|This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my maternal grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, my paternal grandfather Moshe Ben Yosef A”H, uncle Reuven Nachum Ben Moshe & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein.
It should also be in Zechus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta-MY BROTHER: MENACHEM MENDEL SHLOMO BEN CHAYA ROCHEL-HaRav Gedalia Dov Ben Perel-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili-Yechiel Baruch HaLevi Ben Liba Gittel
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-Chaya Rochel Ettel Bas Shulamis
-Nechama Hinda Bas Tzirel Leah-Amitai Dovid Ben Rivka Shprintze
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
תּוֹלְדוֹת ● Toldos
● Who cares what Yitzchak’s son smells like? ●
“The Smell Only a Father Can Love”
The most famous and stirring scene of Parshas Toldos is undoubtedly the scene where the righteous Yaakov Avinu, according to the controversial orders of his mother Rivkah Imeinu, disguises himself as his older brother Eisav in order to mislead their father Yitzchak Avinu into giving him the blessings.1
As far as this scene goes, much attention is given to Yitzchak’s suspicions as to who was standing in front of him. Yitzchak was confused to hear Yaakov’s voice and dialect, but feel the hairy arms and neck of Eisav. In an earlier discussion, we addressed the great phenomenon of the story, that Yitzchak eventually just accepted that the man before him was Eisav. Let us return to that issue.
How exactly was Yitzchak convinced? From the text, it is not so clear. After hearing his son, feeling his son and wondering about it, Yitzchak simply asked him again to confirm that he was Eisav, to which Yaakov responded in the affirmative. Then, Yitzchak asked to kiss him, smelled him, and was pleased with the smell, after which, he proceeded to bless him.
Thus, the Torah tells us, “Vayigash Vayishak Lo Vayarach Es Rei’ach Bigadav Vayivaracheihu Vayomer Re’eih Rei’ach B’ni K’Rei’ach Sadeh Asheir Beiracho Hashem”-“And he [Yaakov] approached, and he [Yitchak] kissed him, and he [Yitzchak] smelled the fragrance of his clothes and he [Yitzchak] blessed him, and he said, ‘See, the fragrance of my son is like the fragrance of a field that is blessed be Hashem.’”2
The question is: How did these subsequent actions reassure Yitzchak of anything? First of all, the confusion of “voice versus hands” hadn’t changed.
Second of all, he had already felt his son, so kissing him should not have helped his investigation either, unless, of course, perhaps he suspected that the man in front of him might’ve been wearing a fur coat, in which case, his face would have been less hairy. But, apparently, the fateful kiss did not get Yitzchak any closer to the truth. Presumably, Yitzchak didn’t need to feel his son anymore than he already had.
And the third and perhaps most confusing issue here is: Why did Yitzchak smell his son? Why was the smell relevant altogether? And why did the smell please Yitzchak so much? Why or how did that influence the story? It just doesn’t seem to make any sense.
Scent of Gan Eden
Rashi cites the famous Midrash3 suggesting that despite the fact that the goatskin Yaakov was wearing had a foul smell, he smelled pleasant because the fragrance of Gan Eden, the Garden of Eden, had entered the room with him.
Now, what does this solution do for us? Perhaps it explains why Yitzchak enjoyed the smell. But, why should we care? Why is this point a relevant factor in the story? The overall Pasuk is still rather cryptic.
“And he smelled” – The Observation of Ba’al HaTurim
Looking at this Pasuk alone, it does seem both obscure and trivial. However, the Ba’al HaTurim makes a fascinating observation which provides some enlightening background features for our verse.
The Ba’al HaTurim points out that the word in our verse, “Vayarach”-“and he smelled,” appears only one other time in Tanach. The first time and only other time it appeared was in the story of Noach, following the Flood. There, the Torah tells us that Noach offered Korbanos to Hashem, after which the Pasuk relates as follows:
“Vayarach Hashem Es Rei’ach HaNicho’ach Vayomer Hashem El Libo Lo Osif L’kaleil Od Es HaAdamah Ba’avur HaAdam Ki Yeitzer Leiv HaAdam Ra MiN’urav V’Lo Osif Od L’Hakos Es Kal Chai Ka’asheir Asisi”-“And Hashem smelled the pleasing fragrance and He said to his heart: ‘I will not continue to further curse the ground because of mankind for the inclination of man’s heart is evil from his youth, and I will not continue to smite all of life as I have done [alt., as I have made].’”4
The question is what might be the connection between this verse and ours in Parshas Toldos. So, they both use the same word, “Vayarach”-“and he smelled.” But, what does that mean to us?
The Ba’al HaTurim explains simply, based on the aforementioned Midrash, that the smell of Gan Eden was present in both scenes. Meaning, somehow, both Yitchak and Hashem (anthropomorphically of course) “smelled” the scent of Gan Eden.
Now, of what significance is this point? Adds the Ba’al HaTurim, in his comment on the parallel verse in Parshas Noach, these two verses together demonstrate the idea stated by Chazal that even the willful sinners of Yisrael are destined to merit the smell of Gan Eden.5 Chazal derive this idea from the very Pasuk in our Sidrah, “and he smelled his garments,” exegetically rereading the word “Bigadav”-“his garments” as “Bogdav”-“His traitors (treacherous ones),” as if to say that even the traitors or the deceitful will be accompanied by the smell of Gan Eden.
The idea is perhaps heartwarming and encouraging, but how exactly is it derived contextually? Is this teaching generated by a mere word game or is there a more intimate connection between these verses?
The Smell Only a Father Can Love
If one thinks about the two verses, they have more than just the word “Vayarach” in common. In both verses, we have an individual who is bringing food to his father, after which that father smells a fragrance, and then seems to desperately want to show compassion on his child.
Hashem & Mankind
In Noach’s case, Hashem was responding to the offering and expressed His “desire” to spare humanity, and to never wipe out mankind again. Why did Hashem want to show compassion on the world? Because we are all Hashem’s children whom He loves and because He knows we need that compassion to survive. It is not because we are worthy or because we’ve earned it. We haven’t. But, Hashem understands that man is at a disadvantage as his inclination is naturally inclined for evil since his youth. It’s difficult to be spiritually pure, and so, Hashem granted us His patience.
But the compassion doesn’t merely come from the unconditional love that Hashem has for us, and it’s not merely from Hashem’s mercifulness. Those forces do “motivate” Hashem to act; however, G-d is always looking for us to demonstrate why any compassion can be justified and rationalized, because if we can just rely on mercy all the time, we would never put in the effort to work on our spiritual improvement. The question is: What demonstrated that effort in this context?
Here, when Hashem saw that Noach had brought offerings to Him, it accomplished something incredible. Although G-d doesn’t practically eat from the food of the offering, nor does He need the offering altogether, He, in a sense, “enjoys” the “smell” of it. In other words, G-d “senses” the deeper significance and implication of the offering. He sees that man wants to give back to Him whatever he can. When man steps forward like that, Hashem sees the potential in mankind. He sees man trying. He sees every reason to give man a chance and shower him with love and compassion.
The above may explain what the Midrash means when it says that the fragrance is really the smell of Gan Eden, as Gan Eden represents the inner, highest spiritual potential of man—man at his best. Of course, the ideal man, a once sinless Adam HaRishon walked in Gan Eden. So, even if man isn’t perfect, Hashem will sense at least the “smell of Gan Eden” on them, even if it is ever so slight. He will look for their inner potential, and subsequently bless them compassionately.
Yitzchak & Eisav
Coming back to our Sidrah, Yitzchak wanted to bless his son Eisav; however, as Chazal demonstrate, Eisav was wicked and not spiritually worthy. Sforno comments that even Yitzchak was aware of this uncomfortable reality, although he perhaps didn’t know the fullest extent of Eisav’s ways. Regardless, like Hashem, Yitzchak never stopped believing in his child and greatly wanted to bless him. Of course, Yitzchak kissed his son—not to feel him out—but because he loves his son immeasurably! Yitzchak was his father! And for the same reason, Yitzchak was determined to bless Eisav.
But even more, Yitzchak wanted to bless Eisav knowing that his son had come around, matured, and was on a genuine path to actualize his spiritual potential. He wanted to justify his compassion for Eisav, and thus, when his son came forth with the food and Yitzchak smelled his son, he was overtaken by joy as his son entered with the “smell of Gan Eden,” “a garden blessed by Hashem,” an expression representing the inner potential for spiritual growth, a sensation suggesting that, indeed, G-d Himself was affirming his decision to bless this son of his.
Yitzchak was ready to accept that the man before him was his son Eisav, perhaps because he recognized that although his son was not perfect, due to his spiritual level, he demonstrated the potential to come around and he therefore could be worthy enough of blessing. Indeed, as Chazal said, even the willful sinners can be given the scent of Gan Eden—even the “Bogdav,” even the treacherous and deceitful ones can come around!
One Heartbreaking Problem
Indeed, there is but one heartbreaking problem. Eisav was not the man in front of Yitzchak! It was Yaakov in disguise! Of course, we, the readers, know that, but Yitzchak at the time did not. This problem is not only a problem for Yitzchak’s intentions, but in punctures a hole in the entire lesson we’ve been developing. Because, didn’t we say that even the willful sinners can come around? We derived this principle from our verse and the one in Noach. But apparently, Eisav did not walk in with the “smell of Gan Eden,” the silver lining of spiritual hope. It was Yaakov the whole time! And if Yaakov was pretty much righteous already, our verse is a somewhat controversial source to suggest that even the “treacherous ones” ones can come around…or is it?
“Even His Treacherous Ones”
The word, “Bogdav,” refers to someone who is two-faced or somewhat dishonest. Indeed, Yaakov, at this point in time, was forced by his mother into an uncomfortable position of dishonesty. But of course, he was putting in the effort to maintain his spiritual posture and whatever honesty he could despite his situation, and thus, even Yaakov, amidst a gray deed, like the “Bogdav,” can be blessed. The evidence is the fact that the smell of Gan Eden indeed accompanied him. Indeed, Yaakov would continue to grow spiritually and maximize his potential. Yaakov’s scent of Gan Eden, paired with the verse in Noach, teaches us about man’s inner essence, even in the most spiritually uncomfortable situations. Man can overcome, and G-d can respond with compassion.
That problem is perhaps solved, but there is a second problem.
Fatherhood Dream Crushed
What about Eisav? What happened to Yitzchak’s fatherhood dream, the potential of a spiritually improving Eisav? Doesn’t everyone have a chance? Don’t even the willful sinners have potential?
These questions probably haunted Yitzchak when Yitzchak ultimately realized that is was not Eisav whom he had blessed—it was not Eisav who developed the ability to speak with dialect demonstrative of a fear of G-d, not Eisav who brought him the food, and not Eisav upon whom he smelled the fragrance of Gan Eden. On the contrary, the Midrash states that Yitzchak saw Gehinom, Hell open beneath Eisav.6 In other words, he saw the reverse of his hopes—a dream shattered and a nightmare come to life manifest in his son, Eisav. But, what happened?
The disappointment surrounding Eisav’s failure to rise to the occasion is that fatherhood dream—the potential Eisav had to spiritually work his way up. Yes, every individual, even the most spiritually troubled, have the opportunity to just try, exert some effort and grow. The problem was that Eisav didn’t put in that effort. He didn’t try. After losing the blessing to Yaakov, he admitted even to his father that he was convinced to sell away his holy birthright.7 Eisav had given up on those aspirations long ago—spirituality and everything holy. Even though he expressed a great measure of regret, he had not demonstrated the effort to suggest that he, as a person, had truly changed. Spiritual growth was never worth the fight, the effort and exertion. Of course, if that’s how he felt, then where is there any justification for the compassion that Yitzchak desperately wanted to show his son?
When Yitzchak thought Eisav walked in with the scent of Gan Eden on him, he was overjoyed, but when reality hit him, there was just heartbreak. The opportunity was always there, but Eisav just didn’t try. All of the love and compassion in the world could not make up for Eisav’s lack of effort. And in light of the connection to Parshas Noach, the same holds just as true for all of mankind.
As Yitzchak wanted so desperately to bless his son, Hashem always wants to bless us. He looks for the “smell of Gan Eden” on us—our efforts that highlight our inner potential; any reason whatsoever to treat us with love and compassion. He’s our Father! He loves us and would go that far for us. But are we going to help justify it? Are we going to show Hashem that we have potential to rise to the occasion? Are we going to put in effort? Are we going to at least try?
May we all be Zocheh to take a step forward in the right direction, demonstrate our effort so that Hashem should not only smell our potential—the scent of Gan Eden that we each have—but we should actualize that potential and receive the blessings of Gan Eden—tranquility, the Geulah Shileimah and the coming Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Gutten Chodesh Kisleiv and a Great Shabbos!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂
- Bereishis 27
- Bereishis Rabbah, 5:22 and Tanchuma 16
- Bereishis 8:21
- Sanhedrin 37A
- Rashi to 27:33 citing Bereishis Rabbah 67:2 and Tanchuma 16
- Bereishis 27:36