In the Torah reading, Leviticus 1:1-6:1, we read often of the burnt sacrifices as providing a “fragrant aroma” for Adonai (Leviticus 1:9, 13, 17, 2:2, 9, 12, etc.). Some versions instead read: sweet savor, sweet odor, pleasing aroma, soothing fragrance, etc. No matter the version, the implication is clearly that of a burnt offering providing a pleasant smell to YHWH!
Can this understanding be correct that “fragrant aroma” simply means “pleasant smell” the same as it would to a human grilling a steak? (Oh, how I can relate!) The aroma from a steak on a fire is decidedly pleasant; but why would YHWH need to “smell” anything – especially a sacrificed animal, the purpose of which is solemn, to redeem a human sinner, not to “smell good” to anyone - including YHWH?
I’ve long thought that the words we read, “fragrant aroma,” cannot be right and I decided to study it. It turns out that what we read as “fragrant aroma” is actually a Hebrew idiom “re’ach n’yoh’o’ah”; and to understand it, requires a bit of work.
By digging deeper, we discover that the idiom in our Bibles is translated via the most elementary meanings of the two words! A quick check in the concordance on Leviticus 1:9, for example, leads incorrectly to the phrase: “a fragrant aroma for YHWH.”
or “re’ach n’yoh’o’ah” or: “pleasant savor” or “sweet smell”.
But the problem is the CONTEXT is missing in the words alone! The context is not simply the burning of meat producing a pleasant smell; it is the death of an innocent animal, giving its life for a sinful human! So, what is the true meaning of “ריח-ניהוה”?
The true meaning, I believe, is found in the root words of the phrase “ריח-ניהוה” (re’ach n’yoh’o’ah) and these are:
(ruach), which means “to blow” or “breathe”, from which we get “Ruach” or spirit, and
(nuach), which means “to rest” or “settle”.
Thus, the idiom re’ach n’yoh’o’ah, so often mistranslated as “fragrant aroma” is, in fact, closer to: “to transport to rest” or, adding more context: “to transport [the blood offering/the life] to rest [with YHWH].”
When we read in these verses, in English, “a fragrant aroma for YHWH”, we should understand it as “a transport of the life to rest with YHWH.”
Consequently, the act of burning the sacrifice “transports” the life of the animal into the presence of YHWH and thus, substitutes its life for that of the unclean, sinful human! The sinful human is thus “redeemed”. A “Fragrant aroma” has nothing whatsoever to do with a “pleasant smell.” The actions of a sacrifice are to “transport” the life to YHWH! In this case, the poor, innocent animal’s life had to substitute for the human.
(In Leviticus 2:2 & 9, the idiom is applied to a grain offering with a caveat. That caveat is that the grain offering is a “אזכרה”, atz’char’ah, or “remembrance or memorial” offering. So while a grain offering clearly does not transport a life to YHWH, the act of burning the grain offering on the same fire invokes the solemn meaning of the ceremony to remind the offeror that this act is an important part of of one’s life as a child of YHWH.)
The idiom re’ach n’yoh’o’ah is even used in Ephesians 5:2, about the Messiah giving up his life “as a slaughtered sacrifice”. Clearly, Yeshua was obviously not burned on the altar but the idiom applies nevertheless – his “life” was transported to YHWH as Yeshua was “taken up”.
Isn’t that amazing?
Sadly, when we read the Bible in our respective languages, we only see words translated by complete strangers – people we don’t know - and we are seldom provided with other possible meanings. When learned rabbis read the scriptures, they look at all possible meanings, and then rule out the ones that don’t make sense. We don’t have that luxury, as most of us don’t know, and aren’t familiar with the Hebrew language, and so, we usually get only the meaning the translator chose – usually in English. This is we are so adamant about begging you to THINK and study, study, study.