Prologue: Ever wonder how to say Mazal Tov?
When Yitzchak wanted to offer a Beracha to Esav in this week’s Parsha, he too, in effect looked for a way to say “Mazal Tov.” Why is it, that he requested food in order to be able to give Esav a Beracha?
Rav Shimshon Dovid Pinkus comments that when the soul is satiated, it is easier to connect with other souls and offer sincere Beracha. By asking Esav to bring him food, Yitzchak was planning on feeling a responsibility to connect with Esav’s soul and offer him a Beracha in return.
Rav Pinkus explains that this is the Mazal Tov we offer at a Simcha or even at a Kiddush. Through joining together at a Kiddush, or the feasting at a simcha, we create a sense of kindred spirit and a responsibility between souls. Through that good feeling (yes, created by the food,) we bless Mazal Tov whose wording can even change the luck of the Baal Simcha and make it even better.
“I smell smoke”
The Talmud (Berachos 35a) reminds us that one is not allowed to derive benefit from this world without reciting a Beracha. The Gemara seems to imply that the Beracha serves as a “Matir” allowing us to enjoy this world. This idea is expressed by the Chayeii Adam (49:1) who notes that the entire world is like Hekdeish and one may not partake of this Hekdeish unless s/he recites a Beracha.
Elsewhere, the Talmud (Berachos 43b) notes that one must recite a Beracha prior to smelling a pleasant smell. The source is from the Possuk Kol HaNeshama Tihallel Kah. But why does the Gemara provide an additional Possuk for the concept of the unique Hanaah that one gets from a smell?
The Tzlach (Berachos 43b) notes that in light of the fact that the original source compares the derivation of pleasure to Meilah, the Talmud notes (Pesachim 26a) that one is not liable for Meila that comes via a smell. Ergo, one cannot use the general Possuk to include the necessity to make a Beracha on a smell. Hence, the additional possuk.
Rav Yosef Engel (Tziunim L’Torah Klal 7) uses this Tzlach to argue that a Beracha on a smell is actually a Beracha of praise (Shevach V’Hodaah) as opposed to one of benefit (Hanaah). However Rabbeinu Bachaya (Shulchan Shel Arba, chapter 1) disagrees.
However, one is left to wonder whether one recites a Beracha on smoke? Let’s say we enjoy the smell of second hand smoke, would we then recite a Beracha upon its smell?
The Eishel Avrohom (Birkas Habayis , 26:47) notes that cigarettes, cigars and pipes develop smoke from tobacco. Dried tobacco leaves do not have an inherent smell that is pleasant (usually it is bitter). It is only the result of the combination of chemicals that the pleasant odor is achieved. Based on the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 217:3) it would follow that this smell actually has no single source and the Beracha would not be recited in this case.
Aruch HaShulchan (O.C. 216:4) adds that one would not make a Beracha on smoke from a cigarette or cigar for other reasons as well. The fact is that the pleasant smell from these things is a by-product and not the main reason that one smokes. Ironically, he notes that in his day people smoked for health reasons (e.g. to calm nerves) and any pleasant smell was added to cover the harsh odors of the smoke – similar to the air freshener sticks in the bathroom that hide other malodorous smells – and as such no Beracha would be recited.
(It goes without saying that the dangers of smoking today are enormous and one should not smoke – see Iggros Moshe Y.D. II:49 and Sefer Pe’er Tachas Eifer)