Yesterday, we noted Yitzchak’s proclamation upon smelling the scent of Yaakov’s garments when he brought him the meat Rivka had prepared for him: “Behold, my son’s smell is like the field which the Lord has blessed” (27:27). Rashi, citing the Midrash, raises the question of why Yitzchak was so enthusiastic about the smell emanating from Yaakov. As we read earlier (27:16), Yaakov had on his arms the skins of the goats which Rivka had used to prepare the meat for Yitzchak. Goatskins, the Midrash observes, are foul-smelling. Why, then, did Yitzchak compare this stench with the scent of “the field which the Lord has blessed?” The Midrash, as Rashi cites, answers that the scent of Gan Eden entered the room along with Yaakov as he appeared before Yitzchak.
How might we understand the Midrash’s reference to the “scent of Gan Eden” in this context? And how was this scent able to offset the stench of the goatskins covering Yaakov’s arms?
One answer, perhaps, is that the Midrash here seeks to convey the message expressed by the Gemara’s comment in Masekhet Pesachim (65b), “It is an honor for the children of Aharon to walk about [in the Beit Ha-mikdash] up to their knees in blood.” Some might have presumed that it was unbecoming for the kohanim, the nation’s representatives serving before the Almighty in the Temple, to have to walk about the Temple courtyard when it was filled with the blood of the paschal sacrifices on Erev Pesach. The Gemara therefore teaches that to the contrary, the kohanim saw this as a mark of pride and distinction. Activities which might strike us as unseemly and repulsive become beautiful and glorious when they are done in the context of a mitzva, as part of one’s service of God. Even a scene as inherently unattractive as a courtyard filled with the blood of animals is considered magnificent and exquisite when it is the courtyard of the Beit Ha-mikdash filled with the blood of sacrifices.
We might explain the Midrash’s remark concerning Yaakov’s scent in a similar vein. Yaakov, in truth, brought to the room the displeasing stench of goatskins. However, Yitzchak considered this smell the “scent of Gan Eden” because it was associated with a mitzva. He had asked his son to hunt an animal and prepare him meat, and his son complied out of respect and love for his father. From Yitzchak’s perspective, then, the stench of the goatskins was the “scent of Gan Eden,” a magnificent and attractive smell. The Midrash’s intent is not that Yaakov actually had a pleasant, fragrant scent, but rather that even the offensive stench of goatskins was pleasing since it was associated with his respecting his father. We are to regard mitzvot and anything associated with them as “fragrant” like “the scent of Gan Eden,” even if they entail things which would otherwise strike us as unseemly. If we truly appreciate the centrality of avodat Hashem in our lives and the privilege we are given to serve the Almighty, then even smelly “goatskins” are beautiful when they are used in the performance of a mitzva.