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Parsha Toldot

11/08/2018 10:14:19 PM

Nov8

At the dramatic climax of Yaakov’s surreptitious ploy to receive Yitzchak’s blessings in place of his brother, Eisav, Yitzchak calls for Yaakov to approach his bed.  As Yaakov approaches, Yitzchak smelled the fragrance of his garments and blessed him, by saying: “Look, the fragrance of my son is like the fragrance of a field which God has blessed.”  Noting that Yaakov was wearing garments made from goat hairs, Rashi wonders how the typically offensive odor of goat hair could please Yitzchak’s senses.  Citing Chazal, Rashi answers that Yitzchak was reacting to the pleasurable aroma of Gan Eden that entered together with Yaakov.  A careful inspection of the language in the Pasuk shows that the smell of Gan Eden emanated from the garments of Yaakov specifically, as the words in the Pasuk say that Yitzchak smelled the fragrance of his garments. 

The idea of the garments carrying the aroma of Gan Eden is accentuated in the Gemara in Sanhedrin that praises the Jewish nation for having even its worst sinners full of mitzvos like the pomegranate.  Afterwards, the Gemara sources this theme from the Pasuk of Yitzchak smelling Yaakov’s garments, by homiletically suggesting that the word “Bigadim”- clothes, should instead be read as “Bogdim”- sinners, and the Pasuk now means that Yitzchak smelled the scent of the sinners of Israel and found that they smelled like Gan Eden.  What is the significance of this play on words, Bogdim instead of Bigadim, and the idea that even sinners smell good?  And why is Gan Eden’s scent emanating from clothes?

The answer begins with the Midrash’s suggestion that Yaakov’s garments were taken from Eisav, who stole them from Nimrod, who obtained them from Adam.  Being that Adam wore these clothes in Gan Eden, a wonderful scent lingered on all the way down to Eisav and eventually to Yitzchak’s nose. 

There is tremendous irony in the garments of Adam being the only remnants of Gan Eden, because garments themselves are representative of Adam’s first sin that served as the catalyst for his very expulsion from Gan Eden.  Until sin, Man was naked before God, as the Pasuk says that after eating from the Tree of Knowledge “they were enlightened and embarrassed of their nakedness.”  They immediately covered themselves with fig-leaves, until God eventually made them special animal skin garments.  From this angle, it would seem that the conceptual definition for garments is that they cover up an imperfect inside; a disguising camouflage for evident stains underneath.  In the ideal world of perfection, garments are unnecessary, because the ultimate “tocho-k’varo”- inside like the outside- pristine condition of Man leaves nothing to “hide.”  In stark contrast, the imperfect Man feels uncomfortable with nakedness and turns to “clothes,” all sorts of exterior variables, both to conceal the stains beneath and to provide new contexts and variables to identify with.  (In a similar vein, the special clothes the Kohanim wore while performing the service in the Temple were meant to somehow “change the man,” to take the imperfect Kohen with all his deficiencies, and “cover up” with Bigdei Kehuna that elevated the Kohen to the level that he could directly serve God.)  The meaning of Gan Eden’s scent lingering on Adam’s clothes was God’s message that Man’s inner beauty still remains despite the imperfections and the stains of sin, and although it may not always be palpable in the tangible sense, the transcendent power of scent shows us that it does exist.  As hard as Adam tried to use garments to mask his inner self, it was that very self that refused to be tamed and instead emitted the wonderful smell of Gan Eden.  Instead of the cover-up becoming dirtied by the sin, the paradox of garments was that the beauty beneath the sin permeated through to the cover-up to leave its indelible mark.  It is this theme that the Gemara in Sanhedrin is applying to the sinners of Israel by likening their smell to the scent found on Adam’s clothes.  Both Adam post-sin and the sinners of Israel have no explicit good to them; they have no tangible good to be seen, heard, or felt.  But they both retain an innate beauty that cannot be dissolved by all the outside sins and cover-ups, and they therefore retain at least a good smell, because smell is the one sense that speaks of the intangibles and the potential instead of the concrete reality.  

Thu, May 23 2019 18 Iyyar 5779