Question: If one smells the pleasant scent of a lemon, which blessing should one recite?
Answer: The Gemara (Berachot 43b) states: “Mor Zutra said: One who smells the fragrance of an Etrog (citron), or a quince recites the blessing of ‘Baruch Ata Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’Olam Ha’Noten Re’ach Tov Ba’Perot.’” This is indeed the proper text of the blessing according to our custom. Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch (Chapter 216, Section 2) rules likewise.
Lemons Are Inedible
The Poskim discuss the appropriate blessing on the scent of lemon. Some say that because a lemon is nearly inedible as is because of its intense sour flavor, one cannot recite the “Ha’Noten Re’ach Tov Ba’Perot” blessing as one would on an Etrog.
In order to elaborate on this further, we must first explain a related law. The Poskim discuss the appropriate blessing on cloves, which are dried out flower buds used as spices for cooking and jams. Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch and other Poskim rule that the blessing on cloves is “Ha’Noten Re’ach Tov Ba’Perot,” for cloves are considered a fruit since they are eaten. Based on what Maran rules regarding cloves requiring the “Ha’Noten Re’ach Tov Ba’Perot” blessing, although they are completely inedible on their own and one eating them as is would not recite a blessing at all (see Tosafot Berachot 36b), it is nevertheless considered a fruit since it is edible when mixed into other foods.
The same would seemingly apply to lemons in that although lemons are too sour to be eaten alone, since it is edible when mixed with other foods, the appropriate blessing on its scent would be “Ha’Noten Re’ach Tov Ba’Perot.”
We must point out though that our custom is to recite the “Boreh Atzeh Besamim” blessing on cloves since it is not a real fruit and is actually part of the clove tree itself. Maharam of Rottenberg, Bayit Chadash, and Ben Ish Hai rule likewise. Nevertheless, regarding lemons, we can derive from the words of Maran that the blessing on fragrant lemons is “Ha’Noten Re’ach Tov Ba’Perot.” (The Ginat Veradim and other Poskim derive the same from the words of Maran, as quoted by Maran zt”l in Responsa Yabia Omer, Volume 9, page 248.)
The Primary Scent is from the Peel
Contrary to what we have written above, some claim that one should not recite the “Ha’Noten Re’ach Tov Ba’Perot” blessing on lemons since its primary scent emanates from its peel, as opposed to from the actual fruit. Therefore, according to this opinion, one should recite “Boreh Minei Besamim” on lemons.
Nonetheless, Maran zt”l rebuffs this opinion (in his Chazon Ovadia- Berachot), for the majority of Acharonim rule that one should recite the “Ha’Noten Re’ach Tov Ba’Perot” blessing on lemons since the peel is stuck to the fruit and it is considered all one entity. Indeed, Hagaon Rabbeinu Eliyahu Mani zt”l (one of the Ben Ish Hai’s mentors) attested to the fact that the custom in Jerusalem was to recite the “Ha’Noten Re’ach Tov Ba’Perot” blessing on fragrant lemons. This was indeed the custom of Maran zt”l and every Shabbat, he would begin a series of blessings on fragrant objects with the “Ha’Noten Re’ach Tov Ba’Perot” blessing on a lemon, “Boreh Atzeh Besamim” on myrtle branches, lemon verbena, or rosemary, and “Boreh Isbeh Besamim” on mint or Roda. He did this to make sure he completed the daily mandated quota of one hundred blessings even on Shabbat (when we do not have nineteen blessings per Amida prayer as we do on weekdays).
Once on Motza’ei Shabbat, there was nothing to make Besamim on for Havdala besides for a lemon and Maran zt”l took the lemon and recited “Ha’Noten Re’ach Tov Ba’Perot” on it. He was not concerned about the dissenting opinions, for he felt the law followed the custom in this case.