Thursday, November 28, 2019

the smell of gan eden

When Yitzchak smelled the clothes of Yaakov, now dressed as Eisav, he called out , “R’ei reiach bni k’reich sadeh asher beiracho Hashem.” The simple pshat I think is, like Ibn Ezra writes, that Eisav’s clothes had absorbed the smell of the outdoors -– not outdoors like the smog of NY City, but outdoors like the fragrant smell of country fields.  But that’s not how Rashi explains the pasuk.  Rashi writes that there is no more repulsive odor than that of the hairy hides that Eisav wore.  The sweet fragrance that Yitzchak smelled was not Eisav’s clothes, but rather was the odor of gan Eden that entered with Yaakov.

Sefas Emes (5647) asks: but the pasuk says that it was Eisav’s smelly clothes -– “bigadav” --  which Yitzchak sniffed, not some holy smell of gan eden.  How can Rashi ignore what the text says and substitute something else in its place? 

The Sefas Emes suggests an approach that puts together two ideas we've learned in the past.  Lets start with a gemara in Shabbos 152 that we spoke about a few years ago:

The rabbis taught: "Return the soul to the Lord as clean as He gave it to thee." This is illustrated by a parable of a king who once gave to his attendants suits of clothes. The wise among them took care of them, kept them clean and folded, and used them on special occasions only. The fools put them on and performed their work in them. Naturally, the clothes became dirty. All at once, the king demanded the clothes back again. The wise men returned them clean and whole, but the fools returned them in a dirty and dilapidated condition. The king was well pleased with the wise men, and told them to depart in peace, and had their clothes stored; but the clothes of the fools he ordered to be sent to the washers, and the fools were sent to prison.

Chazal are not interested in when or how we do laundry.  What Chazal are speaking of is how we treat our neshoma.  Sefas Emes quotes from the Zohar that when a person learns Torah his neshoma is dressed in the garb of the ruach of gan eden; when a person does mitzvos he dresses his neshoma in the levush of the nefesh of gan eden; when a person has holy thoughts and aspirations, he merits a suit of the neshoma of gan eden.  A person can also dress the neshoma in the shmutz of olam ha’zeh and make it filthy.   What kind of levush will the neshoma have on it when it comes time for it to return it its maker?

We learn from  “v’kibadito…” that one’s dress on Shabbos has to be different than the way one dresses during the week.  (In certain locales that seems to mean that you wear a suit and tie to work during the week in order to look professional, but come to shul Shabbos morning in Dockers and a casual shirt because it’s the weekend. I don't think that's what Chazal meant...)  Chazal here too are speaking about the neshoma: if you want to absorb the me’ein olam ha’ba of Shabbos then the neshoma needs the appropriate levush. 

In contrast, Rav Ben Tzion Mutzafi writes in his derashos that it was only because Yaakov put on the garments of his brother Eisav that he  was able to utter the words “Anochi Eisav bechorecha.”  Even if, as Rashi explains, this was not a direct lie (Anochi = I am who am I, and “Eisav bichorecha” = Eisav is the bechor), Yaakov would still not have done it if not for his having slipped on the levushim of Eisav.

Anyone who has heard the Carlebach story “Shvartze Wolf” knows that a person’s neshoma can have an exalted levush in the next world, but in this world we don’t see it and don’t sense it.  Someone who is one of the 36 tzadikim can look like just a simple woodchopper or beggar.  It’s hard for a levush that is so holy to make an appearance down here in olam ha’zeh. 

To again borrow from an idea in an old post, when you walk in the door late Friday afternoon and you smell the cholent on the stove, you smell the fresh challah, the kugel, etc. it’s like it’s Shabbos already even though the candles have not been lit -– the whiff of what’s coming makes the Shabbos a reality.  When Shabbos departs we comfort ourselves with besamim –- we want to keep a whiff of Shabbos, of aliya, with us, even though the day itself is gone.  So too, even though the levush of a great person may not really visible in this world, we are still able to pick up a whiff that there is something special there. 

Va’yarach es rei’ach begadav” –- Yitzchak did smell the scent of the hides, the smell of Eisav, a foul smelling odor, exactly as the words say.  This was the levush of a man of the fields, not a yosheiv ohalim.  This is the pshat, the surface meaning of what happened.  But along with that, Yitzchak got a whiff of something else, of gan eden.   Yitzchak detected that there was something more here, something below the surface, something that is beyond pshat, beyond the olam ha'zeh appearance of things.   Therefore, he gave his bracha. 


  1. Yaakov, in gan eiden within, was brought the beastly field clothes of his brother to see what he would call himself so dressed (Bereishis 2:19); and that which he called himself, "Eisav", >hu sh'mo< [was no "lie"]...

  2. the "foul...odor" "of the hides" was necessary to satisfy the Satan (who found in it a rei'ach ni'cho'ach), so that he wouldn't disrupt the passage of the blessing to Yaakov; but Yitzchak "detected" the tahor quality of the leather clothes, for Rivka had recently immersed them for the first time [on a hunch? with siyata dishmaya?]

  3. "when a person learns Torah his neshoma is dressed in the garb of the ruach of gan eden"

    how was Yaakov learning the very matter before us? did the man of tents think that there was a double-safeik in play: if Yitzchak did not die shortly after [doubtful that he would], then his blessing wasn't b'terem amoos (27:4); nor was it lifnei moso (27:10). so sfeika sfeika* he Yaakov would not strictly speaking be obeying his mother over against the husband to whom she must defer**, and the shenanigans could proceed?

    *or if combined as a single sfeika, then say that before matan Torah, sfeika d'oraisa l'kula

    **possibly a new problem: if it turns out this was not Yitzchak's 'blessing before he die', perhaps it was then a bracha levatala that Yaakov received at :28-:29 (but not at 28:3-4)? {of course more simply levatala in that Yitzchak's kavanah didn't square with the object that he blessed -- had Yaakov placed a stumbling block before his progenitor? and that nagging matter of g'neivas da'as... [was there no malach among the legions b'shamayim tasked with 'family therapy'?]}

    if Yitzchak lived long after, could he revise the final bracha like he might revise a will? (perhaps with permission from Above?)

  4. "...from the Zohar that... ... ...its maker?" [the entire fourth paragraph]

    so 28:20, v'nasan-li lechem l'echol u'beged lil'bosh: 'if Hashem will sustain me with bread, that He may continue to dress my [deserving] neshoma in the nefesh and ruach and neshoma of gan eden, until I return it to my father [my maker] just as he sensed it at my departure for Charan...'

    and what Torah did Yaakov study in Padan Aram, to win and keep a fragrant ruach for his soul? of gilgulim in detail, as hinted at early by the great stone that he rolled of the mouth of the well (the same stone that he would roll off and on for decades to come)...

    and this sugya would have a particularly telling supernatural future, for we hear that Rabbi Akiva was a gilgul of Yaakov: just as Yaakov mastered nekudim etc (rings and speckles and freckles and stripes) on the bodies of the sheep, 30:39, so Rabbi Akiva would master the tagin on the bodies of the Hebrew letters!

    furthermore this [hidden prophetic] pairing of the third av with this particular sage would be supernaturally pleasing to Yitzchak when Yaakov finally returned (with his neshoma) to his father, as pleasing as the fragrance of a field which Hashem has blessed (27:27) -- Rabbi Akiva saw, even in a field destroyed (Micha 3:12), a field blessed (Zecharia 8:4-5)!!

    1. (does the Hebrew language imply gilgul? the neshoma must learn its lesson/s through repetition, mishnah, of olam hazeh?)

      [and btw, repetition can sometimes add soul to something...]