Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
Keen Sense of Smell
Parshas Toldos centers around the relationship of Yaakov and Eisav,
the twin sons of Yitzchak and Rivkah. The Torah notes that while,
"Rivkah loved Yaakov," Yitzchak was taken in by the verbal ploys of
Eisav, "And Yitzchak loved Eisav, because he ensnared [Yitzchak] with
his mouth. [25:28 and Rashi]"
Even the most cursory reading of the parsha makes it undeniable
that the differences between Eisav - who was a "man of the field," and
Yaakov, who was "a wholesome man, dwelling in tents [of study]" -
were not lost on Yitzchak. Yitzchak knew that "the name of G-d was
not usually on Eisav's lips" as it was on Yaakov's [Rashi 27:21]. He
knew that while "Yaakov spoke gently and with respect," Eisav "spoke
harshly and directly. [Rashi 27:22]" He was wary enough to warn
Eisav that when he goes to hunt game for Yitzchak, he should be
careful to take only from wild animals, and not to steal from others
[Rashi 27:4]; and to sharpen his knife, in order to be sure that his
shechitah (ritual slaughter) not render his catch unkosher.
Aware as Yitzchak may have been of the differences between Yaakov
and Eisav, he still had great love and respect for Eisav. So much so
in fact, that when the time came to give over the blessings that would
ultimately determine who of them would be the one to carry on the
lineage of the Jewish nation, his choice lay with Eisav. Although Eisav
was the not the scholar, nor the superficially devout man that Yaakov
was, Yitzchak saw Eisav as being sincere and frank - he made no airs,
was honest and straightforward, and, in his eyes, beneath Eisav's
uncultured surface lay an unpolished gem, a character of great
integrity and piousness, worthy of being the successor of himself and
his father Avraham. Eisav, for his part, realized that his father was
taken in by his apparent sincerity, and would reinforce this impression
by asking his father questions that seemingly revealed his "true
character" - "Father," he would ask, "how does one tithe salt, and
straw?" which, of course, require no tithing [Rashi 25:27].
This is the backdrop within which Yitzchak consciously decides to
give his paternal blessings to Eisav, and asks him to "go out to the
field and hunt game for me, so that my soul may bless you before I
die [27:3-4]." We all know that Rivkah, who was not taken in by
Eisav's facade of sincerity, and sees grave danger in giving the
blessings to Eisav, pulls the old "switcheroo," disguises Yaakov as
Eisav, and has him bring a meal that she has prepared to Yitzchak.
Although Rivkah was able to disguise Yaakov superficially, by dressing
him in Eisav's clothing, and placing goat's hair on Yaakov's smooth
skin, she was not able to disguise Yaakov's true nature. Yitzchak is
confused and distressed by the contrast of a man who physically
seems to be Eisav, yet has the personality of Yaakov. His confusion
culminates in his troubled declaration, "The voice is the voice of
Yaakov, yet the hands are the hands of Eisav! [27:22]"
It is at this point in the drama that an amazing thing happens.
Yitzchak beckons Yaakov/Eisav to draw near, kisses him, remarks on
his sweet fragrance ("See, the fragrance of my son is like the
fragrance of a field that Hashem has blessed!" [27:27]), and then
bestows upon him the coveted paternal blessings, thus conferring the
lineage of the Jewish nation to Yaakov. The rest, as they say is
The reader, however, is left dumbfounded. What ultimately gave
Yitzchak the resolve to continue with his blessings, despite his distress
and confusion as to who it was that stood before him?
A conservative Rabbi who's been leading a congregation
for many years is upset by the fact that he's never been
able to eat pork. So he devises a plan. He flies to a remote
tropical island and checks into a hotel. He immediately
gets himself a table at the finest restaurant and orders the
most expensive pork dish on the menu.
As he's eagerly waiting for it to be served, he hears his
name called from across the room. He looks up to see ten
of his loyal congregants approaching. His luck, they'd
chosen the same time to visit the same remote location!
Just at that moment, the waiter comes out with a huge
silver platter carrying a whole roasted pig with an apple in
its mouth. The Rabbi looks up sheepishly at his
congregants and exclaims, "Wow, you order an apple in
this place - and look how it's served!"
Rashi (26:34), quoting Chazal, compares Eisav to the pig. Animals
require two signs in order to be classified as kosher: split hooves and
chewing their cud. The pig has the former, not the latter (see Vayikra
11:3,7). However, unlike other hooved animals, that fold their legs
beneath them when they lie down, the pig stretches forth its hooves,
as if to say, "See how kosher I am!" So too Eisav went to great
trouble to give his father the impression of sincerity and
righteousness, all the while committing grave and unforgivable sins.
He duped Yitzchak, as it were, by making him "miss the pig for the
Smell is referred to by Chazal, our Sages, as "something from which
the soul takes pleasure." "From where do we derive," our Sages ask,
"that one must pronounce a blessing over good fragrances? For it is
written (Tehillim/Psalms 150:6), 'Let every soul praise G-d!' What
[thing] gives pleasure to the soul? This refers to smell." [Talmud,
When Yaakov drew near, Yitzchak became aware of his beautiful
fragrance. Our Sages say he smelled "like a field of apples," which is
a reference to the Garden of Eden [see Rashi 27:27]. The holy Zohar
comments, "The Garden of Eden came in with Yaakov, for it is a field
of holy apples." It was this - the scent of Yaakov - that finally made
Yitzchak realize he had been had. Scent is connected to the soul - so
if Eisav was indeed a "gem in the rough," where was the scent? Why
was it only now - when this perplexing Yaakov/Eisav character stood
before him - that Yitzchak's spiritually-sensitive sense of smell picked
up the fragrance of Gan Eden?
"And he smelled the fragrance... and he said, 'See, the fragrance of
my son - Yaakov, is like the fragrance of a field which Hashem has
blessed! And may G-d give you from the dew of the heavens, and
the fatness of the earth...'" All along there had been something
missing - the "smell of the sincere" - yet it was only now that Yitzchak
Have a good Shabbos.