Fruitful Fragrance

Download Audio file

Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

            We are all familiar with the subterfuge through which Yaakov Avinu received the blessing of the of the firstborn from his father Yitzchak  Avinu.  When Yaakov Avinu enters his father’s presence, Yitzchak Avinu “smelled the fragrance of his garments and blessed him. He said, ‘the fragrance of my son is like the fragrance of the field which Hashem had blessed. – And may God give you of the dew of the heavens…’

Rashi understands that it cannot be the fragrance of the washed goatskin that Yaakov Avinu was wearing that Yitzchak Avinu smelled, for that fragrance would not be pleasant. Therefore Rashi explains that the fragrance of the field must refer to the scent of Gan Eden that entered with Yaakov Avinu. But then we are left with the question of how this fragrance can be connected to the garments that Yaakov Avinu wore, and why does the blessing itself seem to begin with the connective “and”? To what is it connecting?

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Kasher in Torah Sheleimah quotes two alternate explanations for the fragrance that Yitzchak Avinu sensed upon Yaakov Avinu’s arrival. The Midrash suggests that the scent was the aroma of the ketoret offering in the future Beit Hamikdosh, or that it was the same smell he sensed at the time he was bound as an offering to Hashem.

Rabbi Wolfson makes an interesting observation about Parshat Toldos. He notes that every aliyah in the parsha includes a variation of the word berachah or an allusion to blessing. The third aliyah, although it does not contain the word berachah, includes an acknowledgment of a peaceful resolution, finally, to the conflict over Yitzchak Avinu’s wells. Parshat Toldos is the sixth parsha of the Torah. The number six is associated with Yosef who is the sixth ushpizin/guest on Sukkot, and the name Yosef itself implies increase of blessings.

With all these allusions, we still need to understand what each of these ideas is about. What is the essence of berachah? Of aroma? Of field?

The Sefas Emes gives us some insights into the importance of each and of their connectedness. The aroma was indeed the aroma of Gan Eden where Adam was originally placed after his creation at the site of the Beit Hamikdosh. Both Gan Eden and the Beit Hamikdosh are the source of blessing. When Adam sinned, and was exiled from Gan Eden, he lost his original spiritual garment that was replaced by physical animal skin garments. This spiritual aroma is still available to us on Shabbat when Hashem gives us a special additional neshamah/soul, which we wish to retain by smelling besamim/spices as Shabbat leaves us. Yaakov Avinu is the nexus that connects these ideas. Yaakov Avinu is the repair for Adam and his sin. He “meets” the place of total spirituality and recognizes it as the gate to heaven. This is the site of the future Beit Hamikdosh from which the blessings will emerge for the world. This is already part of Yitzchak Avinu’s blessing to Yaakov Avinu, that his descendants should carry this fragrance with them every day throughout their lives.

Of all the senses, the sense of smell is most spiritual, for it was never tainted with Eve’s original sin. She saw that the tree was pleasant, she heard the serpent, she touched the tree, and she ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil. The only sense not involved in the sin and therefore still completely connected to Gan Eden was the sense of smell, writes the Bnei Yissaschar, Rav Zvi Elimelech Spira z”l of Dinov and Munkatch. Once the fruit was tasted, good and evil were mixed together, and it was hard to discern which was which. The Bnei Yissasschar explains that the essence of berachah is to separate good from evil. With every berachah we bestow, even a simple mazal tov, we wish to emphasize the positive and separate it from the negative.

It would seem that since the sense of smell remains so spiritual, we would not be required to make a berachah when we smell the spices, continues the Bnei Yissasschar. However, because it exists in the physical world, and our neshamah derives pleasure from it without any waste, we rely on the verse from Tehillim that tells us, “Kol haneshamah tehallel Kah/every soul will praise Hashem;” the soul itself must bless Hashem for the pleasure of this fragrance. Every soul must praise Hashem, implies that even the evil are included in the sense of smell and retain some holiness.

The Tosher Rebbe z”l develops this idea even further in Avodat Avodah. Yaakov Avinu and Esau represent the struggle between good and evil. But good cannot develop its full potential without a struggle. Therefore, it was necessary to have both these children together, and for Esau to develop a natural antipathy to Yaakov Avinu. Only then would Yaakov Avinu struggle so greatly to overcome his own natural, human tendencies. This tendency is evident throughout Jewish history. In times of great anti -Semitism the unaffiliated begin to avow their connection to Judaism. [A most recent example is the journalist Daniel Pearl, so assimilated that he had intermarried, yet upon being slaughtered as a “heretic” to Islam, declared his identity as a Jew not just from his parents, but for his own life and death. CKS]

The ketoret/incense offering in the Beit Hamikdosh was a mixture of many sweet -smelling spices. Also included in the mix was a most foul – smelling spice, the chelbonah/galbanum. The negative is around us, and we must protect ourselves from it. Yitzchak Avinu thought that because Yaakov Avinu didn’t have that strong yetzer horo, he did not need the blessing, whereas Esau needed more help. Rivka Imenuh understood that Yaakov Avinu, in his naivete, needed to learn to differentiate between good and evil. Therefore, when Yaakov Avinu comes into Yitzchak Avinu’s presence, Yitzchak Avinu smells the chelbonah, and realizes that we can’t survive in this world in a state of apathy, but we need to struggle. And when we have these challenges, we must remember that they are for our good, to make us struggle to find the light and work toward it.

In this context, we can understand that our war against Amalek took place in Refidim, where we were weak spiritually as well as physically, notes Rabbi Yoffe z”l, citing Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman H”yd. We need to strengthen ourselves in Torah learning as well as in living a Torah lifestyle. That is how we destroy Amalek. That is the blessing of the ketoret, of the chelbonah and of the field. We need to learn to separate the two and appreciate the resistance we get from the “chelbonah moments” in our lives that force us to struggle and grow stronger.

The Sefas Emes takes us back to the aroma of the clothing in a more esoteric way. He notes that the clothing of the neshamah are our actions, whether sweet or foul, and our neshamot emit corresponding scents. These sweet aromas of our chesed and mitzvoth are the scents originating in the apple fields of Gan Eden, and this is what Yitzchak Avinu smelled when Yaakov Avinu entered, writes Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz z”l in Daas Torah.

It was this moment that was Yaakov Avinu’s moment of trembling in the same fashion as Yitzchak Avinu’s at the akeidah. Yaakov Avinu stood in fear and trembling, not knowing what the outcome of this moment would be. Perhaps his father would even curse him, writes Rabbi Zaichick z”l in Ohr Chodosh. It was the scent of this spiritual struggle that Yitzchak Avinu sensed.

But it was also to the scent of the field itself that Yitzchak Avinu was directing his son’s attention to. While we are grateful for the food we eat, we often overlook the aroma of the food, a gift from Hashem that appeals to our soul. Recognize that gift as a prerequisite for the gifts that follow directly from the dew and the land, writes the Seforno. “See, my son,” we have to appreciate all the goodness Hashem grants us and then He will continue to bless us, adds the Bad Kodesh. If we neglect to make a berachah on every pleasure, we are stealing the godliness that Hashem has invested in it.

In his Sichot Baavodat Hashem, Rabbi Meizlish notes that when we recite a berachah, our focus should be on the goodness of Hakodosh Boruch Hu or we are missing the essence of Hashem’s gift to us. If we were to receive a diamond ring wrapped in a beautiful box, would we focus on the beautiful wrapping and ignore the ring, or would we be wise enough to realize that the wrapping only enhances the precious gift within? Do we recognize the spiritual gift and blessing in each positive experience? Everything in this world was created for His glory, and everything therefore has a spark of spirituality within it, adds Rabbi Wolbe z”l.

Rabbi Akiva Tatz concretizes these ideas for us through analogies. In Worldmask, he notes that we come to understand a person’s essence through his clothes and through his actions. These physical manifestations are the medium through which we know his essence, his soul. Similarly, the only way we can “know” Hashem is through the physical manifestations of His creations, of the world. If one studies the world well, one will recognize the Creator when he transitions into the spiritual world from the physical world.

The human consciousness retains a strong connection to its original home, continues Rabbi Tatz. In the physical sense, when we move away from that place, we experience homesickness. But that is really a manifestation of the soul’s “homesickness” for its origin in the spiritual world, for the place of its closeness with its Creator. And when we are in our physical home, we yearn to travel, to go out to the field, to see the beauty of the world. This is our soul searching to acquire its beauty through Torah, mitzvoth and chesed. Each detail of our lives is a projection of the deeper reality of our souls.

When Yaakov Avinu enters his father’s chambers, he’s wearing the clothes of Gan Eden, his very being emits the sweet fragrance of his being. When Esau enters, he brings with him the odor his essence contains. Yitzchak Avinu can literally smell the difference.

As we meander through the course of our lives, are we focusing on gathering the sweet fragrances of the opportunities for mitzvoth presented to us, or are we focusing on the imitation fragrances that represent the sweet smells on earth? What aromas are we trying to extract and surround ourselves with as we live our lives? May we, the descendants of Yaakov Avinu, enjoy the true fragrance of Gan Eden accompanying us as we travel through life.

Download PDF