Monday, Jul 22, 2024

The Jewish Scent

Once again, in this week's parsha, we read an account portrayed in just a few pesukim which reverberates through the ages. This week, in Parshas Toldos, we study the exchange between Yaakov and Eisov which eternally defines the role of Jews in golus and draws the lines of an eternal division bein Yisroel lo'amim.

Every year, as the baal kriah reads how Yaakov Avinu, clad in the shaggy coat of his brother, enters his father’s chamber, our heartbeats quicken. We wonder how his father would accept him.


We then hear how Yitzchok Avinu, unable to see, touched Yaakov and felt the hair of his coat, proclaiming, “The gentle speech and mannerisms are that of Yaakov, but the hands are those of Eisov.”


Limited as his vision was, Yitzchok sensed something else. The posuk relates that when he kissed Yaakov, Yitzchok smelled his rei’ach and vayevurcheihu, blessed him. Rashi states that though the cloak was made of goat skin, which generally has an awful odor, the fragrance of Gan Eden entered the room with Yaakov.


The posuk continues that upon noting that scent, Yitzchok proclaimed, “Reiach beni kereiach hasodeh asher beircho Hashem.Rashi quotes the Chazal that Yaakov smelled of an apple orchard. Upon sensing the fragrance of the orchard, Yitzchok determined that Yaakov deserved the brachos of “Veyiten lecha.” Those brachos have endured through the ages – yiten veyachzor veyiten – and continue to sustain us.


The Darkei Moshe quotes the Maharil, who says that this is the reason we dip an apple in honey on Rosh Hashanah: “kedei lirmoz al sedei tapuchim hayoduah.” Yitzchok smelled the chakal tapuchim as Yaakov appeared before him for the brachos.


It is interesting to note that the Vilna Gaon in Shulchan Aruch [O.C. 583] states that it is well known that the story transpired on Rosh Hashanah. Apparently this is based on the Zohar in Emor 99b.


The sweet scent of the orchard is what made the difference in Yaakov receiving the eternal blessings.


If we approach this week’s parsha properly, we can learn a powerful lesson. We all know that we are judged by our words and actions. This week we find that we are also judged by our scent.


The intangibles and nuances of Yiddishkeit are what define us. One can be a great tzaddik, accomplished in deed and learning, but if he is lacking that “shmeck,” if something doesn’t smell right, he isn’t worthy of brochah.


We are always being judged. As soon as a religious Jew steps out of his home in the morning wearing his yarmulka and distinctive dress, he is being studied, scrutinized and observed.


The smell of Gan Eden is acquired by living a life of Torah and mitzvos, by being proper, kind, gentle and honest. Everything we do has to be beyond reproach. We have to be people about whom others can say that they sense the reiach of Gan Eden. We have to be people about whom others say that they see upon us the blessings of Hashem.


Rav Meir Shapiro traveled to America to raise funds for his yeshiva, Chachmei Lublin. He visited several cities, soliciting donations from supporters of Torah. One of his hosts recounted that before leaving the house, the Lubliner Rov would stand in front of a mirror and brush his beard. The host was stunned.


Noticing the sense of wonderment, the great rosh yeshiva explained his actions.


“Here in America, there are many people from the old country who have discovered a new way of life. Many have left the path of their parents and grandparents from the old country, tragically veering off in a different direction. At the speeches I deliver in the cities I visit, I notice people who fit that description sitting in the audience. Some even bring their children to hear me speak.


“It is likely that they come because with my rabbonishe hat, coat and long beard, I remind them of the rabbonim of their youth. As much as they try to acclimate to the new world, they miss the old one. I might be the only European rov their children have ever seen. I want the experience to be as effective as possible. I want to etch into their memory and conscience as positive an image as possible of an old-fashioned rov.”


The Lubliner Rov lived a life of perfection in deed and thought. The subtleties and intangibles were equally beautiful, so that the scent of the garden never left him.


The Torah is composed of halachos and dinim, but not every situation is directly addressed in Shulchan Aruch. In situations such as those, an appreciation for the middah which constitutes the reiach of an ehrliche Yid is needed. It is in those times that people who are truly committed to the Yiddishkeit of Shivisi Hashem lenegdi somid reflect the beauty of the Torah way of life in the way they comport themselves.


This mode of conduct is what Shlomo Hamelech refers to in his admonition not to depart from your mother’s teachings: “Al titosh Toras imecha (Mishlei 1:8). The messages of a mother comprise the spirit of Torah. It is interesting to note that Yaakov Avinu embodied the middah of emitting the pleasant reiach specifically after following the direction of his mother to enter Yitzchok’s room, fulfilling the dictum of “Al titosh Toras imecha.


When we are asked questions by outsiders, we should ensure that we speak in a way that will generate Kiddush Hashem and not, chalilah, the opposite. Torah and mitzvos are not bargaining chips. They are a way of life. When politicians come around tempting us to support them, we should let them know that we follow an ancient creed and we are not for sale. We don’t always go with the winner. We have more pride than that. We have values and principles that are not for sale.


When people turn to us for advice and counsel, and look up to us for guidance, we should present a proper tower of faith and always behave in an upstanding fashion.


For a most inspiring example of how we can engage the outside world while maintaining a value system and living by its dictates, we need look no further than Reb Moshe Reichmann zt”l, a global figure with business interests in many realms and countries, but first and foremost an ambassador of Toras imecha.


Whoever dealt with him sensed the reiach hasodeh. They saw the seriousness on Reb Moshe’s face and understood that this was a man with a higher calling. They blessed him and they trusted him, for they knew he was a scion of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov. They knew he wouldn’t lie, cheat or take advantage of anyone.


In his business dealings, he was a gentleman of stature, dignity and integrity. In tzedakah, he was a trailblazer, setting the bar and standard of what is demanded of the wealthy, going to unprecedented lengths in supporting the poor and needy. He was an unparalleled builder of Torah, establishing and supporting yeshivos, kollelim and Bais Yaakovs throughout Klal Yisroel, never seeking anything for himself.


At the levaya, Rav Yaakov Michoel Hirschman spoke of the Motzoei Shabbos he escorted someone seeking a donation for a worthy cause to the Reichmann home. Reb Moshe gave the man $250,000. An hour later, another person went to see Reb Moshe for a different cause and also received a $250,000 check. Rav Hirschman said that it was just a regular Motzoei Shabbos, and that’s how Reb Moshe was.


Wealthy, yet simple. Regal, yet humble. He was blessed with a huge heart, a brilliant mind, the wherewithal to assist so many, and the burning desire to create a reiach nichoach lifnei Hashem.


One year, right before Pesach, he completed a successful business deal. The first thing he did was send Maran Rav Elazar Menachem Shach $3 million to distribute to Bnei Brak’s needy to brighten their Yom Tov. He felt that since he had earned that money before Yom Tov, it was granted to him so that he can benefit others, enhancing their Yom Tov. That is a person with a reiach nichoach.


He thought in large terms, never compromising on excellence. No mission was impossible to complete.


Over thirty years ago, an expectant Yerushalmi woman became seriously ill. Her husband rushed to the Steipler Gaon in Bnei Brak, begging him to daven for his wife’s health. The Steipler told the man that he wasn’t able to help him, but that there was someone else who could. “Go travel to Reb Moshe Reichmann and ask him to daven for you,” he said.


This story transpired years before Moshe Reichmann was a household name. The man thus asked the Steipler who he was referring to and why he was sending him to this person. The Steipler responded, “He lives in Toronto. Go there and find him. Ihr darft em betten. Ehr ken poilin.


The Steipler explained that the Gemara says in Maseches Pesachim (49b), “Lo motzah talmid chochom, yisah bas gedolei hador.” Therefore, he said, “You should go to him and ask him to daven for you.”


Many years later, the man was in Toronto and introduced himself to Mr. Reichmann, confident that he would remember him and the time the Steipler said that his tefillos have much value. Reb Moshe was so humble, he did not recall the episode.


When Israeli mosdos haTorah were threatened by financial deficits several decades ago, he made up the difference and saved the world of Torah. He didn’t just give, he gave happily. He made himself available for collectors, never talking down to anyone. Every Toronto institution knew that he would cover their deficit. And when his business experienced a downturn and he lost billions of dollars, he didn’t sulk in a corner. He felt that he had the responsibility to keep the local mosdos afloat until they could regain their bearings. He himself went around soliciting on their behalf. And to the extent that he was able to, he contributed.


His investment in Canary Warf imploded along with much of his wealth shortly before Shabbos. He told his wife what happened, and that Shabbos was conducted as usual. There was no way to discern from his demeanor that he had experienced an enormous loss. Word had not yet spread of what had transpired and meshulochim lined up outside his door that Motzoei Shabbos. He sat in his room as he always had, happily writing checks. Though the amounts were much smaller than what he had previously given, he was happy nonetheless.


His shlichus was to be a giver, and although he had experienced a loss that would have broken smaller men, he was happy that Hashem allowed him to continue his mission. That is a person with a reiach nichoach.


A prominent Toronto chessed personality and confidant of his accompanied hundreds of needy individuals to the Reichmann home over the years. He related that although Mr. Reichmann was always generous, what most touched him was not the size of the check. Nor was it the way he patiently listened to the pitch, respectfully asking questions and displaying a genuine interest in the cause.


What this person found most touching was the way Reb Moshe would walk each visitor to the door and help them into their coat, offering them a parting message about their own significance. The askan recounted how the people he would accompany left the Reichmann home feeling ten feet tall, ready to take on the world, certain that their particular cause was a special one.


Reb Moshe managed to imbue them with chizuk to go on, not only with words and actions. With his bearing and conduct he transmitted a strong unspoken message, enabling fundraisers to have the self-confidence to continue in their missions and visit benevolent Jews in the tzedakah-capital of Toronto.


Mr. Reichmann worked his way up the economic ladder. Following the war, he learned in England, Mir and Ponovezh, where he was beloved by his rabbeim and chaveirim. Recognizing his talents, Rav Avrohom Kalmanowitz dispatched him to Morocco to direct the local Otzar Hatorah school. He improved the yeshiva and attracted one thousand children to be educated in the ways of Torah. He established schools throughout that country for thousands more. In fact, The New York Times, in a glowing obituary, wrote that “in an interview with Institutional Investor [in the year 2000], Mr. Reichmann said his business accomplishments had never given him the sense of fulfillment he experienced as a youthful” mechanech back then.


When he immigrated to Canada, Reb Moshe settled first in Montreal, where his initial commercial efforts didn’t meet with much success. The Satmar Rebbe came to town, and when they met, the Rebbe asked the young Moshe Reichmann how business was going. Reb Moshe told the Rebbe that he wasn’t doing too well. He said that although the opportunities for success were better in Toronto, he remained in Montreal for the chinuch of his children.


The Satmar Rebbe advised Reb Moshe to move to Toronto and told him not to worry about his children. They would do well there as well, the Rebbe said, assuring him that his children would make him proud. The brochah went on to be fulfilled in a most obvious fashion. There is something special about the entire family, a mishpacha of elegance, grace, tznius and genuine achrayus to Klal Yisroel, children and ainiklach who stand as tall as the buildings he built.


In his hesped at the levaya, Rav Yaakov Michoel Hirschman recounted that Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l told him that Toronto is a meritorious city because Reb Moshe Reichmann lives there.


It can be said that he possessed the “reiach hasodeh asher beircho Hashem.”


Several years ago, I read a book that recounts heroic tales of the Holocaust, describing what transpired when the Nazis arrived in Kelm and the Yidden there knew that their end was near. They were rounded up and marched out to their certain deaths. Rav Doniel Movoshovitz of Kelm asked for permission to return home one last time. Once permission was granted, he went home, brushed his teeth and then returned to the lineup.


Calmly and softly, Rav Doniel explained that the Yidden were going to be offered as korbanos tzibbur. A korban tzibbur, he said, is described as bearing a reiach nicho’ach, a pleasant smell.


“I wanted to be sure that as a korban, I will have that reiach nicho’ach, so I went home to brush my teeth,” said Rav Doniel.


He then proceeded to address the other korbanos tzibur, preparing them for their holy mission.


Rav Doniel, Rav Gershon Miadnik and Rav Kalman Beinishevitz led the talmidei hayeshiva and residents of Kelm in the singing of Adon Olam and ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu as they returned their holy souls to their Maker.


The Kelmers lived lives of reiach nichoach, attracting talmidim from all over and inspiring generations. Their tragic petirah was also a reiach nichoach, a kapparah and a source of merit for the rest of Am Yisroel.


When the famed mashgiach, Rav Yeruchom Levovitz zt”l, was niftar, Rav Doniel delivered a hesped. He recounted that during the First World War, the Slabodka Yeshiva was exiled from Lithuania to Kremenchuk in Ukraine. When the war ended, the Alter of Slabodka sent a telegram to his talmid, Rav Yeruchom, asking him to reopen the yeshiva in Slabodka so that when the talmidim would return, they wouldn’t come to an empty shell, but to a flourishing yeshiva.


Rav Yeruchom, who combined the grandeur of Kelm and the gadlus ha’odom of Slabodka, rode the train to its last stop in the capitol city of Kovno. From there he set out to walk to Slabodka, a distance of a half hour. As he began walking, people saw him and began flocking to him. His regal stature and comportment were magnetic. Storekeepers who saw him walking by closed their shops and approached him. Before long, there was a trail of shoemakers, smiths, grocers, peddlers and young boys following Rav Yeruchom as he walked from Kovno to reopen the Slabodka Yeshiva.


By the time they reached the building, there were three hundred people with him. He led them into the yeshiva.


Rav Doniel recalled that they cleaned up the building and Rav Yeruchom delivered a shmuess. When he finished, the 300 people sat down and began to learn. Thus, the world-famed Slabodka Yeshiva was reestablished, and from there Torah emanated to the entire world.


They followed Rav Yeruchom because they sensed in him the reiach nichoach of the chakal tapuchin. They followed him because the aroma was too strong to resist. It was a scent of authenticity, sincerity and truth, the fragrance of their fathers and grandfathers.


A bochur once informed his rebbi that he was leaving yeshiva. He said that he was going to sign up for the United States military, where he intended to distinguish himself as a marine. He told his rebbi that he wouldn’t miss the yeshiva, or frum life for that matter, saying, “They don’t speak to me at all.”


The rebbi quickly sized up the boy, who had grown up in a fine home and had attended good yeshivos.


“You say that you are sure that you will not miss the rituals and practices of Yahadus,” the rebbi remarked. “Please do me a favor and imagine your first morning in the barracks, surrounded by people who never learned in yeshiva, to say the least. Think about the smells – the sweat of hardworking soldiers, perhaps the odor of a cheeseburger or pork rinds mixed in. Then think of the smells you’ll be leaving behind.


“Think of the slight hint of esrog your hands absorb by the second day of Sukkos. Think of the smell of the s’chach. Think of Chanukah’s fragrance of olive oil burning late into the night and frying latkes. Imagine Purim’s unique aroma of red wine soaking through tablecloths. On Erev Pesach, you breathe in the sweet spring air and get a whiff of fire coming from every direction. Then think of the special smell of the matzos themselves. Think about how much you’ll miss that.”


The bochur was quiet as he contemplated the reality, imagining the various scents of the Jewish year, and he nodded slowly.


“Okay,” he told his rebbi, “you win.”


The boy unpacked his stuff and returned to his seat in the bais medrash, along with the familiar smell of a well-worn Gemara he pulled off the shelf and the binding tape that held it together.


Chazal tell us that the sense of smell is spiritual. It is pleasing to the neshomah. Even if this bochur’s guf was frustrated, his neshomah wasn’t about to give up on the lovely scent of avodah and the reiach nichoach of Yiddishkeit.


Talmidei chachomim and great men always knew how to conduct themselves in a manner that allowed the Torah they acquired to be reflected. The ways of Torah are pleasant. “Derocheha darchei noam.”


A friend of mine walked past the mikvah in the Shaarei Chesed neighborhood of Yerushalayim one Erev Shabbos. The great gaon, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l, was leaving the building as someone right behind him was asking him a halacha question. Before answering the question, Rav Shlomo Zalman stopped at the door and turned to the simple Sefardic Jew who sat at a table near the mikvah’s entrance. In addition to taking the mikvah gelt, it was the man’s task to heat the mikvah and ensure that there were enough towels. It was apparent on his face that he took great pride in his job,


As he was about to leave, Rav Shlomo Zalman leaned over and patted the fellow on the shoulder. “Hamikvah hayom hayah achla,’” he said, using the slang term borrowed from Arabic which means “wonderful.” The attendant’s face lit up. The gadol hador had found words to please him, reaching beyond his vast repository of Torah and tapping into the reiach nichoach to lift the heart of another Jew.


An encounter with a great person, a gadol, is to breathe in the reiach nichoach, which different people experience on diverse levels.


Biographies of many roshei yeshiva, rabbonim, rebbes and all types of good Jews feature different versions of the same story: how non-Jewish workers and storeowners came and mourned at their funerals, and how even people oblivious to the niftar’s levels in Torah and avodah were saddened by their passing.


The scent that Yaakov Avinu emitted while in that chamber can be reflected in so many ways. It can be expressed in middos, in conduct, in honesty and in temperament. The recently departed Reb Moshe Reichmann was a person who demonstrated how a Jew in business ought to smell. . He felt that he was an emissary of the Jewish people and always ensured, even at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, that none of his actions could in any way cause a chillul Hashem. He gave off the aroma of a person who is entrenched in the words of sifrei halacha and mussar coupled with the splendor of Zevulun.


Thus, he merited the brachos that Zevulun earns for supporting the Yissochors. In fact, at the levaya, it was noted that it was this family, the Reichmanns, who first embodied the concept of hachzokas Torah in the modern era. They didn’t merely help Torah. They were machzik it. They strengthened and encouraged and actively inspired those involved in disseminating it. Their prosperity was a tool which they used to make the world a much better place to the degree that Rav Shach said he would want to sit with Reb Moshe in Gan Eden. There is no doubt that they are together now, being neheneh miziv haShechinah.


Sifrei chassidus offer insight into the sodeh to which Yitzchok referred when he said that Yaakov’s aroma was that of a field – “reiach beni kereiach hasodeh.”


Last week, in Parshas Chayei Sarah, we read that when Rivkah was brought to Yitzchok, the chosson was deep in prayer: “Vayeitzei Yitzchok losuach basodeh (Bereishis 24:63).


His tefillos in the field at that time were no doubt those of a Jew about to build his home. They were the tefillos of a chosson under the chupah, constituting the eternal plea of “Vezakeini legadel bonim uvnei vonim…zera kodesh baHashem d’veikim.


When Yaakov entered his room, Yitzchok sensed the effects of the prayer he had offered as a chosson so many years earlier. “Here,” he says. “In this son I feel the scent of the sodeh, the results of those tefillos.


Yaakov Avinu was the av, the father, of those who engage in commerce as a means to serve Hashem. Meforshim explain that Yaakov embodied many middos, including the middah of bechol me’odecha, the mandate to love Hashem with all our possessions.


Yaakov Avinu is the one who promised to donate maaser of his possessions to Hashem (Bereishis 28:22). From him we derive the valuable lesson that “tzaddikim chavivin mamonom, tzaddikim cherish their possessions. Upon his return from Lavan to face Eisov (Bereishis 32:25), he went back to retrieve pachim ketanim, small vessels, which had been left behind. He did so because his way in life was to raise the physical gashmiyus to the spiritual ruchniyus. To him, everything had the potential for elevation and was thus holy and worth recovering.


That trait is evident in effective mechanchim, who recognize the potential in every student. Mr. Reichmann, who excelled in his shlichus as a mechanech, never lost the ability to appreciate and recognize even those things in which others saw little value.


And as he did, he maintained a hint of the coveted sodeh, the fragrance of a life revolving around the middah of bechol me’odecha. Perhaps it was that zechus that allowed him to build like few others, having the merit of supporting so many yeshivos, kollelim, mosdos and individuals.


The fragrance of serving Hashem bechol me’odecha is still found among us even after these many years in golus, as evidenced by Mr. Reichmann and those like him who dedicate their lives to helping and supporting others.


He and they demonstrate the beauty of those who walk in the ways of the avos, not compromising their values and helping others who are less fortunate.


He showed the way, an example for all people, teaching us that we can elevate ourselves, our lives and our possessions to create a reiach nichoach laHashem.




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