Toldot | "Behold, The Scent of My Son..."
Summarized by Rav Eliyahu Blumenzweig
"And [Yitzchak] smelled the scent of [Ya'akov's] CLOTHES ... and he said: Behold - the scent of my SON is like the scent of a field which God has blessed...." At first, we are told that Yitzchak smelled his son's CLOTHES. Why, then, does he mention the scent of his SON in the blessing?
In this connection, we learn in the gemara that Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said of himself that he had not reached Esav's level of fulfillment of the mitzva of honoring parents. Each time Esav came to perform this mitzva, he would change his clothes in honor of his father, while Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel would only change his clothes when he went out to the market. Esav, therefore, excelled in honoring parents, and it seems that this characteristic is apparent in his descendants too - as is evidenced by the story of Dama ben Netina of Ashkelon, who refused to wake his father from his sleep even for all the fortune in the world (Kiddushin 31a).
The mitzva of honoring parents was accepted by Esav and the nations of the world on an intellectual basis - as a logical obligation. Since the number of such mitzvot is limited, they are able to practice them strictly and accurately and to achieve admirable levels in their fulfillment. The nation of Israel, on the other hand, has 613 mitzvot to fulfill, including some which have no apparent logical explanation, the classic example of which is the red heifer. Therefore, the story of Dama ben Netina stresses the idea that the Sages repaid him the full value of his monetary loss (what he could have earned had he woken his father) in their purchase of his red heifer - as if to purchase, as it were, mitzvot lacking a logical explanation with mitzvot having a sound intellectual basis.
Indeed, those mitzvot which are performed by the gentile nations out of their own understanding are external actions, performed in accordance with their thinking. For this reason, Esav changes his clothes - since clothes are man's outermost manifestation. The mitzvot that characterize the nation of Israel, on the other hand, and those in which they excel, come from their innermost nature - whether they have an explanation or not, and under any conditions. They are derived from Israel's very essence, and hence even though Yaakov wears Esav's clothes and surrounds himself with that physicality, his internal essence remains the same and still leaves its imprint. Even when the scent of the hunting clothes enters with Ya'akov, Yitzchak "smells the scent" of his son. The scent of the innermost essence prevails over the outer appearance.
"'And he smelled the scent of his clothes:' Do not read 'begadav' (his clothes) but rather 'bogedav' (his deceivers) - this refers to the sinners among Israel."
If the mitzvot are external then they are dependent on external factors, and when these change, then the mitzvot collapse together with the person's character. If the mitzvot are internal, then even when external factors change, the internal reality remains firm. Ya'akov wears Esav's clothes as a mere garment concealing his internal essence - "the scent of my son" - and all his mitzvot are derived from that essence. It survives and remains forever, in all his descendants - even the sinners among them, who are in truth "garments" concealing the true nature of the nation.
(Originally delivered at Seuda Shelishit, Shabbat Parashat Toldot 5732.
Translated by Kaeren Fish.)