Leviticus 6:8. "And he shall lift out of it in his fist, from the fine flour of the meal offering and from its oil and all the frankincense that is on the meal offering, and he shall cause its reminder to [go up in] smoke on the altar as a pleasing fragrance to the Lord.”
Leviticus 8:21 "But the innards and the legs, he washed in water, and Moses made the entire ram [go up in] smoke on the altar. It was a burnt offering [with] a pleasing fragrance, a fire offering to the Lord, as the Lord had commanded Moses.”
The sacrifices (the korban – with a Hebrew root implying drawing near) involved all the senses. We can imagine the sound of the live animal, the feel of the blood spattering, the heat of the fire, the site of the animals carcass, In the text, all of these sensations seem to be leading toward the “sweet savour” or “pleasing fragrance” for God. What is it about smell and scent that would call it to be singled out as the main sense making the sacrifice complete?
Smell – it evokes strong emotion. Some smells are so disgusting they can make us retch. Others are so lovely they can make us swoon or feel as though we are in love. Smells evoke specific memory. And without smell, we cannot taste properly.
Smell is carried through the air, around barriers, through cracks. A smell is often the first warning of danger – such as smelling the smoke of a fire.
Smell is at once the most individual of senses – infants can distinguish the scent of their mother’s breastmilk from other women’s milk – and the most democratic – you cannot confine a perfume that you might wear to be smelled by just one person in a room. It permeates the whole space.
If our deeds and prayers are the modern sacrifice, how then do we make them a “pleasing fragrance” that elevates them from the mundane to the holy?
They must be very individual– something that we are uniquely suited to do, something that expresses the very essence of ourselves. And we must release them freely into the world. We can’t just target our tzedakah or our prayers to people we know and love. We have to trust that our efforts will reach people in need. Finally, to be like a sweet savour, we have to acknowledge that just as taste is not complete without smell, prayer is not fully realized without kavannah.
May we be blessed to act and pray in ways that uniquely express our true nature so that those actions and prayers are received like the coming fragrances of spring.