As a boy, I used to get a lot of mosquito bites in the summer. I asked my mother why I get so many mosquito bites, while others hardly get any. “Because you smell so sweet, the mosquitoes like you better!” she replied.
Parshas Toldos has a great lesson about a sweet scent. Yaakov disguised himself as Eisav by wearing Eisav’s special coat to fool Yitzchak into giving him the brachos of the firstborn. When Yaakov approached Yitzchak to kiss him, the Torah says, “Yitzchak smelled the scent of Yaakov’s clothes and gave him a bracha.” Yitzchak exclaimed, “See, the scent of my son is like the scent of the field that Hashem blessed.” Rashi tells us that Yitzchak was surprised by the pleasant scent, as the coat of Eisav was made out of goat hair that naturally had an awful stench. This time, however, Yitzchak smelled a pleasant fragrance—the sweet smell of Gan Eden, as alluded to in the words “the field blessed by Hashem.”
Indeed, the midrash says Eisav’s coat was the special garment that Hashem fashioned for Adam Harishon and thus had the scent of Gan Eden. Nonetheless, Rav Wolbe notes that when Eisav wore this coat to serve his father in the past, it did not emit a pleasant fragrance. Eisav’s generally abhorrent behavior not only nullified the scent of Gan Eden but turned it into a putrid scent.
Do a person’s actions produce a spiritual fragrance? Rav Chaim Volozhin stated that each time we do a mitzvah, we create a spiritual energy similar to being surrounded by Gan Eden. While this spiritual energy departs when the mitzvah is done, the mitzvah’s reward is saved for us, to be credited in the next world. Additionally, the departure leaves behind a scent, that of Gan Eden. The opposite is also true: An aveira, sin, creates a spiritual energy which stems from gehenom. Such energy leaves behind a foul odor!
The concept of actions leaving behind a spiritual scent is elucidated by Rav Moshe Cordovero. He explains that even after a person does teshuva, a foul odor from the aveira remains. It’s like garbage left in a waste bin—the bin still has a putrid odor even after the garbage is removed. Yet Hashem, in His infinite kindness, not only removes the sin but also removes the foul odor that it caused.
The spiritually sweet aroma of a person after he performs a mitzvah is what attracts opportunities for more mitzvos for this individual. Conversely, the foul odor of a sin attracts other negative actions, just like garbage attracts more flies. Rav Cordovero explains that this is the meaning of the Mishna when it says, “mitzvah goreres mitzvah and aveira goreres aveira—performance of a mitzvah leads to another mitzvah and performance of an aveira leads to another aveira.”
Rav Avraham Yehoshua Heschel from Kapischnitz came to shul one Friday night and covered his mouth and nose. After davening, the chasidim asked him to explain. He replied, “There were people here who were involved in terrible aveiros and were emitting a foul odor. Yet on Shabbos morning, when Rav Heschel came to shul, he did not cover his nose. He said, “The smell is not so bad!” Then at Shabbos Mincha he said, “It smells so good!” His students asked, “What changed? The same people are still here!” He replied, “Since they spent the day keeping Shabbos, they brought upon themselves the sweet smell of Shabbos, and Shabbos is like Gan Eden, as we sing in zemiros: ‘mei’ein olam haba.’ So they immersed themselves in a nice, pleasant spiritual smell.”
Every Shabbos, as we keep the halachos of Shabbos, we are doubly immersing ourselves in Gan Eden: the mitzvah of observing the laws of Shabbos is Gan Eden, and Shabbos itself replicates Gan Eden.
In today’s world, we use fragrances to attract people. Many stores place diffusers near their entrances that emit a pleasant fragrance to lure people inside. Some people stage their homes for sale by placing freshly baked bread in the oven. Others bake a batch of chocolate chip cookies to give the house a nice and homey aroma.
If we want our homes to have a truly sweet fragrance, we need to fill them with a spiritual “fragrance diffuser.” When we fill our home with mitzvos and chesed, that infuses our homes with the fragrance of Gan Eden! Each time we immerse ourselves in Torah and mitzvos, it produces a pleasant aroma that induces us to perform even more mitzvos. By surrounding ourselves with this fragrance from our positive deeds, we are effectively living in Gan Eden in this world!
Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch, where he leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. PTI has attracted adult Jews of all ages from all over northern New Jersey for its learning programs. Fees are not charged but any contributions are always welcome. Beyond PTI, Rabbi Bodenheim conducts a weekly beis midrash program with chavrusa learning in Livingston plus a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected] For more info about PTI and its Torah classes,