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Then his father Yitzchak said to him, "Come close, if you please, and kiss me, my son." So he drew close and kissed him; he smelled the fragrance of his garments and he blessed him; and he said, "See, the fragrance of my son is like the fragrance of a field which Hashem had blessed" (Bereishis 27:26-27).

It was the fragrance of the clothes which Ya'akov wore which inspired Yitzchak to bless him. Rashi brings the question of the Sages: Surely there is no more offensive smell than that of washed goat skins (of which were the garments of Esav which Ya'akov was wearing). The answer is that Scripture implicitly tells us that the perfume of the Garden of Eden entered the room with him and this is what Yitzchak smelled.

There is also a second explanation in the Midrash Bereishis Rabbah (65:22). The Rabbis take the Hebrew word begadav (his garments) and interpret it as if it read bogdav (his traitors). The following story is related there:

At the time of the Roman occupation of Jerusalem, there were some Jewish traitors who saw the handwriting on the wall and concluded that it would be better and safer for them to be on the winning side; so they deserted their own People and pledged allegiance to the enemy. One such person was Yosef Meshita.

Upon conquering the Holy City, the evil Romans set out to destroy the Second Temple. Standing at the portal of the holiest edifice in the world, the Romans made a significant decision: "Let one of them be the first to enter and defile the Temple." And so they approached Yosef Meshita and, in order to seduce him to undertake this monumental mission, they said, "Go in there, and any vessel which you take out with you shall be yours to keep."

Yosef Meshita, the defector, desecrated the Holy Temple. He entered and came out with the beautiful Menorah of Gold in his hand. When the Romans saw how stunning it was, they reneged on their promise and said, "This is not a utensil for a simple layman; but for a king. (Even until today, we see, in the Arch of Titus, how the conquerors returned to Rome triumphantly, displaying the Menorah they had captured). But go in again," they said, "and, this time, whatever you remove will be yours."

Incredibly, Yosef Meshita refused replying, "Is it not enough for me that I angered my G-d once that I should anger him a second time?!"

They tried to persuade him, even offering him three years taxes, yet he refused. Finally they tortured him, but even this did not discourage him. All the while he shouted, "Woe is to me that I have angered my G-d."

The Sages tell us that it was the fragrance of traitors such as Yosef Meshita which Yitzchak smelled in Ya'akov, and he was so impressed by them that he gave him his coveted blessings.

There is a lot to learn from this mind-boggling story. One of the lessons was expressed by Hatzaddik Reb Chatskyl Levenstein ztvk"l, Mashgiach of the Yeshivas of Mir and Ponevizsh, who asked, If Yosef Meshita was such a great person who was able to withstand the Roman's tortures and stubbornly refuse to defile the Beis Hamikdash a second time, then why did he go in the first time?

The answer, he explains, can be understood according to what the Ramchal taught us in his classic Mesillas Yesharim, chapter 2, concerning the importance of deliberation, consideration and evaluation of one's deeds and actions throughout life. The Ramchal clarifies there that the Yetzer Hara knows how important these things are and how, if one were to devote even a slight degree of attention to his ways, there is no question but that he would immediately begin to repent of his deeds and that regret would wax in him until he would cease to sin altogether. Precisely for that reason, he concludes, one of the clever devices of the Yetzer Hara is to mount pressure unrelentingly against the hearts of men so as to leave them no time at all to consider and observe the type of life they are leading.

This, he elaborates further, is exactly what the evil Par'oh did in Egypt. Imagine if we were the King's advisors and found ourselves in the following predicament. There are millions of slaves who have been serving the State loyally, for hundreds of years, under terrible conditions, without a word of protest. Suddenly, some troublemakers appear on the scene, by the name of Moshe and Aharon, and they organize the workers and begin demanding a three day religious holiday. Surely our recommendation to Par'oh would be similar to the sage advice of King Shlomo's older advisors to his son Rechav'am whose people demanded of him, "Your father made our yoke grievous; now therefore make you the grievous service of your father, and his heavy yoke which he put upon us, lighter, and we will serve you" (Melachim I, 12:4). The advisors told him, "If you will be a servant to this people this day, and will serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants forever" (Ibid. 7). Our advice to Par'oh would certainly be to better the slaves' working conditions somewhat, in order to prevent a major revolution in which he risked losing them completely.

But what did Par'oh decree instead? "You shall no more give the people straw to make bricks, as till now; let them go and gather straw for themselves. And the quantity of the bricks, which they did make till now, you shall lay upon them; you shall not diminish anything of it; for they are idle; therefore they cry, saying, 'Let us go and sacrifice to our G-d.' Let more work be laid upon the men, that they may labor in it; and let them not regard vain words" (Shemos 5:7-9).

It seems very strange that Par'oh, who is considered to be a very wise, albeit evil, ruler, would issue such a foolish decree. Wouldn't the harshening of conditions add more fuel to the fire and make the deteriorating situation even worse? How did he even think he would solve the problem of the workers' uprising by giving them more work to do?

The Ramchal explains, "His intention was not merely to deprive them of all leisure so that they would not come to oppose him or plot against him, but he strove to strip their hearts of all thought by means of the enduring, interminable nature of their labor." In other words, Par'oh understood that the root of his problem was that the slaves have spare time to think about their dismal situation and to assemble, discuss it and work on a plan to better it. He decided that the best thing he could do is to assure that they had no time for such consideration; then, even though their lives would be so much more miserable, they would continue in their wretched existence without being able to make any changes for the better.

This is exactly how the Yetzer Hara deals with us. He makes us so ceaselessly busy, with all kinds of matters, so that we don't have time to consider our way of life. For he knows, without a doubt, that if we were to ask ourselves, "Is this what I should be doing? Will this really make me happy, in this world and in the World-to-Come?" we would drastically change our goals and, little by little, improve our actions until we would become the kind of people Hashem wants us to be. Yosef Meshita is the perfect example. Before introspection, he was a traitor to his People who did not hesitate to even defile the Holy Temple and take one of its magnificent vessels for himself. But when he took a moment to think about what he had done, he suddenly turned into a great martyr who withstood the most terrible tortures and, rather than scream about his own pain, only cried out in agony at his regret for having angered Hashem.

The fragrance of Yosef Meshita impressed our Forefather Yitzchak, and it should impress us too how important it is to force ourselves to take the time, daily, for introspection and evaluation of our ways. Only thus will we become the kind of people we really want to be and be happy in this world and the World-to-Come.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel