Berakha Upon Aroma (Part 2)

  • Rav Moshe Taragin


The previous shiur outlined the fundamental question surrounding the berakha recited upon aromas.  Can the experience be compared to consuming food, thus requiring a birkat ha-matir to authorize the pleasure? Or, does halakha not acknowledge aroma as requiring a matir, instead mandating a birkat ha-shevach to praise Hashem for the aesthetic experience?  This shiur will continue to explore practical consequences of this structural question.


The Mordekhai cites an interesting condition for reciting this berakha, perhaps indicative of the nature of the berakha.  He quotes Rabenu Simcha who claimed that smelling an etrog on Sukkot does not require a berakha.  Since the etrog is earmarked for the performance of the mitzva and not for the production of aroma, no berakha is recited.  Though few Rishonim actually endorse this position, it is cited by the Rema and accounts for the minhag by many to avoid smelling an etrog on Sukkot so as not to court a machloket.  If the berakha is recited upon the actual pleasure of the aroma, it would matter little that the item has an ulterior purpose.  Again, when compared to the berakha upon food, this exemption is unlikely.  Food eaten for a mitzva requires a berakha, and therefore aroma should, as well.  We do have positions (adopted by the Rema, O.C. 208) which downgrade a berakha for foods used exclusively as medicines, but in those instances:

1.         the food is used exclusively for medicinal purposes which may disqualify its status as food (as opposed to an etrog, which is employed primarily toward a mitzvah not necessarily challenging the status of the fruit)

2.         the food may lose its status as food because it provides a different physiological effect.  The same may not be true regarding an etrog, which is designed for mitzva performance but is still considered food. Would a person who eats an etrog not recite a ha-etz?


Rabenu Simcha's position that mitzva items do not enable a berakha upon their smell would be difficult to defend if the aroma actually requires a 'matir.'  By contrast, if the berakha upon aroma is unaffiliated with berakhot upon food but is designed around the aesthetic of aroma, it may be incompatible with an etrog whose primary utility is not aesthetic, but ritualistic. 


            An interesting Peri Megadim further highlights the analogy between a berakha upon food and one upon smell.  The gemara claims that a unique berakha is recited upon aromas which stem from edible fruits: "asher natan rei'ach tov ba-peirot," referring to the distinctive nature of the source of the aroma.  The Shulchan Arukh conditions the recital of this berakha upon the fruit being oriented specifically for smelling.  If, however, a person intends to eat the fruit and INCIDENTALLY enjoys the aroma, no berakha is recited upon the aroma.  Presumably, this condition is based upon the aforementioned statement of Rabenu Simcha.  An aroma berakha is only recited if the primary utility or use of the item is its smell.  If it is primarily employed for a mitzva or as food, no aroma berakha is recited.  One may even suggest that intention to eat dislodges intention to smell as the primary motive, and therefore accidental, unintended smell does not obligate a berakha.  The halakha itself is indeed quite logical.


            The Peri Megadim however, cites the Levush who provides a different rationale for the lack of a berakha.  Classically, when two foods are simultaneously eaten, a berakha upon the dominant food exempts one from reciting a berakha upon the ancillary substance.  The Levush reasons that a similar exemption applies in this instance: the berakha upon the food - the dominant experience – exempts a berakha upon aroma - the subsidiary one.  By INTEGRATING the two experiences, the Levush assumes a certain degree of PARITY between them.  Had the berakha upon aroma been cast as a fundamentally different type of berakha than the berakha upon food, they could not possibly be classified as 'ikar' and 'tafel,' and the berakha upon the former would not exempt the latter. 


            A further issue which may be impacted by the nature of this berakha concerns the absence of a berakha acharona.  If, indeed, the experience of aroma is similar to that of food, we would expect a berakha subsequent to the experience as in the instance of food.  The clear absence of such a berakha may require a technical explanation.  The Taz (O.C. 116) likens the experience of aroma to food which has already been digested (since no residue exists).  After this stage in the digestive process, a berakha acharona may not be recited; similarly, no berakha acharona upon aroma IS EVER recited.  The Taz clearly assumes that food intake and aroma experience are FUNDAMENTALLY similar, and only a technical difference accounts for the absence of a berakha acharona. 


            By contrast, Rashi in Nidda (52a) refers to this aroma experience as 'hana'a mu'etet' (limited or minimal hana'a) and employs this terminology to justify the absence of a berakha acharona upon aroma.  Perhaps, Rashi disagreed with the comparison implicitly drawn by the Taz between aroma experience and food intake.  In the latter instance, a person derives concrete benefit which obligates both a prior and a subsequent berakha.  In the former case, no actual benefit has been encountered and the prior berakha is more similar to a birkat ha-shevach.  As such, no subsequent berakha is necessary.