MAKING OUR SENSES PART OF OUR SPIRITUAL LIFE – PART 2
I have written before about connecting our senses and our spirituality. The earlier essay focused on the senses of hearing and sight. But what about our other, perhaps more earthly, senses, smell, touch and taste. How can these be part of our spiritual lives?
In various places on the Torah God commands an offering that will provide a pleasing odor. Isaac askes Esau, his elder son, to prepare savory food that he loves. The high priest is commanded to place his hands upon the sacrificial goat on the Day of Atonement. But God has no sense of smell. Isaac would have been nourished by bland food. The goat has no idea what is going on. So what is the “real” message?
Perhaps the answer lies in the feelings evoked through tasting (eating) smell (aromas) and touch. When I walk into my house on a chilly winter Friday evening and the aroma of chicken soup (I know, a bit trite-but very real) boiling on the stove or of Challah baking or warming in the oven hits my nose, the first thought I have is “it smells like Shabbat”. If I take Shabbat seriously, or even if I just take Shabbat dinner seriously, the connection of the aroma and the occasion evokes a sense of comfort in tradition. It evokes a sense of a household where there is love. It evokes a sense of being part of something bigger than myself.
Similarly, tastes/flavors can be reminders of tradition and connection. As awful, as we now know, the traditional kosher wines (Manishewitz Extra Heavy Malaga or sweetened Concord Grape) seem to our now more sophisticated palates, especially with all the really high quality kosher wines available, I insist that the glass over which I recite Kiddush at seder be that old-fashioned, heavily sweet wine. Why? Because it tastes like Passover as I came to know the holiday growing up in the 1950’s. It is about forty relatives, parents, aunts, uncles, siblings and cousins gathering in my uncle’s house for two nights of great food, lovingly prepared, of singing the familiar melodies, of my first forays into just what it is that freedom, and the lack thereof mean, and of course, the old familiar plaint “when do we eat?”
Touch? Hold a newborn child or grandchild in your arms. Hug or caress a loved one. Place your hands on a child’s head on Friday evening and offer for him of her the traditional blessing. The feel of your child or grandchild’s hair, of him or her moving just a bit closer to you is special and heartwarming. So, to the child, is the feel of your loving hand on their head. Likewise the response to a loving touch is special and emotional.
The point is not that the aroma or taste or tactile feel is necessarily spiritual. It is that allowing your senses to evoke certain memories, certain connection with tradition and other human beings and perhaps with the God who made all this possible will, hopefully, awaken the spirituality within us.