• yehoshua steinberg

Toldot: The Smell of Truth ~ Tzvi Abrahams



The Smell of Truth

רֵיחַ: smell

רוּחַ: wind, spirit

רֵיחַיִם: millstone, grinder

יְרִיחוֹ: Yericho

יָרֵחַ: moon

וַיָּרַח אֶת רֵיחַ בְּגָדָיו וַיְבָרְכֵהוּ וַיֹּאמֶר רְאֵה רֵיחַ בְּנִי כְּרֵיחַ שָׂדֶה אֲשֶׁר בֵּרְכוֹ ה’ And he smelled the smell of his clothes and he blessed him, and he said, “See, the smell of my son is like the smell of the field that is blessed by Hashem.”1

Rashi explains that the field referred to in the pasukthat is blessed by Hashem with a pleasant fragrance is a field of apples, a synonym for Gan Eden. Rivkah had given Yaakov the clothes of Eisav known as the בִּגְדֵי חַמוּדוֹת,literally “desirable clothing,” so called because one would become disguised to look like an animal when they were worn, and thus they were sought after by Eisav and Nimrod, both of whom were hunters, אִישׁ צַיִד. Eisav dispossessed the בִּגְדֵי חַמוּדוֹתfrom Nimrod, which were originally worn by Adam HaRishon in Gan Eden. Hence, they carried with them the sweet fragrance of Gan Eden.

Yitzchak recognized the smell of Gan Eden because he himself had been there. Just when Avraham was about to shechthim at the Akeidah, Yitzchak’s soul temporarily left him, entered Gan Eden, and returned.

The Maharsha brings down another opinion from the Midrash that says the smell of Gan Eden was not due to the clothes that Yaakov was wearing, but rather to the smell emanating from Yaakov himself, due to hisצִדְקוּת/righteousness.2

Conversely, when Eisav entered the scene, he brought with him the smell ofGehinnom, as the pasuksays: וַיֶּחֱרַד יִצְחָק חֲרָדָה גְּדֹלָה עַד מְאֹד/And Yitzchak trembled a great trembling. Rashi says that Yitzchak trembled as he saw Gehinnomopen up in front of his eyes, and according to Midrash Rabbah, it was because he smelled the stench of Gehinnom. In brief, Yaakov brought with him the smell of Gan Eden while Eisav brought with him the smell of Gehinnom.

If indeed we are to attribute the differences in smell of Yaakov and Eisav to their respective polar opposite levels of tzidkusandrishus, then the question begs to be asked: how come now, only after his sons have reached the age of sixty-three, does Yitzchak finally comes to his senses — with his sense of smell finally revealing to him the truth?

Another question: Yitzchak recognized the smell of Gan Eden because he had been there, but how did he recognize the smell of Gehinnom?

To help answer these questions, we must take a deeper look into the sense of smell.

רֵיחַ: Smell

If there would be such a notion of donating senses, like we see with organ donors, and someone was willing to pay you a million dollars for one of your senses, which one would you be willing to part with? By far, the sense of smell is the sense that one could easily live without.

Hashem could have easily designed the world without smell. What is it about smell that Hashem deemed so significant to fashion it within His creation?

The Gemara in Brachos, after discussing the various brachoson smells, rhetorically asks from where we know that one must bless on smells, as it says:כָּל הַנְשָׁמָה תְּהַלֵל יָ-הּ/all of the neshamahpraises Hashem, וְאֵיזֶהוּ דָבָר שֶׁהַנְשָׁמָה נֶהֶנִית מִמֶנוּ וְאֵין הַגוּף נֶהֶנֶה מִמֶנוּ,הֶוֵי אוֹמֶר זֶה הַרֵיחַ/and what thing does the neshamahbenefit from where the body doesn’t benefit from — the sense of smell.3

רוּחַ: Wind, Spirit

רֵיחַ בָּא מִרוּחַ /rei’achcomes through the ruach.

The Maharsha states that out of all the senses, smell is the mostruchani.רֵיחַcomes from the passing of רוּחַfrom outside the body into the body by the way of נְשִׁימָה/breath.

Smell, far from being physical, is not even a taste — rather, it is just a whiff of something. It is so fleeting that we don’t even say an after-brachah.

It is so ruchanithat it can be a רֵיחַ נִיחוֹחַ לַה’/pleasing fragrance to Hashem through the burning of the sacrificial offerings and the ketores/incense.

We also see the connection between רֵיחַandרוּחַin connection with Havdalah, where we smell the besamimto revive ourselves from the departing of the extra soul.

Interestingly, the organ of smell, the nose, אַףin Hebrew, is also a word for anger, because anger is exhibited through the flaring of the nostrils. Anger originates from the liver, which heats up the body, which in turn causes shortness of breath, which in Hebrew is called קוֹצֶר רוּחַ/literally a shortness of spirit, because by becoming angry we diminish our spirit and connection with Hashem. This shortness of breath is therefore exhibited in the nose because we are trying to replenish our shortness of spirit by breathing in air. Instead, by breathing in deep breaths, we are able to counteract the anger that Chazal/the Sages call קוֹרוֹת רוּחַ/a cooling of spirit.4

The position of the nose, designed specifically above the mouth, is for the purpose of detecting any food that may have gone off before it enters the mouth. There are dangerous smells, like gas and poison; repugnant smells, like excrement, body odor, rotting food, and death; and there are pleasant smells that draw us close, like perfumes, flowers, meat on the barbecue, etc. Smell has the power to draw close or to repulse. Generally, things that are good for us smell nice, whereas things that are bad for us smell bad.

The Gemara in Brachosbrings a pasukin Hoshea:יֵלְכוּ יֹנְקוֹתָיו וִיהִי כַזַּיִת הוֹדוֹ וְרֵיחַ לוֹ כַּלְּבָנוֹן/Young boys will give off a pleasant smell like the Lebanon,5meaning that in the future, when we do teshuvah, young boys will give off a pleasing fragrance through not sinning. Have you ever been aware of the beautiful smell of a newly born baby? Now we can understand why they have such a gorgeous smell — because they have not yet tasted sin.

On the other hand, when the רוּחַ/ruachof life leaves the body, it leaves behind a stench. The body fills up with the ruach hatumahin the shape of flies and maggots.

So we can now understand why Yaakov smelled of Gan Eden and Eisav ofGehinnom. The tzaddik, who is free of sin, who has ruach hachaim, who is connected to life, smells fragrant. The rasha, who is enveloped in sin, who has lost his connection to life, is no different to a dead body that is filled with tumah. Like the Gemara in Brachossays, the resha’imeven while they are in this world are considered like they are dead, whereas the tzaddikimeven when they leave the world are considered living.

יְרִיחוֹ: Yericho

Rashi to the Gemara in Brachosgives the reason for Yericho’s name as due its abundant palm groves that give off the pleasant smell of its dates, hence יְרִיחוֹfrom its רֵיחַ.6Also, the burning of the incense from the Beis HaMikdash was so strong that it could be smelled even as far as Yericho.

יָרֵחַ: Moon

We can relate יָרֵחַtoרֵיחַin the sense we could say that just like smell is just a whiff of something, so too the light of the moon is just a reflection of the real thing.

רֵיחַיִם: Millstone, Grinder

The Radak in his Sefer HaShorashimconnects רֵיחַיִםtoרֵיחַ. We could say that the mill grinds things down to the point where it becomes a רֵיחַof its former self. Also, the grinding process releases the inner qualities of what is being ground in the form of its רֵיחַ/smell.

InParshas Ki Seitzei,it says that with regards to collateral on a loan, one is not allowed to hold back a רֵיחַיִםovernight, and not just a רֵיחַיִם, but any item a person is dependent upon to make food or his livelihood. Perhaps the Torah is hinting to us with the use of the word רֵיחַיִםthat just like in the physical world we need to break things down in order to make them edible and digestible, so too in order to taste the spiritual world of רֵיחַ/rei’achandרוּחַ/ruach, we need to break ourselves down by refining ourselves to the point where we are in touch with our spiritual core.

InSanhedrin, the Gemara expounds the pasukin Yeshayathat saysוַהֲרִיחוֹ בְּיִרְאַתה’7in connection with the Mashiach. Rav Alexander expounds the wordוַהֲרִיחוֹin the context of רֵיחַיִם/millstone, in that only after the loading of the mill, with all the exertion involved in the grinding, can one benefit from all the hard work. So too יִשְׂרָאֵלwill only be able to benefit from the redemption after the Mashiach has been loaded like a mill with mitzvos and יִסוּרִין/afflictions.8

In contrast, Rava expounds the pasukוַהֲרִיחוֹ בְּיִרְאַתה’ in the context of מַרֵיחַ/smell, that the Mashiach with his extraordinary powers will be able to judge with his sense of smell. Unlike ordinary judges who have to resort to their powers of sight and sound and can therefore be misled by someone’s appearance and (weeping) voice or false testimony, not so the Mashiach, who will judge with his sense of smell, which cannot be mistaken, as the Maharsha says:

כִּי חוּשׁ הַרֵיחַ הוּא רוּחָנִי מֵחֵלֶק הַנְשָׁמָה כמ”ש כָּל הַנְשָׁמָה תְּהַלֵל יָ-הּ,וְאֵיזֶהוּ דָבָר שֶׁהַנְשָׁמָה נֶהֶנִית מִמֶנוּ וְאֵין הַגוּף נֶהֶנֶה מִמֶנוּ,זֶה הַרֵיחַ,אַבָל שְׁאַר הַחוּשִׁים יוֹתֶר גוּפָנִים וְהַטָעוּת מָצוּי בָּהֶם.

Because the sense of smell is ruchani, being a part of the neshamah, like it is written, ‘What thing does the neshamahbenefit from and the body doesn’t benefit from? The sense of smell’; whereas the other senses are more physical and therefore are prone to deception.[//bq]

Before we try to answer the questions from above, we need a bit more background information:

וַיְהִי עֵשָׂו בֶּן אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה וַיִּקַּח אִשָּׁה אֶת יְהוּדִית בַּת בְּאֵרִי הַחִתִּי וְאֶת בָּשְׂמַת בַּת אֵילֹן הַחִתִּי And when Eisav was forty years old, he married Yehudis the daughter of Beri the Chiti, and he married Bosmas the daughter of Ilan the Chiti. And it was painful in the eyes of Yitzchak and Rivkah.9

It pained them because the wives of Eisav burned incense to avodah zarah, the smoke of which caused Yizchak to lose his ability to see straight, as it says: וַיְהִי כִּי זָקֵן יִצְחָק וַתִּכְהֶיןָ עֵינָיו מֵרְאֹת. Rivkah, though, who grew up with avodah zarah, was not as sensitive to it as Yitzchak. The name Bosmas, frombosem/perfume, hints to us that Yitzchak was also affected by the smell of the incense to the point where he lost his ruach hakodesh.

אָמַר ר’יְהוֹשֻעַ בֶּן לֵוִי גָרַם לְהוֹרוֹ [לְאָבִיו]לְסַלֵק מִמֶנוּ רוּחַ הַקוֹדֶשׁ Rabi Yehoshua ben Levi said that it caused his father to lose his ruach hakodesh.10

עֵשָׂו אִישׁ צַיִד Eisav was able to trap his father through his marriage. By bringing avodah zarahinto the house, he was able to pull the wool over his father’s eyes. He was able to disguise the bad smell of being a rashaby wearing the בִּגְדֵי חַמוּדוֹת that smelled of Gan Eden, a bit like someone who has bad body odor that he neutralizes with perfume. This was Eisav who disguised his smell, symbolized by marrying Bosmas, meaning perfumed.

Obviously, Yitzchak knew that his son Eisav, compared to Yaakov, was “off thederech,” but how far off the derechhe didn’t know until Gehinnomopened up under his very eyes. Just like Avraham found it difficult to let go of his son Yishmael, a father will always live in hope that he will eventually be able to impact his son and bring him back from his wayward ways.

So too we are Hashem’s children, בָּנִים לה’, and even though we have strayed from Hashem, Hashem has never abandoned us and still has his hand open for us to return.

וַעֲשֵׂה לִי מַטְעַמִּים כַּאֲשֶׁר אָהַבְתִּי וְהָבִיאָה לִּי וְאֹכֵלָה בַּעֲבוּר תְּבָרֶכְךָ נַפְשִׁי בְּטֶרֶם אָמוּת And make for me tasty food that I like, and bring them to me and I shall eat, and through this my soul will bless you before I die.11

Yitzchak reasoned that through these מַטְעַמִּים/sweet-tasting foods he would regain his ruach hakodeshthrough being in a state of simchahand therefore be able to bring down the blessings.12

After regaining his ruach hakodesh, Hashem opened up his eyes — his inner eye — and he saw the truth to the point where his neshamahwas now able to literally smell the truth.

Now, Baruch Hashem, we are ready to answer our questions!

Question One: If indeed we are to attribute the differences in smell of Yaakov and Eisav from their respective polar opposite levels of tzidkusandrishus, then the question begs to be asked: how come now, only after his sons have reached the age of sixty-three, does Yitzchak finally comes to his senses?


We said above that the Mashiach will judge with his sense of smell, because there is no mistake when it comes to the sense of smell. One literally can smell the truth, and one can smell if something is fishy. But this is only if one’s רֵיחַis in touch with his רוּחַ, and so once Yitzchak regained his ruach hakodesh, he could very much smell the truth.

An additional point: Since Yaakov and Eisav went their separate ways as early as fifteen years old, long before Yitzchak lost his ruach hakodesh, why was Yitzchak unable to smell the rishusof Eisav earlier? The answer given is that early on Yitzchak was unable to feel it, as Eisav was able to trap him with his mouth (כִּי צַיִד בְּפִּיו), however by the time Yitzchak became elderly, Eisav’s rishuswas so great it was impossible to hide.13

Question Two: Yitzchak recognized the smell of Gan Eden because he had been there, but how did he recognize the smell of Gehinnom?


Going with the opinion in the Midrash that the reason for the smell of Gan Eden was because of Yaakov’s tziddkusand not because of the clothes, when Eisav enters the scene, the stench of Gehinnom, due to his rishus, was now all too apparent to Yitzchak, whose power of smell was so acute that he could now only smell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

It’s not that he recognized the smell of Gehinnom, but that he literally smelled the stench of Gehinnomמַמַשׁ, to the point where its smell was so pungent and repugnant that it left him in a state of trepidation.

The name יָרֵחַ/moon also has the connotation of “will give off a pleasant smell,” where a yudat the beginning of a word in Hebrew can also represent the future tense. In the future, the moon, which is compared to the Jewish Nation, will no longer be diminished and instead will return to its former glory, signifying that the Jewish People will have fulfilled their mission, and they too will give off a good רֵיחַ, generated from keeping the mitzvos.14

People who don’t take care of their personal hygiene have bad body odor, even to the point where they become accustomed to their own smell. When we clean ourselves, we no longer smell bad; so too when we are spiritually clean we give off a good aroma.

Besides Gan Eden smelling nice because it gives off the fruity fragrance from the field of apples, so too it is enhanced by the רֵיחַ טוֹב that comes from all the tzaddikimwho are clothed in their mitzvos. Each mitzvah gives off its ownרֵיחַ, just like with the arba minim, where the esroghas taste and רֵיחַ, where taste is Torah and רֵיחַis from doing the mitzvos.

Please G-d, the time should draw near when the Jewish People fulfill their destiny of being like the יָרֵחַ/moon, where by leading a life of mitzvos we will give off a goodרֵיחַ/smell — to be a רֵיחַ נִיחוֹחַ/a pleasant smell and נַחַת רוּחַ לה’/a resting of spirit to Hashem. To be like a רֵיחַיִם/millstone where we grind ourselves down to reveal the sweet-smelling fragrance of our רוּחַ/ruachand perhaps reach the awareness of Yitzchak where we can literally smell the truth.

1Bereishis 27:27.

2Taanis 29b.

3Brachos 43b.

4See Ramchal, Adir BaMarom, p. 76.

5Hoshea 14:7.

6Rashi to Brachos 43a.

7Yeshayah 11:3.

8Sanhedrin 93b.

9Bereishis 26:34.

10Bereishis Rabbah 65:4.

11Bereishis 27:4.

12Kli Yakar on Bereishis ibid.

13See Anaf Yosefto Midrash Tanchuma, Ki Seitzei, s.v., shelo yehei.

14See Shem Mishmuel, Noach5676.


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