We have been correctly accused of being a generation that doesn’t take the time to stop and smell the flowers. The current challenging time of social distancing has compelled us to slow down, and has granted us the opportunity to stop and smell the flowers. Most years, we may not have much time to appreciate the majestic beauty of this time of year – of resurgence of life with budding leaves, stunning colors on trees coming back to life, and brighter sunshine.
One of the symptoms of the COVID-19 virus is loss of smell and taste. Some patients report that those were their only symptoms; they simply lost their sense of smell and/or taste for a few days, until it slowly returned.
Our sense of smell is far more powerful than we may realize.
Smells have a stronger link to memory and emotion than any of the other senses.
For example, the smell of freshly cut grass can bring back childhood memories in starker detail than watching a home video of those events.
We have over 1,000 different types of smell receptors but only four types of light sensors and about four types of receptors for touch.
In 2017, scientists discovered that not only does the brain’s smell center connect directly to its memory center, but it also stores long-term memories. That’s why the smell of something can immediately trigger and evoke vivid memories and intense emotions.
Smelling a certain food can evoke memories of a childhood experience, perhaps with grandparents when that food was commonly served.
A friend related that he once bought a new deodorant and was stunned that as soon as he opened it he was filled with anxiety. He realized that decades earlier, during a difficult period of his adolescence, that was the deodorant he used. The smell was enough to cause him to feel the intense anxiety he felt then.
When we smell something, it also allows us to anticipate something we may not see or hear. The smell of gas can be an indication of a dangerous leak nearby. Carbon monoxide detectors are important, particularly because they have no odor.
On a more positive note, one of the more enjoyable components of Erev Shabbos and Erev Yom Tov is the beautiful smells of prepared foods that permeate our homes.
The ability to discern and sense something otherwise indiscernible is analogized with smell. When someone feels uncomfortable about something without being able to pinpoint what it is, the common expression is, “I smell a rat.”
In the haftarah of the final day of Pesach, the Navi Yeshaya describes Mashiach and the messianic era: “He will smell with fear of G-d and he will not need to judge by what his eyes see nor decide by what his ears hear.” One of the qualities of Mashiach is that he will be imbued with a spiritual sense of smell that will give him an incredible intuition to discern right from wrong and moral from immoral (See Yeshaya 11:3, as explained by Radak).
People believe that what they see and hear is reality. We are convinced that pictures and videos depict the truth. But that’s often far from reality. Pictures didn’t “tell” the full story, and even videos only depict what the videographer wants others to see. It takes a sixth sense and an ability to “smell” what is really happening.
The era of Mashiach will expose the truth as it really is, not as Hollywood and social media portray.
It’ll be a world where we truly appreciate the miracles of life and the world around us. It’ll be a society where we can literally smell divinity and feel G-d’s Presence everywhere.
The wise person, however, doesn’t wait for Mashiach. He has already begun developing his sense of smell so that he can sense and recognize all those blessings, despite the masks of this world.