We've all heard the expression, "Stop and smell the roses." In other words, take time out to appreciate the beauty of God's creations, particularly in the realm of smell. The Sages understood the importance of this, and ordained a special set of blessings that give us the opportunity to praise God's having "perfumed the world."1

What is so special about the sense of smell?

We use the senses of taste, touch and sight to perceive physical matter. Even "hearing" involves the perception of sound waves. But smell is the most spiritual of senses, with the least physical matter involved. As the Talmud says: "Smell is that which the soul benefits from, and the body does not."2

There's truth to common expressions like, "He has a good nose for business," and "Something doesn't smell right." Smell is intangible, yet very intuitive. The Talmud says that when the Messiah comes, he will "smell and judge" – that is, he will use his spiritual sensitivity to determine complex truths.3 Indeed, the nose knows!

Basic Guidelines

There are four different blessings said upon enjoying the aroma of trees and flowers.4 Before getting to the specific blessings, let's start with some general guidelines:

  • The blessing is said before smelling the item (just as a blessing over food is said before eating it).5 If you are not sure whether the fragrance is strong enough or enjoyable, you can smell it first to check, and then smell it again with a bracha.6

  • A blessing may be said only on an aroma which is appreciated by the one doing the smelling. Therefore a bracha may not be said by someone who does not enjoy that particular aroma, or who has a poor sense of smell or a stuffed nose.7

  • Recall in class #26 how we learned about the concept of hesech hada'at, an interruption which terminates the effectiveness of your bracha. A similar idea applies to blessings over fragrances: You should recite a new bracha on a subsequent smelling, even many times a day.8

  • These blessings are also recited on a derived product – e.g. perfume.9

Now let's talk about the four specific blessings:

Type 1 – Fragrant Wood

A blessing is recited upon deriving pleasure from the fragrance of a woody tree or bush (or their products)10 that meets all three conditions:

  1. It grows with bark.
  2. The bark-covered stem/trunk normally grows to a height of more than approximately 10 inches (24 cm). This would exclude, for example, mint.
  3. It normally produces leaves directly from the stem, trunk or branches – not just from the fruit or flowers.11

Included in this category are roses, myrtle, rosemary, jasmine, and citrus blossoms.12



Blessing on Fragrant Wood

Ashkenazi Pronunciation

Sefardi Pronunciation

 

Type 2 – Fragrant Plants

If the fragrance comes from a grass or herbaceous plant, the blessing "Borei Isvei Vi'samim" is recited.13

Examples in this category are mint, hyacinth and honeysuckle.14



Blessing on Fragrant Plants

Ashkenazi Pronunciation

Sefardi Pronunciation

 

Type 3 – Fragrant Fruits

What about fragrant fruits and vegetables – like oranges, strawberries, melons, mango and guava?15 Nowadays, most fruits and vegetables do not emit a strong enough aroma to warrant a bracha.16 But if these three conditions are fulfilled, then you would recite the blessing:17

  1. It has a particularly strong and enjoyable fruit or vegetable fragrance (perhaps a large quantity together will emit such a strong fragrance).18
  2. It is primarily consumed as a food, and not as a spice such as cinnamon.19
  3. You pick it up for the purpose of smelling it, rather than simply to eat it.20


Blessing on Fragrant Fruits

Ashkenazi Pronunciation

Sefardi Pronunciation

 

Type 4 – Miscellaneous Fragrances

What if you are enjoying a delicious natural fragrance, but it doesn't fit into any of the other categories, or you simply cannot determine which blessing to say? There is an all-inclusive blessing which may be recited over any good aroma.21

Examples in this category are cloves,22 cinnamon, and ground coffee.23



Blessing on Miscellaneous Fragrances

Ashkenazi Pronunciation

Sefardi Pronunciation

 

Springtime Blossom

Finally, let's talk about one more blessing that involves vegetation, but is based on seeing, not smelling. Who doesn't marvel at the site of bright pink blossoms beginning to peek out from under the leaves of an apple tree.

Upon the first sighting of the new blossoms of fruit trees in the month of Nissan (springtime), a special blessing is recited.24 This is known in Hebrew as "Birkat Ha-Ilan, the blessing of the tree.

Some say that, ideally, the bracha should be recited upon seeing multiple qualifying trees.25

If the bracha was not recited upon the first sighting, it can be said upon subsequent sightings of the new blossoms.26 Some say that the bracha may be recited with God's name only during the month of Nissan.27 In any case, it may only be recited once a year.28

This bracha may be recited on Shabbat and holidays.29



Blessing on New Blossoms

Ashkenazi Pronunciation

Sefardi Pronunciation

 

Why does the text of this blessing refers to "good creatures" as well as "good trees?" When we see how the tree was dry and withered during the winter and is now in full bloom, we are revitalized. When we watch the transformation of nature, we gain the courage and inspiration to lift out of our despair, and it reminds us that God provides us the tools to renew ourselves. This also gives us confidence that a God who can bring blossoms to a barren tree can also bring our longed-for era of redemption.30

Quick Review

Type of fragrance: Concluding words of the bracha:
wood borei atzei vi'såmim
plant borei isvei vi'såmim
fruit ha'notein ray'ach tov ba'pay'rote
miscellaneous borei minei vi'såmim


  1. More information on these blessings can be found in Rabbi Hanoch Slatin’s Re’iach HaSadeh: The Fragrant Field (Feldheim).
  2. Talmud – Brachot 43b
  3. Talmud – Sanhedrin 93b, with Rashi – s.v. Rava
  4. Orach Chaim 216:1. There is actually a fifth blessing, said only on fragrant balsam oil.
  5. Orach Chaim 216:1
  6. Kaf HaChaim (OC 216:3)
  7. Kaf HaChaim (OC 216:3)
  8. Orach Chaim 217:1, with Mishnah Berurah 4 and Sha’ar Hatziyun 10
  9. V’Zot HaBracha, pg. 181, citing Rabbi C.P. Scheinberg
  10. Orach Chaim 216:2
  11. Mishnah Berurah 216:6, Biur Halacha – s.v. Atzei; Orach Chaim 203:2
  12. V’Zot HaBracha 19:1
  13. Orach Chaim 216:2
  14. Due to doubt, one should avoid picking up fresh bread to smell it (Rema – Orach Chaim 216:14, with Sha’ar Hatziyun 46).
  15. During the week of Sukkot, an etrog should preferably not be smelled, since it has been “set aside” especially for a mitzvah use (Orach Chaim 216:14).
  16. V’Zot HaBracha 19:2
  17. Orach Chaim 216:2
  18. V’Zot HaBracha 19:2
  19. Sha’ar HaTziyun 216:12
  20. Orach Chaim 216:2. If you also want to eat it, Mishnah Berurah (216:10) advises to first eat it with the intention not to benefit from the smell, and then to say another blessing on the smell.
  21. Orach Chaim 216:2, with Mishnah Berurah 16
  22. Mishnah Berurah 216:16; however, Orach Chaim 216:2 rules that cloves get the same blessing as for fragrant fruits.
  23. Mishnah Berurah 216:16; however, Kaf HaChaim 216:86 disagrees. Either way, a bracha is not said on instant coffee (V’Zot HaBracha 19:2).
  24. Orach Chaim 226:1
  25. Kaf HaChaim 225:2; however, Mishnah Berurah implies this is unnecessary
  26. Halichot Shlomo, pg. 289
  27. Kaf HaChaim (OC 225:1)
  28. Orach Chaim 226:1
  29. Shu”t Yechaveh Da’at 1:2. However, Kaf Hachaim (OC 225:4) forbids saying the bracha on Shabbat and Yom Tov; Halichot Shlomo 289 (121).
  30. Sharon First in the New Jersey Jewish Standard, citing Ben Ish Chai