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.