Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
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The Aroma of Purim

The Talmud tells us that the name Mordechai means: pleasant smell. Queen Esther had a second name: Hadass-ah (Esther 2:7). Hadass is Hebrew for myrtle, famous for its nice scent. Esther is related to lehastir – to hide – in the Book of Esther G-d’s hand is hidden. (The Talmud, Chullin 139b, relates that G-d is hidden here as Source of the Salvation, based on Deuteronomy 31:18, that however uses the same concealment to say that Punishment comes when G-d’s Presence seems hidden to us.)

Even the seemingly lowest of the righteous in the Book of Esther has smell in his name: Harbonah (Esther 7:9) – the same letters as Reiach Boneh – the scent of building [of the gallows]. The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 10:9) says that he was the Prophet Elijah.

Why would the names of the main Jewish players in the Purim story be connected to great smell?

The above mentioned myrtle is a symbol for the righteous (Talmud, Megilla 13a based on Zechariah 1:8). (Just seeing them makes you want to be like them.)

Sinning may involve all the senses but smelling. Smell is this untouched pure place from where we connect with the world around us and from where repentance may be build (daily prayers, Yom Kippur). It’s the least material sense, the most esoteric, but the supernatural of it is still hidden – the story of Purim.

G-d likes the odor of our sacrifices and there is even one (the incense) that is all about smell, but human olfaction is hardly mentioned in the Torah or the whole of the Hebrew Bible.

Eve saw that the forbidden tree was tasty (Genesis 3:6). Most of our taste is given by our nose (that’s why we don’t taste much when our nose is stuffed), so this “seeing” was referring to smelling. (The Torah did not want to openly connect something so holy to sinning. We should guard our eyes more than our nose.)

In Tenach, smelling was mostly popular around the first Jews. Isaac smelled the difference between his two sons. Or, so he thought (Genesis 27:27). Jacob always had his nose in a book (Genesis 25:27), but he became a worthy leader by stepping into the world, waking up and smelling the coffee. His greatest love was for a woman named Rachel (Genesis 29:18), a contraction for: G-dly smell (Reiach Ei’l). (Of course he did not kiss her at first sight (Genesis 29:11); he kissed her scent!) The leader of his twelve sons, her firstborn son Joseph, went down to sort out Egypt in a spice caravan (Genesis 37:25). The Egyptians were disgusted with Jewish food (Genesis 43:32). That’s most of it by far.

I don’t want to bloody anyone’s nose, but wicked people seem jealous of Jews’ propensity for virtue (we put their noses out of joint), and so depict us with big noses, trying to make fun of our great predilection for righteousness.

When people have drunk a bit too much alcohol, they are called in Hebrew mevusam: intoxicated, quite similar (Samech – Seen) to the Hebrew letters in word bosem, parfume.

In short: Follow your nose and have a Happy Purim!

About the Author
MM is a prolific and creative writer and thinker, an almost daily blog contributor to the Times of Israel, and previously, for decades, he was known to the Jerusalem Post readers as a frequent letter writer. He often makes his readers laugh, mad, or assume he's nuts—close to perfect blogging. He's proud that his analytical short comments are removed both from left-wing and right-wing news sites. * As a frontier thinker, he sees things many don't yet. He's half a prophet. Half. Let's not exaggerate. He doesn't believe that people observe and think in a vacuum. He, therefore, wanted a broad bio that readers interested can track a bit about what (lack of) backgrounds, experiences, and education contribute to his visions. * If you don't know the Dutch, get an American peek behind the scenes here: * To find less-recent posts on subject XXX among his over 1600 archived ones, go to the right-top corner of a Times of Israel page, click on the search icon and search "zuiden, XXX". One can find a second, wilder blog, to which one may subscribe, here: * Like most of his readers, he believes in being friendly, respectful, and loyal. Yet, if you think those are his absolute top priorities, you might end up disappointed. His first loyalty is to the truth. He will try to stay within the limits of democratic and Jewish law, but he won't lie to support opinions or people who don't deserve that. He admits that he sometimes exaggerates to make a point, which could have him come across as nasty, while in actuality, he's quite a lovely person to interact with. He holds - how Dutch - that a strong opinion doesn't imply intolerance of other views. * Sometimes he's misunderstood because his wide and diverse field of vision seldomly fits any specialist's box. But that's exactly what some love about him. He has written a lot about Psychology (including Sexuality and Abuse), Medicine (including physical immortality), Science (including basic statistics), Politics (Israel, the US, and the Netherlands, Activism), Oppression and Liberation (intersectionally, for young people, the elderly, non-Whites, women, workers, Jews, LGBTQIA+, foreigners and anyone else who's dehumanized or exploited), Integrity, Philosophy, Jews (Judaism, Zionism, Holocaust, and Jewish Liberation), the Climate Crisis, Ecology and Veganism, Affairs from the news, or the Torah Portion of the Week, or new insights that suddenly befell him. * His most influential teachers (chronologically) are his parents, Nico (natan) van Zuiden and Betty (beisye) Nieweg, Wim Kan, Mozart, Harvey Jackins, Marshal Rosenberg, Reb Shlomo Carlebach, and, lehavdil bein chayim lechayim, Rabbi Dr. Natan Lopes Cardozo, Rav Zev Leff, and Rav Meir Lubin. * One of his rabbis calls him Mr. Innovation [Ish haChidushim]. Yet, his originalities seem to root deeply in traditional Judaism, though they may grow in unexpected directions. In fact, he claims he's modernizing nothing. Rather, mainly basing himself on the basic Hebrew Torah text, he tries to rediscover classical Jewish thought almost lost in thousands of years of stifling Gentile domination and Jewish assimilation. (He pleads for a close reading of the Torah instead of going by rough assumptions of what it would probably mean and before fleeing to Commentaries.) This, in all aspects of life, but prominently in the areas of Free Will, Activism, Homosexuality for men, and Redemption. * He hopes that his words will inspire and inform, and disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed. He aims to bring a fresh perspective rather than harp on the obvious and familiar. He loves to write encyclopedic overviews. He doesn't expect his readers to agree. Rather, original minds should be disputed. In short, his main political positions are among others: anti-Trumpism, anti-elitism, anti-bigotry and supremacy, for Zionism, Intersectionality, and non-violence, anti those who abuse democratic liberties, anti the fake ME peace process, for original-Orthodoxy, pro-Science, pro-Free Will, anti-blaming-the-victim, and for down-to-earth, classical optimism, and happiness. * He is a fetal survivor of the pharmaceutical industry (, born in 1953 to parents who were Dutch-Jewish Holocaust survivors who met in the largest concentration camp in the Netherlands, Westerbork. He grew up a humble listener. It took him decades to become a speaker too. Bullies and con artists almost instantaneously envy and hate him. * He holds a BA in medicine (University of Amsterdam) – is half a doctor. He practices Re-evaluation Co-counseling since 1977, is not an official teacher anymore, and became a friendly, empowering therapist. He became a social activist, became religious, made Aliyah, and raised three wonderful kids non-violently. For a couple of years, he was active in hasbara to the Dutch-speaking public. He wrote an unpublished tome about Jewish Free Will. He's being a strict vegan since 2008. He's an Orthodox Jew but not a rabbi. He lives with his library in Jerusalem. Feel free to contact him. * His writing has been made possible by a (second-generation) Holocaust survivors' allowance from the Netherlands. It has been his dream since he was 38 to try to make a difference by teaching through writing. He had three times 9-out-of-10 for Dutch at his high school finals but is spending his days communicating in English and Hebrew - how ironic. G-d must have a fine sense of humor. In case you wonder - yes, he is a bit dyslectic. If you're a native English speaker and wonder why you should read from people whose English is only their second language, consider the advantage of having an original peek outside of your cultural bubble. * To send any personal reaction to him, scroll to the top of the blog post and click Contact Me. * His newest books you may find here:
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