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Eternal Fragrance

There are so many Jewish smells that I love- the baking of challah being my favorite, especially before I became Gluten-Free. Scent is extremely important in our spiritual life because it changes our relationship with time and place. A scent can bring us back to memory. I remember my grandmother baking challah in her home, and the floods of memories return about her love for her family and how she nurtured through food, cooking and gathering.

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tisa, it states that “God יהוה said to Moses: Take the herbs, stacte, onycha, and galbanum—these herbs together with pure frankincense.” There is no doubt that the incense did provide a very strong and pungent scent, though nowhere is it mentioned what this fragrance was comparable to. This fragrance was only to be used in the Tent of Meeting, when we would go before the Pact. There God would meet with us as it would be holy. This fragrance was reserved for a holy time and place.

It isn’t always easy to separate ourselves from time and place when we smell something that connects us with our past. But this portion reminds us that if we set a ritual with the incense, a time and place, we will experience more of a divine connection to God. In the same way, when we make challah before Shabbat, it hopefully reminds us of the time and place and the holiness we will experience when we eat it.

Holiness through scent is so familiar to us at KI. Last Sunday, our many wonderful volunteers gathered to serve our monthly HaMotzi Dinner. I came to say a blessing and to greet our guests, so I had the great joy of smelling the preparation of a meal that would bring such warmth to the hearts of our guests. This meal included Swedish meatballs, vegetables, rice, and vegetable soup. While we understand the significance of volunteering and the smiling faces, I think we should also take a moment to recognize the warmth and holiness that came from the scent of a KI KItchen home-cooked meal, from the hearts of our congregants. This smell was safety, this smell was warmth, and this smell was love. I am thankful that we offer this pathway.

May we continue to open our senses to the beauty of our tradition and find holiness and connection to the Divine in all different ways.