Toldos 5779

The delightful smell of betrayal[1]

ויגש וישק לו וירח את ריח בגדיו ויברכהו ויאמר ראה ריח בני כריח שדה וגו’‏‏
[Yaakov] got close and [Yitzchak] kissed him, smelled his clothes, and blessed him. [Yitzchak] said: “See that the scent of my son is like the scent of a field!”…[2]

This week’s parsha describes Rivka and her son Yaakov’s ploy to prevent Eisav from receiving Yitzchak’s blessings. Yitzchak had gone blind, and commanded his son Eisav to prepare a feast for him before the blessings would be given. Rivka, overhearing this, told Yaakov to impersonate Eisav and try to get the blessings himself. She would prepare a feast for Yitzchak, consisting of two goats, while Yaakov would put on Eisav’s prized garments. Since Eisav was hairy, and Yaakov was not, Rivka gave Yaakov goatskins to wear on his arms and neck. This was in case Yitzchak touched Yaakov, so he wouldn’t realize their ploy. Once the preparations were done, Yaakov went to Yitzchak’s tent, pretending to be Eisav.

When Yaakov got close enough, Yitzchak took a whiff of the former’s clothing. He was delighted by what he smelled. This is strange, as there is nothing as foul an odor like goatskins[3]. Our Sages explain[4] that we learn from here that the pleasant scent of Gan Eden[5] came in with Yaakov, which overpowered the smell of the goatskins. However, another Midrash[6] says that the homiletic reading of בגדיו, his clothing, is בוגדיו, his traitors[7]. This teaches us that when Yitzchak smelled Yaakov’s clothing, he smelled the scent of Yaakov’s traitors. Whatever this means, it clearly has negative connotations. How can these two teachings be understood together, rather than be completely contradictory?

Our Sages teach us[8] that the night Yitzchak wanted to give the blessings was the fifteenth of Nissan, the future date of the first night of Pesach. This explains why Rivka specifically wanted Yaakov to serve Yitzchak two goats. This is seemingly a large portion for one person to eat. Rather, the two represented the future dishes that were served on the night of Pesach: the Pesach offering and its accompanied delicacies[9]. Rivka informed Yaakov of the significance of this night, that it’s when his future descendants will be redeemed from bondage. This inspired Yaakov to prepare the two goats the same way they would be prepared by his future descendants for the festival of Pesach[10].

Another Midrash teaches us[11] the prelude to the first Pesach in Egypt: The Jewish people were lax in their performance of the mitzvah of circumcision during their slavery. Only the Levites kept up the practice. What did Hashem do? He called to Moshe and told him to circumcise everyone. Many refused to comply. Hashem then told them to bring the Pesach offering. Once Moshe brought his Pesach offering, Hashem caused all the winds of the world to blow in Gan Eden. These winds them came to Moshe and clung to his offering. The smell of his offering stuck around for forty days. The entire Jewish people came to Moshe and requested to partake of his Pesach offering, as they couldn’t resist[12] the smell. Hashem told them that if they weren’t circumcised, they couldn’t eat from the offering[13]. They all immediately performed the mitzvah. Hashem passed by every individual, took them, kissed and blessed them. A very interesting tale, but does this have to do with the smells that Yitzchak experienced?

We see from here that when the Jews performed the Pesach offering in Egypt, there was the smell of Gan Eden. When Rivka told Yaakov about the future Pesach festival, and how the people would bring their Pesach offerings, he went and did the same. It would make sense, using his prophetic insight, that Yaakov would try to replicate the future Pesach offerings to his best ability. It’s possible then that he was so successful, that the smell of Gan Eden, which rested on the first Pesach’s offerings, rested on his own. This is what Yitzchak smelled when Yaakov got close enough: the smell of Gan Eden on his Pesach offering.

What was the purpose of Hashem bringing the scent of Gan Eden to Moshe’s Pesach offering? This was to entice those who refused to be circumcised to fulfill their duty. The only way they could eat of Moshe’s offering was if they were first circumcised, as mandated by the Torah. We learn from here how precious these betrayers were to Hashem. They refused to fulfill his mitzvah, yet He still desired to inspire them to do the right thing. He hadn’t abandoned them.

When Yaakov entered Yitzchak’s tent with the Pesach offering, and Yitzchak smelled the scent of Gan Eden, he also sensed the root source of this smell. It came from the future Pesach offering, which was caused by those who had betrayed Hashem. Those that refused to fulfill his mitzvah of circumcision. Even so, despite their betrayal, they were still precious and beloved to Hashem. For their sake, He caused the smell of Gan Eden to rest on Moshe’s offering. This is what it means that Yitzchak smelled Yaakov’s betrayers, that is, his descendants’ betrayal of Hashem’s mitzvah. However, Yitzchak also smelled the pleasant smell of Gan Eden, indicating Hashem’s love for Yaakov’s descendants was strong as ever.

We can apply this to our own experiences. There are many people that we may want to label as those who betray Hashem. But for all we know, they are more beloved in His eyes than we can imagine. Many people in our history started off on the wrong foot, but in the end turned out to be amongst our greatest sages and heroes[14]. We should never be quick to judge[15]. Good Shabbos

[1] Based on Be’er Yosef to Genesis 27:27

[2] Genesis loc. cit.

[3] Rashi ad. loc.

[4] Ibid, quoting Bereishis Rabbah 65:22 and Shir HaShirim Rabbah 4:12

[5] See Tanchuma Yashan Toldos § 16 which explains that the scent came from Eisav’s clothing, which originally belonged to Adam (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer Chapter 24, see also Zohar II 39a). Sifsei Chachamim ad. loc. says the same

[6] Sanhedrin 37a. See also Bereishis Rabbah loc. cit.

[7] See Torah Sheleimah ad. loc. § 108, who ties together this reading with the gemarra’s previous discussion that even the (seemingly) empty Jews are filled with mitzvos like a pomegranate. This sets the context for the בוגדיו reading, as well as explains the continuation of the Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah loc. cit., which brings a couple of stories of real wicked people who in the end repented and glorified Hashem. This fits nicely with the Be’er Yosef’s reconciliation of the two Midrashim, which is to follow

[8] Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer Chapter 32. See Minchas Yehudah, brought in Sifsei Chachamim ad. loc. for how Chazal knew this to be true

[9] The Pesach offering is only eaten to satiation, so the korbon Chagigah is eaten first (Tosefta Pesachim 5:3). See the Pardes Yosef’s question (Genesis 27:9) on the application of this to Yitzchak

[10] This isn’t explicit in Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer loc. cit., rather it’s the Be’er Yosef’s inference

[11] Shemos Rabbah 19:5. As with all midrashim, they aren’t necessarily to be taken as historical record (see Ramchal’s Ma’amar Al HaHaggados)

[12] Lit. they were exhausted from the smell

[13] Exodus 12:48

[14] One example is Reish Lakish (see Bava Metzia 84a). Bereishis Rabbah loc. cit. brings a story with Yossi Meshisa, see there (see note 7)

[15] See Avos 2:4