What are besamin boxes used for?
What are the origins for the custom of inhaling herb scents at the end of the Sabbath and what does it symbolise?
This is the trace of the times when the Jews made sacrifices in the Temple of Jerusalem. After its final destruction by the Romans (AD 70), the Jews abandoned the sacrificial cult. In the times of the diaspora, they replaced it with prayer and rituals which referred to its elements. Inhaling scents during Havdalah, a ceremony of the symbolical separation of sacred time (i.e. Sabbath, in the shortened version also other holidays) from ordinary weekdays. It is the trace of the incense offering made in the Temple (along with the food offerings — from animals). The incense can be burnt only in the Temple and only by the priests.
Today, the ritual of inhaling scents can be held both in the synagogue as well as at home. The person conducting the Havdalah ceremony takes a besamin box in his or her right hand and utters the following blessing:
Baruch atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha-olam bore’ minei vesamim
(”Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who creates species of fragrance”.)
Next he or she smells the fragrances and passes them to the others.
According to the tradition, the pleasant aroma is intended to alleviate the sad moment of losing the additional soul, which accompanies each Jew during the Sabbath and leaves them upon its termination. Moreover, it is designed to enhance the inhaling before the hardships of the weekdays to come.
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