Parshas Toldos – The Scent of Eden

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Toldos, Yaakov and Eisav are born to Yitzchak and Rivka after twenty years of marriage.  The parsha progresses quickly from their births (Bereishis 25), when Yitzchak is sixty years old (25:26), to Yitzchak’s old age, when he is ready to bless his son(s) before his death.  וַיְהִי כִּיזָקֵן יִצְחָק, וַתִּכְהֶיןָ עֵינָיו מֵרְאֹת; וַיִּקְרָא אֶתעֵשָׂו בְּנוֹ הַגָּדֹלand it was when Yitzchak had become old, and his eyes dimmed from seeing, that he summoned Eisav, his older son and he said to him…   וַעֲשֵׂהלִי מַטְעַמִּים כַּאֲשֶׁר אָהַבְתִּי, וְהָבִיאָה לִּיוְאֹכֵלָהבַּעֲבוּר תְּבָרֶכְךָ נַפְשִׁי, בְּטֶרֶם אָמוּת, And make delicacies for me such as I love and bring it to me and I will eat, so that my soul may bless you before I die (Bereishis 27:1,4).

Though Yitzchak requests that Eisav, the eldest son by birth, prepare him tasty foods to eat so that he may bless him before he dies, Rivka – who overhears Yitzchak’s instructions to Eisav – orders her son, Yaakov, to take Eisav’s place, so that he should receive his father’s blessing.

Rivka prepares tasty delicacies for Yaakov to take to his father and dresses Yaakov up in both Eisav’s special cloak, as well as in hairy goatskins, so that Yitzchak would not know that it was Yaakov standing before him (27:15-16).

When Yaakov presents himself to his elderly father, the pasuk says: וַיִּגַּשׁ, וַיִּשַּׁקלוֹ, וַיָּרַח אֶתרֵיחַ בְּגָדָיו, וַיְבָרְכֵהוּ; וַיֹּאמֶר, רְאֵה רֵיחַ בְּנִי, כְּרֵיחַ שָׂדֶה, אֲשֶׁר בֵּרְכוֹ הand he (Yitzchak) drew Yaakov close and kissed him; he smelled the fragrance of his garments and blessed him; and he said, ‘See the fragrance of my son is like the fragrance of the field that Hashem has blessed’ (27:27).

Rashi comments: וירח וגו‘. וַהֲלֹא אֵין רֵיחַ רַע יוֹתֵר מִשֶּׁטֶף הָעִזִּים? אֶלָּא מְלַמֵּד שֶׁנִּכְנְסָה עִמּוֹ רֵיחַ גַּן עֵדֶןAnd he smelled the fragrance of his garments: Is it not true that there is no smell worse than hair of goats?  But this teaches us that the fragrance of Gan Eden came in with Yaakov.

What was it about this narrative that imbued Yitzchak’s being (and garments) with the smell of Gan Eden?

R’ Shimon Finkelman and R’ Zechariah Wallerstein offer a compelling and novel answer.  They write, “Rav Shimon Schwab explains that the mitzvah of kibbud av (honoring one’s father) that Yaakov was fulfilling at that time is what imbued his garments with the scent of Gan Eden.  (For) there is a specific connection between this mitzvah and Gan Eden.

“Adam and Chava were placed in Gan Eden לְעָבְדָהּ וּלְשָׁמְרָהּ, to work it and guard it (2:17), which Chazal interpret to mean to perform positive commandments (l’ovdah) and refrain from transgressing negative commandments (l’shomrah).  When they partook of the Eitz Ha’Daas (the fruit of the forbidden Tree of Knowledge Good and Bad), writes the Zohar, they impaired for all time the spiritual effect in Heaven of the mitzvos that mankind would perform.

“However, their sin affected only those mitzvos which they potentially could fulfill.  Since Adam and Chava did not have parents, kibbud av va’eim (honoring one’s father and mother) was not part of their avodas Hashem.  Therefore, their sin did not affect the spiritual impact of this mitzvah.

“That is why Yaakov’s fulfillment of this mitzvah caused the scent of Gan Eden to accompany him (as he listened to his mother and served his father)” (Honor Them, Revere Them, Artscroll, p.86-87).

What an incredible explanation as to why it was specifically the scent of Gan Eden that Yitzchak smelled as Yaakov entered!  This mitzvah remains forever untainted by the first sin.

Perhaps it would be fair to propose that each time this mitzvah is fulfilled, some metaphysical scent, the koach of the purity of Gan Eden, accompanies the ba’al mitzvah, as we amass zechusim for ourselves.

The gadlus of R’ Mosheh Twersky zt’l HY”D (killed in the Har Nof Massacre on 25 Cheshvan 5775) is well known.  He was a giant in Torah, middos tovos and maasim tovim.  In regard to his fulfillment of kibbud av va’eim, we can only imagine that the scent of Gan Eden was present as he served his parents.

“While R’ Mosheh Twersky was reluctant to allow his own children to do things for him, he was eager to help his parents in any way, large or small.”

A talmid who witnessed the following scene relates: One Friday night, while Rebbi (R’ Twersky) was already sitting at his place at the head of the table, after ha’motzi, he noticed that his mother had gotten up to make her way to the kitchen to help serve the meal.  Rebbi literally jumped out of his chair and ran to the kitchen.  He wanted to serve his mother – and not the other way around.

“Rebbetzin Twersky shared a humorous example of her husband’s exceptional kibbud eim.  Just a few weeks before R’ Twersky’s petirah, his mother, Rebbetzin Atarah Twersky, came for a visit.  R’ Twersky was learning in the dining room, and his mother came in to get something.  R’ Twersky immediately stood up to his full height and remained standing until his mother left the room.  Rebbetzin Atarah didn’t notice that her son had stood for her.  A few minutes later, she again needed something from the dining room.  When she reentered the room, R’ Twersky stood up again and remained standing until his mother left the room.  This then happened a third time, at which point Rebbetzin Atarah noticed what was going on.  She subsequently told her daughter-in-law, ‘I stopped going in there, because otherwise, he would have kept that up the whole day!’” (A Malach in Our Midst, p.255-256).

May we be so fortunate to merit to serve our parents (both in this world and the Next) with arichus yamim v’shanim, as we bring nachas to them, as well as to our Father in heaven, the RS”O.

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום


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