The Fragrant Garments - תולדות

Friday, 17 November, 2023 - 2:23 pm

The Fragrant Garments

In one of the most dramatic scenes in the book of Genesis, Jacob, disguised as his older brother Esau, came to his father, who intended to bless Esau. Isaac blessed Jacob with extraordinary blessings: 

And may the Lord give you of the dew of the heavens and [of] the fatness of the earth and an abundance of grain and wine. Nations shall serve you and kingdoms shall bow down to you; you shall be a master over your brothers, and your mother's sons shall bow down to you. Those who curse you shall be cursed, and those who bless you shall be blessed." (Genesis 27:28-29)

Immediately proceeding these blessings, the Torah tells us that Isaac smelled the fragrance of his son, implying that the scent inspired and motivated the blessing: 

And he came closer, and he kissed him, and he smelled the fragrance of his garments, and he blessed him, and he said, "Behold, the fragrance of my son is like the fragrance of a field, which the Lord has blessed! (Genesis 27:27)

What was it about the garments that inspired the blessing? In fact, as Rashi points out, Jacob was wearing goat skins, which do not have a pleasant aroma at all. Rather, the aroma referred to is a spiritual aroma: 

Is it not so that there is no odor more offensive than that of washed goat skins? But this teaches us that the fragrance of the Garden of Eden entered with him.

Garments are external to the person and, therefore, represent wealth and material assets, which, like garments, allow a person to interact with and navigate the world. Isaac sensed that the garments of his son possessed a spiritual aroma because, to the Jew, material possessions, the “dew of the heavens and [of] the fatness of the earth and an abundance of grain and wine” are not an end in themselves but rather they serve a higher purpose. They are the means through which the soul fulfills its purpose of creation, which is to sanctify the earth and infuse it with holiness, goodness, and kindness. The beauty of Jacob, which Isaac sensed, was that not only had Jacob cultivated a spiritual connection to G-d, but additionally he had sanctified the “garments”, the material aspects of life.

Adapted from the Malbim

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