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Is There Windex in Heaven?
by Dr. Arnie Gotfryd

"In this context, we can speak of breathing the air of Mashiach. The essence of a person's life is reflected in his breathing processes. Indeed, the Hebrew word for breath, 'neshimah,' shares the same letters as the Hebrew for soul, 'neshamah.' This is the service which is necessary at present, connecting the core of our being to the core of Mashiach."

Sichos in English, Vol. 50, Parshas Toldos
   
 
 
 
The Smell of Virtue
 
The fumes were starting to get to me. Drenched in sweat, I hoisted yet another big section of freshly manufactured iron fence up into the air with a pulley, and then down into the paint vat for color, then up again to drip. After lowering it onto the floor to dry, I started to feel woozy. The lack of ventilation didn't help, nor did the heat wave that drove the paint room temperature well into the nineties. But the bottom line was the fumes. I shuffled out to the front office and told the manager, "I don't feel well."
 
The next thing I knew, I was on my back in the workshop office, staring up at a crowd of worried employees while wincing at the pungent smell of tobacco smoke wafting under my nose. "What are you doing!?" I shouted at my co-worker who was crouched over me waving the lit cigarette an inch from my face.
 
"You passed right out and fell down. We called your name, shook you, slapped you... nothing doing. So I tried this. You see? It worked. You're awake! Now lie still while the ambulance comes. I think you've got a concussion."
 
What is it about smells? They can knock you out. They can revive you. They can conjure up ancient memories. They can even comfort the soul from its spiritual letdown when Shabbos departs. Indeed, spice and spirit enjoy a deep connection as is evidenced by the fact that the Hebrew root word for smell "rayach" and spirit "ruach" are nearly identical.
 
A new dimension of this age-old, smell/spirit correlation has recently been discovered and is the subject of a research paper called
"The Smell of Virtue," published in the journal, Psychological Science. The authors have demonstrated that people behave more fairly and generously when they are in a clean-smelling environment.
 
Participants were randomly divided between rooms that were unscented and rooms that received "a spritz of Windex." In the clean scented rooms, subjects were significantly more equitable in the distribution of trust funds. In a second experiment, they were more willing to volunteer their time, and 3.5 times more likely to donate money. Interestingly, no one in either room noticed any smell, so the effect is quite subconscious.
 
In this week's Torah portion we read how the twins Yaakov and Esav approached their father for a blessing in what amounts to a "quadruple-blind" experiment. Yitzchak, the father, was physically blind, and he was also emotionally blinded by his favoritism toward Esav. Third, Yitzchak was blinded by Esav's feigned piety while concealing his lifestyle of abject immorality. Fourth, Yitzchak was blinded by Yaakov as well, who deceived his father by disguising himself and his words to resemble  Esav so he could receive the blessing.
 
Despite all this, Yitzchak "smelled" the truth. When Yaakov entered, disguised in goatskin to mimic his brother's hairy feel, his father says, "Behold the fragrance of my son is like the fragrance of a field which the L-rd has blessed." And Rashi comments that "there is no odor more offensive that that of washed goat skins, but this teaches us that the fragrance of the Garden of Eden entered with him."
 
The Smell of Virtue. It was alive to the patriarchs 3600 years ago. It's alive in the holiday of Sukkos with the aroma of the myrtle, symbolic of the fragrant atmosphere that surrounds the kind of person who spends his days doing good deeds. And it's alive to the business community that is already stockpiling air fresheners hoping to sweeten their bottom line.
 
The smell of virtue is also the hallmark of Moshiach, who our sages [Sanhedrin 93b] say will judge the righteous through his sense of smell. The Lubavitcher Rebbe says Moshiach is in the air. Maybe it's time to wake up and smell the Windex.

Dr. Aryeh (Arnie) Gotfryd, PhD is a chassid, environmental scientist, author and educator living near Toronto, Canada. To read more or to book him for a talk, visit his website at
www.arniegotfryd.com.
 

 


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