When Yaakov goes to Yitzchok to get the blessings in this week's parsha, Yaakov is disguised in the clothing of Eisav. Yitzchok smells the garments of Eisav and blesses Yaakov. The Midrash notes that goat skins, which Yaakov was wearing, have a malodorous scent. In that case, what did Yitzchok smell that caused him to bless Yaakov? The Midrash explains, "Al tikri begadim, ela bogdim"—do not read the word in the passuk as "begadim,” clothing, but as "bogdim," those who betray. It was not the scent of the goat-skin clothing which Yitzchok inhaled, but the delightful fragrance of the people who betray the Jewish People, of the Jews who have betrayed their brethren by leaving the path of faithful Torah observance. Even such people have a beautiful fragrance. The Midrash details examples of such people, people who had betrayed their people, only to later rectify their error by repenting with great personal risk, eventually getting killed al Kiddush Hashem.
Why does the passuk refer to such people as the "begadim," the "clothing?" Rav Yaakov Galinsky zt"l explains that this reminds us about a critical rule about the Jewish People: their sins do not define them. A person may fall to the lowest of lows, but that is not who one is - rather, such a low it is like a garment that garbs the person. When one takes off one's garment of sin, one reverts back to one's shining glorious self.
On rare occasions, it occurs that one of our children does the wrong thing. Sometimes, we may even have a child who displays a negative habit on a consistent basis. As parents, it is our responsibility to guide our child to redirect his or her natural tendencies in a positive direction. However, we must remember that this is merely the child's clothing, not his or her essence.
Similarly, when dealing with ourselves and our own bad middos, we must not allow ourselves to define ourselves by our mere clothing, our vestments of sin. We must recognize the beauty of the neshama that exists underneath.
Finally, we must keep this concept in mind when dealing with other Yidden, both those who are unfortunately distanced from their Yiddishkeit and those whose minhagim may differ from ours. Yiddishkeit has a panoply of different flavors, from Chassidic to Litvak, from Sefardi to Ashkenazi, with many stops in between; this multitude of differences is reflective of the twelve shevatim, the twelve tribes of the Jewish People. Each one may be different in a variety of ways, but that, too, is merely a garment. Underneath, each of them displays that same blazing sun of a holy neshama.
Have a great Shabbos,
Menachem Z. Weissmann
Menahel/Head of School