"The most important thing is emuna. Each individual must search for himself and strengthen his own emuna, for one can become ill and suffer from bewildering affliction, only on account of having fallen from emuna….
"Fallen emuna causes bewildering afflictions, for which no remedies, prayers or ancestral merits are of any avail. This is because all remedies are made from herbs, which grow solely by virtue of emuna….
"When there is emuna, rains fall, and the herbs sprout, and then there are remedies. But when faith falls, there are no rains and then there is no healing…"
Rebbe Nachman then goes on to explain, in textbook aromatherapy fashion, that the healing power of each plant depends on where it's grown, the time it's harvested, and the age of the plant when it is picked - which is straight out of any aromatherapy textbook you care to pick up.
More quotes from Rebbe Nachman
Elsewhere, Rebbe Nachman writes a lot about the connection between healing and smell. In Lesson 8, part II he tells us that: 'the main cause of illness is sins' - the same message we learned in the last post via Rav Arush.
Remember how we learned that the body usually only gets sick if the soul gets sick? In Lesson 8, Rebbe Nachman tells us how we can nourish our soul and keep it healthy:
"The soul is essentially nourished by fragrance, as our sages said: "From where do we know that we must express our gratitude for fragrance? 'The entire soul shall praise G-d (Psalms 150:6). What is it the soul enjoys but not the body? Fragrance."
Later on in the same lesson, he makes the same point again: "The soul's sustenance is essentially from fragrance."
Pulling it all together
Before I started learning it, I thought that aromatherapy was just a way to make people and places smell 'nice'. Over the last few months, Hashem has been pulling so many pieces together, and in this post I just want to briefly cover the headlines about what aromatherapy can do for us, and why.
The holy sense of smell
The sense of smell is intrinsically linked to Moshiach and geula. Our sages teach explicitly that Moshiach is going to judge each and everyone one of us according to our sense of smell; he'll be able to 'sniff out' our virtues and also our vices by smell alone.
Avraham Sand, who runs a highly-recommended organic aromatherapy supply company explains in his book 'Mystical Aromatherapy' that Chazal teach that the sense of smell is the only one that wasn't corrupted by the sin of Adam.
All the other senses were involved in eating the forbidden fruit - they listened to the snake's tempting; they saw the beautiful fruit; they touched it, to pick it; and then they ate it.
The sense of smell wasn't involved, and remained spiritually on a much higher level than the other four senses.
Physiologically, the sense of smell is the only one that is linked directly into the brain, without having to go through any synapses.
Smell and the limbic system
Smell goes straight into the limbic system, also referred to as the 'primitive' brain, which is the seat of our emotions and feelings and subconscious. Jewishly, this is the part of the brain that houses the nefesh, that lower self of ours that is physically responsible for keeping our heart beating, surviving and 'looking out for number one' - and which is also the home of our yetzer hara.
Smell, aroma, affects the lower brain like no other sense.
When we smell an aroma, we are actually detecting the chemical compounds that smell is made up of. Those chemical compounds then enter our blood stream, and just like man-made synthetic drugs, they can have a number of profound effects, both physiologically and psychologically in the body and in the brain.
Until around 350 years' ago, the only drugs available were those made from herbs. Modern day aromatherapy, using high tech distillation techniques only started to occur around 100 years' ago. The old herb compounds were much less condensed and concentrated, and were usually either taken internally or applied as poultices to the skin.
In the 17th century, there was a split between the herbalists and the pioneers of what became modern medicine. Again, it's a topic for another time, but the synthetic drugs we take now are toxic chemical compounds usually made by 'copying' an element of a chemical found in a plant.
I'm not going to get into drugs and modern medicine today, as there's a lot to say and it's extremely controversial, but let's just say Rebbe Nachman was not a big fan of modern doctors.