Success You Can Smell

When a country’s population forgets the idea of, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” and replaces it with the ideas of, “I’m entitled” and “I have a right to..” it shouldn’t be a shock to see that nation deteriorate. This deterioration takes place on a macro level, but the soul of each individual who prioritizes being a taker over being a giver also decays. 

In our family, I could suggest that despite regular mutterings about child abuse and slave labor, our children had a blessed childhood. However, that would be incomplete. Part of the blessing came about not in spite of their participation in keeping the household running but because their help was regularly expected and enlisted. 

Let’s look at a precedent from God. 

From the moment they left Egypt the Israelites grumbled about almost everything.  

…Why did you bring us out of Egypt (Exodus 14:11-12)

The people complained against Moses saying what shall we drink? (Exodus 15:24)

…the Children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron… (Exodus 16:2)

The people argued with Moses…give us water (Exodus 17:2)

They gathered against Aaron…make us a god..we don’t know where Moses is (Exodus 32:1)

Eventually God told every person to bring of his possessions and get to work building the Tabernacle.  This construction project and the service therein occupied the Israelites for many years and the complaining just about ceased.

After nightfall on Saturdays my family gathers for Havdalah.  With this service we bid Shabbat farewell for another week and prepare ourselves for six days of productive endeavor.  During the brief ceremony, we celebrate our sense of smell enjoying the fragrance of some spices, often cloves and cinnamon.  

When a festival terminates, we also conduct a Havdalah ceremony but without smelling the spices and its accompanying blessing.  Why the difference?

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that, amazingly, in our world, the actions of humans leave a longer-lasting impression than God’s actions.  For instance, Mt. Sinai (where God acted) is largely unknown, whereas the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, (where Abraham, Isaac, David, and Solomon acted) is still visited by pilgrims after 3,000 years. Ancient Jewish wisdom further explains that smell is the sense that most strongly links to our memories.  I am sure you can think of smells that immediately transport you to images of your childhood. 

Sabbath was scheduled every seven days by God but we Jews were commanded to set the dates of the festivals by our own calculation. Linking the Sabbath to a smell prolongs the sensation of that day.  Since festivals have a human component, no fragrances are necessary for them to cling to us even after they are over. 

We are more lastingly impacted by the things we do for God like building a Tabernacle than by the many things He does for us.  The children of Israel appreciated God more, not less, by giving of themselves for His structure. Likewise, our children are more lastingly impacted when they participate in family life, rather than just being recipients of parents’ beneficence. The same is true for communities and nations.

With nations, as with children, it’s worth adding a caveat. If one child is singled out for work while the others laze, resentment rather than satisfaction results. If parts of the population live off the hard work of other parts of the population, disgruntlement results. 

The necessity for a shared mindset beams out of the building of the Tabernacle as well. 

Speak to the children of Israel and they shall take for me an offering; from each man whose heart willingly gives you should accept the offering for Me. 
Exodus 25:2

Does that sound like a recipe for disaster? In a disunited nation or family that does not share a culture, it certainly would be. There would be givers and freeloaders. However, the children of Israel rose to the challenge. 

And every man came whose heart was lifted and with a spirit of giving…men and women, all of giving hearts…
Exodus 35:21-22

Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us the every member of the community wholeheartedly participated. 

We may feel that it is almost impossible to impact our country right now. That makes it even more imperative that we work on ourselves, our families, and our communities, ensuring that we and those closest to us live with and among healthy souls.

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6 thoughts on “Success You Can Smell”

  1. Dear Rabbi Daniel Lapin.
    In Genesis chapter 1:28 God commanded us to subdue the earth. As humanity very soon become interplanetary species, I am just wandering, why did not God do command humanity to subdue the earth and sky/ space. How does it say in hebrew…kindly please comment on that. Want to learn from Rabbi, Bambang Dewandaru, Jakarta, Indonesia.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Dr. Bambang–
      How nice to hear from you especially with such a good question. Your question is one of those complex and focused questions that require more time and space than we can devote in this comment section. However, the good news is that we have presented this exact question and fully answered it in one of the episodes in Unit 1 of our Scrolling Through Scripture course. You can read about it here.
      Best Wishes
      Rabbi Daniel Lapin

  2. I was not aware that ancient Jewish wisdom says the sense of smell is the sense most closely linked to memory. Modern science asserts that as well. That should not be surprising.


    ok- “Ask now what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Usually, this saying is attributed to JFK, actually, it was Khalil Gibran- (The poet of Lebanon)-
    BTW tu for sharing your wisdom!

  4. Wonderful write up there! I’ve learnt much from this piece and I must say thank you Rabbi for putting this out here for us. God bless you.

  5. Im not of the Jewish faith but as a Torah reader and follower for 45 years I love learning the hidden Jewish wisdom you have been teaching me going on 10 for years now. I want to have even a deeper understanding of the Sabbath as well as Gods festivals during these stressful times. Thank you for helping me understand the differences of these days we set aside to remember who we are and who is in charge. We are now putting even more time and effort into our home, family, our personal growth and learning the ways of serving others.

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