“There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted.” -Henry David Thoreau
Perfume has probably existed since at least the time of Eve in the Garden of Eden; however it was only in Medieval Europe that it became a permanent fixture of life. During that era, it was widely believed that it was dangerous to ones health to bathe. In order to mask the bodily stench, perfume was increasingly and excessively used by both men and women alike.
(As an aside, it’s ironic that at the time Jews were the only population to regularly bathe, which in turn is theorized to have spared them from the worst effects of the Black Plague. This not surprisingly led them to be blamed for the Plague, inspiring further pogroms in a naturally anti-Semitic environment.)
The Ohr Hachayim (near end of Exodus 6:2) has an interesting view on body odor. While modern marketing of fragrances sells us on becoming someone else (typically an exotic impossibly beautified and photoshoped model), the Ohr Hachayim claims that our natural odor actually reflects our true self.
He explains that the righteous emit a sweet fragrance, while evil-doers will have a certain stench. In other words, ones actions leave an olfactory trail that can be picked up by those with sensitive noses.
May we always have a sweet scent – whether natural or artificial.
To my brother Boaz, purveyor of fragrance, and to JJ and Elisha Kahen for their wonderful, delicious and fattening hosting.