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Havdalah: What is the Most Spiritual Sense?

Updated: Jun 21

Of the five senses, which sense do you think is the most spiritual? 

1) Sight 2) Hearing 3) Smell 4) Taste 5) Touch 

Which would you choose? And is there a right or wrong answer to such a question? The answer is astonishing.

Growing up, my father taught me a saying, “Believe nothing of what you hear, and only half of what you see.” The prophet Isaiah, speaking of the King Messiah, actually says something similar:

“A shoot will come out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch out of his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD. His delight (וַהֲרִיחֹו) will be in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by the sight of his eyes, nor decide by the hearing of his ears…” Isaiah 11:1-3

If the Messiah will not judge by His eyes nor ears, how will He judge?

The Bar Kokhba Revolt

Around the year 132 CE, the Talmud recounts a story of the sage Rabbi Akiva and a military leader named Shimon Bar Koziba. After the initial success of Bar Koziba, Rabbi Akiva proclaimed him the Messiah, renaming him “Bar Kochva”, the “son of the star” based on Numbers 24:17,

“I see him, but not now. I see him, but not near.  A Star כֹּוכָב will come out of Jacob. A scepter will rise out of Israel…” Numbers 24:17

The Rabbis, however, rejected the Messiahship of Bar Koziba as the Jerusalem Talmud states,

‘“R. Simeon b. Yohai taught, “Aqiba, my master, would interpret the following verse: ‘A star (kokhab) shall come forth out of Jacob’ (Num. 24:17) – ‘A disappointment (Kozeba) shall come forth out of Jacob.’” R. Aqiba: When he saw Bar Kozeba, he said, “This is the King Messiah.” Said to him R. Yohanan ben Toreta, “Aqiba! Grass will grow on your cheeks, and the Messiah will not yet have come!” Jerusalem Talmud, Ta’anit 4:5, edited by Jacob Neusner, Hendrickson Publishers

In the story of Bar Koziba, the Babylonian Talmud records an interesting detail regarding the Messiah,

“(Bar Koziba reigned two and a half years, and then said to the Rabbis, “I am the Messiah.” They answered, “Of Messiah it is written that he smells and judges: let us see whether he [Bar Koziba] can do so.” When they saw that he was unable to judge by the scent, they slew him.)” Sanhedrin 93b, Soncino Press Edition

To the untrained eye, this idea of the Messiah judging by smell seems humorous. If the Messiah will not judge by His eyes, nor His ears, He’ll judge by . . . his nose?!

The Nose Knows

Let’s look at the source for this belief again:

וַהֲרִיחֹו בְּיִרְאַת יי

 “His delight will be in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by the sight of his eyes, nor decide by the hearing of his ears…” Isaiah 11:1-3

Rabbi Yitzchak Ginzburg explains,

“The word for “delight” (v’haricho) has the same root as the word “smell,” (rayach). The Sages interpreted this to mean that the Mashiach will be able to judge through the sense of smell. According to tradition, the four senses of sight, hearing, taste and touch were all blemished due to their participation in the sin of eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the garden of Eden. Only the sense of smell does not appear in the verses describing the sin, thus retaining its original pristine state. The common expressions “something doesn’t smell right,” and “this stinks” used to illustrate situations that feel intuitively wrong, allude to the association between smell and judgment. Smell is connected to intuition and inspiration, both of which emanate from a superconscious level above logic and reason., Mashiach and Jewish Leadership

There is a Chassidic story told of a day that people thought that the Messiah had come, 

“One day, some time after the saintly Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Horodok (formerly of Vitebsk) had settled in Eretz Yisrael, he heard a great tumult in the street. When he asked what it was all about, he was told that a Shofar blast had been heard from the top of a high mountain, and people said that this was the long-awaited Shofar of Mashiach. (In fact, as was later found out, the blast had been the doing of some crazed individual who had climbed to the top of the mountain.) The tzaddik opened his window and said, “No, he hasn’t come; I can’t smell the fragrance of Mashiach.” Chassidim at the time asked one another, “Why did Reb Menachem Mendel have to open the window?” And they answered, “Because his room was always infused with the fragrance of Mashiach.” [2] 

The Ketoret

The ketoret, known as incense, played a significant aromatic role in the Temple rituals. Its delightful fragrance is evident from the Torah's specific prohibition against using it as a perfume,

“The incense which you shall make, according to its composition you shall not make for yourselves: it shall be to you holy for the L-RD. Whoever shall make any like that, to smell of it, he shall be cut off from his people.” Exodus 30:37-38

Consisting of eleven ingredients, its scent was extremely powerful according to ancient accounts,

“The goats in Jericho used to sneeze because of the scent of the incense. The women in Jericho did not have to perfume themselves, because of the scent of the incense. The bride in Jerusalem did not have to perfume herself because of the scent of the incense.” Yoma 39b, Soncino Press Edition

According to Josephus, Jericho was 150 Roman stadioi (about 18 miles) away. The incense quite possibly had a repellent effect on insects also. All of Jerusalem was a fragrant aroma to HaShem affecting the entire atmosphere. Amazingly, the Torah compares the incense to prayer,

“Let my prayer be set before you like incense, the lifting up of my hands like the evening sacrifice.” Psalms 141:2

The Book of Revelation reveals a glimpse of this ketoret of the Heavenly Temple,

“Now when he had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the holy ones.” Revelation 5:8

The Creation of Adam

וַיִּיצֶר יי אֱלֹקִים אֶת־הָאָדָם עָפָר מִן־הָאֲדָמָה וַיִּפַּח בְּאַפָּיו נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים וַיְהִי הָאָדָם לְנֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה

“HaShem Elokim formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Genesis 2:7

Where does the Breath of Life enter? Into the nostrils! In Lamentations, it reveals the secret of the Breath of Life:

רוּחַ אַפֵּינוּ מְשִׁיחַ יי

“The breath of our nostrils, the Messiah of the LORD, was taken in their pits; Of whom we said, ‘Under his shadow we shall live among the nations.’” Lamentations 4:20

The breath of our nostrils is the Messiah! The Mashiach is the one who resurrects the dead. Chaim Kramer of the Breslov Research Institute writes,

“Mashiach is represented by the “nose,” our source of life and breath. . . As long as we breathe the breath of hope – the breath of prayer and reliance upon God – there is hope that Mashiach will come and fully purify our lives. The verse states (Lamentations 4:2), “The breath of our nostrils [is] the Mashiach of God.” Mashiach, Who, What, Why, How, Where, When, Chaim Kramer, Breslov Research Institute, pg. 71

Amazingly, the breath breathed into Adam occurred on Rosh HaShanah, the day of Resurrection:

“Man becomes a living, sentient being when God breathes His breath into him, transforming him from physical matter into a living hybrid of the physical and spiritual. When we blow the shofar on the day of Man’s creation, it serves as a memorial to that first breath, the divine breath of life blown at the dawn of Creation, on Rosh Hashana.” R. Ari Kahn, M’oray HaAish, The Sound of the Shofar,

R’ Chaim Kramer states,

“…just as breathing sustains each person, whether one is conscious of it or not, so too, Mashiach, the world’s ultimate rectification, has sustained the world from its inception, whether we are conscious of it or not.” Mashiach, Who, What, Why, How Where, When, R’ Chaim Kramer, Breslov Research Institute, pg. 44

Just as prayer links to the incense, R’ Kramer notes,

“Mashiach will “breathe the fear of God,” since his soul is rooted in the place of breathing, the nose. And this “nose,” the source of life of the Mashiach, alludes to prayer. Rebbe Nachman thus taught: Mashiach’s main weapon is prayer…” Thus prayer is represented by the nose. And the nose is breathing, life itself.” Mashiach, Who, What, Why, How, Where, When, Chaim Kramer, Breslov Research Institute, pg. 42

He continues,

“…[Mashiach’s] “breathing” will have a very positive effect upon mankind.  . . The breath that Mashiach will breathe will emanate from the Torah and its 613 mitzvot. This is “The spirit of God [that] hovered over the waters.” The spirit is Mashiach and the waters are the Torah. Mashiach’s spirit is embedded in the Torah and he will draw his breath, the awe of God, from it. With this spirit, he will be able to “breathe into others” filling them with an awe and respect for God.” Mashiach, Who, What, Why, How, Where, When, Chaim Kramer, Breslov Research Institute, pg. 63

This links incredibly to the Book of John,

“Yeshua therefore said to them again, “Peace be to you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you. When he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit!” John 20:21-22

Motzei Shabbat

Does the New Testament support a “Sunday Sabbath”? The Book of Acts says,

“On the first day of the week, when the disciples were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and continued his speech until midnight. There were many lights in the upper room where we were gathered together. A certain young man named Eutychus sat in the window, weighed down with deep sleep. As Paul spoke still longer, being weighed down by his sleep, he fell down from the third story, and was taken up dead. Paul went down, and fell upon him, and embracing him said, Don’t be troubled, for his life is in him. When he had gone up, and had broken bread, and eaten, and had talked with them a long while, even until break of day, he departed. They brought the boy in alive, and were greatly comforted.” Acts 20:7-12

At first glance, it would seem clear that the early believers had a Sunday church service – that is, until you begin to examine the text in a first century Jewish context. It is important to note that the word “day” is missing in the above passage. However, in Jewish thought, a “day” actually begins in the evening. This concept comes from Genesis,

“There was evening and there was morning, one day.” Genesis 1:5

To further illustrate the point, they were meeting in a third-story room with a window, and had many candles in the room. This indicates that without the multiple sources of illumination, the room would have been dark, therefore it would have been dark outside. Therefore, the believers did not meet together on Sunday morning, they met together on Saturday night, Motzei Shabbat, the going out of the Shabbat. After Eutychus fell out of the window, Paul miraculously revived him, and Paul talked with them until Sunday morning, when he departed on his journey. 


At the end of Shabbat, there is a service called הַבְדָּלָה Havdalah, which means “separation”. It sets the Shabbat apart from the ordinary days of the week. When at least three stars shine in the sky, three elements below are brought out for the special occasion. A braided candle, a kiddush cup, and a box of spices, called besamim in Hebrew. I remember standing at the Kotel, or Western Wall, when spices were passed around to smell. It was an incredible experience.’s glossary makes an interesting observation about Havdalah, noting that, “All the senses are used in blessing the wine, the light of a special candle and smelling spices.”

As we see the Light,

Feel the heat,

Taste the wine,

And smell the spices,

We hear the blessing…

ברוך אתה יי אלוקינו מלך העולם בורא מיני בשמים

“Barukh ata HaShem Elokeinu melekh ha’olam, borei minei b’samim.”

“Blessed are you, HaShem our G-d, King of the Universe, who creates the species of fragrances.”



Further Reading

  1. Jewish Leadership

  2. Jerusalem to Jericho

  3. Cinnamon and Ketoret

Hinei El Yeshuati

הִנֵּה אֵל יְשׁוּעָתִי

Hinei el Yeshuati Behold, God is my Salvation

אֶבְטַח וְלֹא אֶפְחָד

Evtach ve lo efchad, I will trust and not be afraid

כִּי עָזִּי וְזִמְרָת יהּ יי

Ki ozi v’zimrat Yah ADONAI, For the Lord God is my strength and my song

וַיְהִי לִי לִישׁוּעָה

Vayehi li lishu’a. And He has become my salvation.

וּשְׁאַבְתֶּם מַיִם בְּשָׂשׂוֹן

Ushavtem mayim b׳sasson You will joyfully draw water

מִמַּעַיְנֵי הַיְשׁוּעָה

Mima’ainei HaYeshu’ah from the Wells of Salvation

לַייָ הַיְשׁוּעָה

L’HaShem HaYeshu’ah, Salvation belongs to the Lord

עַל עַמְּךָ בִרְכָתֶךָ סֶּלָה

Al amkha virkhatekha sela Upon Your people is Your blessing. Selah.

יי צְבָאוֹת עִמָּנוּ

ADONAI Tzeva’ot imanu, The Lord of Legions is with us,

מִשְׂגָּב לָנוּ אֱלֹהֵי יַעֲקֹב סֶלָה

Misgav lanu Elohei Ya’akov, Selah. The God of Jacob is a stronghold for us. Selah.

יי צְבָאוֹת, אַשְרֵי אָדָם בֹּטֵחַ בָּךְ

ADONAI Tzevaot, ashrei adam boteach bakh. Oh Lord of Legions, happy is the man who trusts in You.

יי הוֹשִיעָה, הַמֶּלֶךְ יַעֲנֵנוּ בְיוֹם קָרְאֵנוּ

HaShem hoshi’a, HaMelekh ya’anenu v’yom qoreinu Lord save, may the King answer us on the day we call

לַיְּהוּדִים הָיְתָה אוֹרָה וְשִׂמְחָה

LaYehudim ha’yita orah v’simcha, For the Jews there was light, joy

וְשָׂשׂוֹן וִיקָר, כֵּן תִּהְיֶה לָּנוּ

Vesason vikar, ken tihyeh lanu Joy and honor, so may it be for us

כּוֹס יְשׁוּעוֹת אֶשָּׂא וּבְשֵׁם יי אֶקְרָא

Kos yeshu’ot esa uv’shem HaShem ekrah I will raise the cup of salvation, and I will call on the Name of the L-rd.

ברוך אתה יי אלוקינו מלך העולם, בורא פרי הגפן

Barukh atah HaShem Elokeinu Melekh ha’olam borei pri hagafen. Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.

ברוך אתה השם אלוקינו ,מלך העולם, בורא מיני בשמים

Barukh ata HaShem Elokeinu Melekh ha’olam borei minei besamim. Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe,  who creates different kinds of spices.

ברוך אתה יי אלוקינו מלך העולם, בורא מאורי האש

Barukh atah ADONAI Elokeinu Melekh ha’olam borei me’orei ha’esh. Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who creates the light of the fire.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי אלוקינו מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם

Barukh ata ADONAI Elokeinu Melekh ha’olam, Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe,

הַמַּבְדִיל בֵּין קֹדֶשׁ לְחוֹל

Hamavdil bein kodesh l’chol, who makes a distinction between the holy and the common,

בֵּין אוֹר לְחֹשֶׁךְ

Bein Or le’choshekh, between light and darkness,

בֵּין יִשְׂרָאֵל לָעַמִּים

Bein Yisrael la’amim, between Israel and the nations,

בֵּין יוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי לְשֵשֶׁת יְמֵי הַמַּעֲשֶׂה

Bein yom hashvi’i l’sheishet yemei hama’aseh between the seventh day and the six days of creation

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי הַמַּבְדִיל בֵּין קֹדֶשׁ לְחוֹל

Barukh ata HaShem, hamavdil bein kodesh l’chol. Blessed are you, O Lord our God,  who distinguishes between holy and common.

Amen! (Drink the Wine)

Eliyahu HaNavi

Eliyahu HaNavi, Eliyahu HaTishbi, Eliyahu HaNavi, Eliyahu HaGiladi! Elijah the Prophet, Elijah of Tishbi, Elijah the Prophet, Elijah of Gilead,

Eliyahu HaNavi, Eliyahu HaTishbi, Eliyahu HaNavi, Eliyahu HaGiladi! Elijah the Prophet, Elijah of Tishbi, Elijah the Prophet, Elijah of Gilead,

Bimhera b’yameinu yavo eleinu, im Mashiach, Mashiach ben David! May he come soon to us, along with the Messiah Son of David!

Bimhera b’yameinu yavo eleinu, im Mashiach, Mashiach ben David! May he come soon to us, along with the Messiah son of David!

Lailailailailailailai, Lailailailailailailai!,

Mashiach ben David!

Shavuah tov!

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