshas Vayikrah. Learning that Rashi brought with it the realization that, kevayachol, as it were, Hashem has a very different sense of smell than we do. As an introduction to my newfound understanding, let's talk money and Purim. These words are being written on Shushan Purim, while we are still under the “influence” of the wonderful way that Yidden interact with money on Purim. Yes, if there is one thing at the front of public consciousness in our community in this post-Purim season and in the run-up to Pesach, it is money. There is perhaps no time during the year where the dire plight of so many needy fellow Yidden is brought to our attention as during the Purim and Pesach season.



Yidden, who have the beautiful middah of rachmonus, compassion, deeply imbedded in their DNA, respond in a way that makes the heart swell with pride.


I remember hearing recently that one of Boro Park’s most prominent banks simply ran out of cash before Purim. Yes, Yidden, whether they have been endowed with great wealth or are “just making it,” somehow manage to dispense sums of money on Purim day that are so large, so astronomic, that we would rather not even try to estimate the amounts. “Bracha,” the Gemara tells us, “is found in something that is hidden from the eye.”


Still, go into any bank in areas with a high concentration of Torah Jews and every teller will tell you that they are having a difficult time keeping up with the huge sums of money withdrawn by their Jewish customers in advance of Purim. Small bills, large bills, quarters, two dollar bills, dollar coins – you name it and Jews are asking for it before Purim. And what about the checks written on Purim? How many thousands upon thousands of checks are written on Purim by tayereh Yidden, special Jews, nedivim, who so generously dispense tzedakah and are machzik Torah?


That is the overload on the banks before Purim. Immediately following Purim, the banks are once again on overload, trying to process the untold number of checks that have been written over Purim.


Ashrecha Yisroel mi kamocha!


Indeed, the nedivus halev, the pure generosity of Am Yisroel on Purim, makes one want to swell with pride. Wherever Yidden live, whether the denomination is dollars, shekels, pounds or pesos, the common denominator is that Yidden give, give and give again throughout Purim.


Very often, we take ourselves to task for our shortcomings as a community and as individuals. It is therefore imperative that we take the opportunity to “pat ourselves on the back” when we witness such a beautiful outpouring of the Jewish middah of rachmanus and exclaim, “Mi ke’amcha Yisroel.”


I recall hearing in the name of one of the famed Chassidic rebbes as follows: “We Yidden are lucky. We got a good deal that we have Hashem as our G-d – ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu umah na’im goraleinu! But Hashem also got an excellent deal – he has the Yidden for a nation!”




Now, what does this have to do with Hashem’s sense of smell?


When someone must bring a korban olah, the Torah gives three options. He can bring the biggest type of animal, which is a bull; a middle-sized animal, which can be a sheep or a goat; or the smallest type of animal, a bird, such as a dove. The Gemara explains that the type of animal one brings depends on his economic standing. If he is wealthy, then he must bring a bull. If he is in the middle, he brings a sheep. And if he is poor, a single bird suffices. It does not matter how much, the Gemara tells us, as long as one’s intentions are for the sake of Hashem. Hashem does not judge donations by size or by amounts. He judges them by the purity of intention with which they are given.


The posuk tells us with regard to the korban olah brought from fowl that the bird’s feathers are not plucked before it is placed on the mizbei’ach. Rashi quotes the Medrash that asks, “But is it not true that there is no ordinary person who smells the terrible smell of burning feathers without becoming nauseated? Why, then, does the posuk tell us that it should go up in smoke?” The Medrash answers, “So that the mizbei’ach should be satisfied and beautified with the offering of a poor man.”


Although I had learned this Rashi every year, its profound lesson struck me this year. To the human being, the smell of burning feathers is unbearable, but to Hashem it is the most “beautiful” smell. Why? Because it comes from a poor person who has given whatever he could.


Yes, the Medrash is telling us that Hashem, as it were, has a totally different sense of smell than we do. What may be disgusting to us is beautiful to Him, and perhaps, conversely, one might be able to say that what is beautiful to us may, chas veshalom,be disgusting to Hashem.


Something to think about…




And that brings us back to Purim. On Purim, we witness massive numbers of people both collecting and giving tzedakah.


Perhaps the personal grooming of some of those who request tzedakah is not on par with our standards. There are times when one is even repulsed by the way a fellow poor Jew looks, is dressed or is groomed. Still, at such a time, it is important to remember the above Rashi. Hashem has a different sense of smell and a different sense of what is beautiful.


Perhaps the well coiffed, impeccably dressed giver smells terrible to Hashem, while the seeming destitute straggler exudes the most fragrant perfume to Him. Perhaps the only way that one can transform his repulsive odor in Hashem’s eyes is by engaging in the mitzvah of tzedakah.




When one views oneself as the giver and the destitute-looking collector or even the young yeshiva bochur or cheder yingel as the taker, it is important to keep this concept in mind. Perhaps his taking your money is doing more for you than for him. After all, if one helps a person who Hashem deems beautiful, he is undoubtedly pleasing Hashem.


Simultaneously, there is another lesson from the very next Rashi that the collectors should bear in mind.


Rashi tells us that the posuk calls all three levels of the korban olah “a pleasing smell” to Hashem, “in order to teach us that one who gives much is the same as one who gives less, as long as his heart is directed towards Heaven.”


It is clear that Rashi is teaching us that no matter how much one gives, even if he is not a person of means and gives little, what is really important to Hashem is that he gives lesheim Shomayim. His heart must be directed to Heaven.


Often, in their zealousness to collect large sums of money, collectors, either in groups or solo, exert intense pressure on those who are giving and harass them to give more than they can. This, too, is improper. The prerequisite for giving is how one gives and why one gives, not necessarily how much one gives.


Of course, the person upon whom Hashem has bestowed prosperity must not use this as an excuse to give less. The Torah tells us that he must bring the most expensive korban.


The bottom line is that whether one is poor or wealthy, a collector or a giver, giving by taking or taking by giving, the main thing that we all desire is that Hashem, from His place on High, should look down on us with benevolence and declare, “What a beautiful fragrant and sweet-smelling nation I have in Am Yisroel!”




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