King Yeravam (Jeroboam) was the first monarch of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Following King Shlomo’s death, the formerly disgraced minister led a delegation to Shlomo’s son, Rechavam, suggesting a raise in taxes. The citizens of the country were less than pleased. Yeravam revolted and the majority of the country split from the south. He closed the road leading to Jerusalem, and built two competing temples in Bethel and Dan. Thus, began the centuries-long feud between the Northern and Southern kingdoms of Israel and Judah.
Our Sages deem Yeravam to be one of the greatest sinners in the history of our people. Not only did he sin personally, but he was responsible for leading so many away from the worship of Hashem. Countless narratives tell of the hopelessness of Yeravam’s salvation and atonement for all eternity. Is there, in fact, no hope for King Yeravam?
מַעֲשֶׂה שֶׁעָשׂוּ אַנְשֵׁי טְבֶרְיָא וְהֵבִיאוּ סִילוֹן שֶׁל צוֹנֵן לְתוֹךְ אַמָּה שֶׁל חַמִּין. אָמְרוּ לָהֶם חֲכָמִים: אִם בְּשַׁבָּת — כְּחַמִּין שֶׁהוּחַמּוּ בְּשַׁבָּת, וַאֲסוּרִין בִּרְחִיצָה וּבִשְׁתִיָּהּ. אִם בְּיוֹם טוֹב — כְּחַמִּין שֶׁהוּחַמּוּ בְּיוֹם טוֹב, וַאֲסוּרִין בִּרְחִיצָה, וּמוּתָּרִין בִּשְׁתִיָּה
ולא היו רוחצות בחמי טבריא עצמן לפי שריחן רע
The people of Tiberius once ran a cold-water pipe through a canal of hot water from the hot springs. The Rabbis said to them: If on Shabbat, it is like hot water that was heated on Shabbat, and prohibited for bathing and for drinking. And if the water passed through on a Festival, then it is prohibited for bathing but permitted for drinking.
Tosfos: And they would not bathe directly in the Tiberius hot springs, because they had a foul odour.
Despite the foul sulphur smell in the hot springs, in fact, many people do bathe directly in the waters of Tiberius. The water has an extraordinary healing effect on the body. People will travel from far and wide to experience the therapeutic powers of the waters. But if Tosfos says that the water smells foul why do people insist upon entering?
Our Sages teach (Brachos 43b) that the sense of smell has a strong connection to the soul. The soul enjoys pleasant smells. We are obligated to make a blessing when we smell a nice fragrance, as King David writes in Tehillim (150), “Every soul shall praise God.” The Gemara declares: What is something that is enjoyed by the soul but from which the body derives no benefit? That thing is smell. Thus, it comes as no surprise that the body should be healed with malodourous waters. The body does not require a pleasant scent to be invigorated. That’s the soul’s domain.
Rebbe cites Rabbi Chanina who offers an additional insight into the verse in Tehillim. ‘Do not read the word ‘neshama’, rather ‘neshima’, meaning breath. Thus, the verse should be understood as an instruction to praise God for every breath. This reading is based on the original text describing the creation of humankind. The Torah states, “He blew into his nostrils the breath of life.” Clearly, the idea of the nose (as the vehicle for our sense of smell), breathing, and the soul, are all intertwined.
The Meam Loez explains the idea of praising God for every breath, as follows. Without that breath, you would die. Therefore, every breath you take is a new lease on life. That’s a refreshing thought! Every breath you breathe is an opportunity – nay, a moment of duty – to praise the Almighty’s blessing. And when you smell the wonderful aromas of this world, remember that such scents are pleasing to the soul and provide it with a little respite from the strains of the body and this world.
Returning to the healing of the body, what is the scriptural source for sulphur’s healing powers? In Parshat Nitzavim, the Torah talks about a cleansing process that will take place in the Land of Israel after the destruction. “Sulphur (brimstone) and salt, the burning of all the earth . . .” The Yalkut Reuveni explains that the Resurrection will begin in the Holy Land. What is the purpose of the cleansing? To prepare even the most sinful of characters for the End of Days. Thus, he says, even King Yeravam will be ready for rebirth. Not only does sulphur heal a body of its wounds, it can heal it to the extent that it is ready for a new breath of life!
We are currently in the midst of a period when it is clear to all what a blessing it is to be able to breathe. Let’s not take it for granted. Every breath should remind us to praise Hashem. May you always have blessing and healing in your life and may you be grateful to Heaven for every breath!