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B'Midbar/Numbers 28:24 Like these you shall do daily, seven days: food, an offering by fire, a pleasing aroma, to Adonai
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This text comes from the list of sacrifices that are to be made or presented on the festival days throughout the Jewish calendar year. All the biblical feasts are represented in two dense chapters (28-29, the last two of Parashat Pinchas), starting withHaShem's instructions to the people: "Be punctilious in presenting to Me at stated times the offerings of food due Me, as offerings by fire of pleasing odor to Me" (B'Midbar 28:2, NJPS). Our text is part of the section dealing with the feast of Pesach (28:16-25) and is set for the intermediate days of the Pesach festival, when we have passed the peak of the seder and are chomping our way gaily through the week of unleavened bread. The immediately preceding verses have detailed the extra offerings that are brought on the first day of the festival - that is, on the morning immediately following the seder - and our text instructs that the same offerings should be brought for each of the following six days (to make seven) of the feast. Quoting from Sifrei 147, Rashi points out that "they should not progressively decrease like the bulls at Sukkot." From a procedural point of view, Ibn Ezra explains that "the Sabbath offering must come immediately after the daily offering and therefore it must precede the passover offering. But the regular morning offering always comes first."
Addressing a small translation issue on the way to our main theme, we should note that the word , - coming from the two-letter noun root , fire - can have two meanings. One - like , a sin offering, from the noun , a sin - is a fire-offering. These are typically guilt offerings or purification offerings. which as Jacob Milgrom observes, "are neither 'gifts' nor of 'pleasing aroma''" The second - and the one in view here - is simply an offering made by fire. This a gift, offered to the L-rd for each day of Pesach, is made by fire. RabbiHirsch says it is "a seven day reminder, on the celebration of the Founding of the Nation, of what Israel is supposed to be."
Our main focus in this text is the phrase , translated above as "a pleasing aroma" but also "soothing aroma" (NASB), "sweet aroma" (NKJV) and "pleasing smell" (NJB). The two-word phrase first appears in the aftermath of the flood, when Noah builds an altar and offers burnt offerings from every clean animal and bird so that "the LORD smelled the pleasing odour" (B'resheet 8:21, NJPS). It has multiple uses in the early chapters of Vayikra, in the descriptions of the various sacrifices, and occurs a total of 43 times in the Hebrew Scriptures. David Clines derives the first word of the couplet from the root , used only in the Hif'il stem, meaning "to smell, sense, delight in or accept."1 As a noun, the word would surely mean 'a smell', but we must also note the strong connection to the more commonly used noun , which has the well-known meanings of breath, wind and spirit. The wind brings smells and senses from afar, so talking of a tree that has been cut down, Job can say, "At the scent of water it will bud and produce branches like a sapling" (Job 14:9. NJPS). We can compare the way in which the five basic senses work: while touch and taste require full contact, and hearing and sight require no contact, smell is in between - a very light touch or hint, something carried on the wind yet touching the smell receptors in the nasal membranes.
The second word in the couplet is also a noun, derived from the root , to rest, settle down, alight (Davidson). The noun is deduced to mean 'satisfaction' or 'delight'. This can be extended to 'soothing', 'pleasing' or 'appeasement' by Clines.2 Walter Kaiser notes that "the word 'pleasing' comes from the same root as the word 'rest', implying that the sacrifice brings peace between G-d and the worshiper."3 In our text, shocked by the suggestion that HaShem might have a nose and be capable of such an anthropomorphic action as smelling,Targum Onkelos changes the Hebrew words to the Aramaic , "to be accepted with pleasure". One of the earliest commentaries on B'Midbar, Sifrei Zuta, paraphrases the expression to put these words in HaShem's mouth: I am satisfied because I spoke and you did what I wanted. Several commentators agree, saying that "the phrase expresses divine pleasure with the Israelite performance." Maimonides goes perhaps the furthest, understanding 'please' to refer to the human who must perform the sacrifice in a proper manner. By this logic, the offering by fire is to HaShem, but the pleasing aroma - as if in parentheses - is appreciated by the worshiper who derives satisfaction from having performed the ritual correctly.
John Hartley tells us that "smell arouses one's memory and reaches very deeply into a person's emotions."4 We can visualise an offering, such as the Pesach offering, offered in faith and with appropriate care to detail and procedure, stirring G-d's memory in the same way as the cries of our people in Egypt: "I have now heard the moaning of the Israelites because the Egyptians are holding them in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant" (Shemot 6:5, NJPS). Just as the smell of a favourite meal cooked with care and love can remind us of the person who does or used to do that cooking, so the Pesach offering reminds G-d of His covenant and His people in the days when "the L-RD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders" (D'varim 26:8, ESV).
Equally, simply offering a burnt offering and making a smell is not enough. G-d is not fooled by elaborate or meticulous process if there is no faith or real relationship. Hear how the prophet Amos lambasted the people of the northern kingdom of Israel: "I loathe, I spurn your festivals, I am not appeased by your solemn assemblies. If you offer Me burnt offerings -- or your meal offerings -- I will not accept them; I will pay no heed to your gifts of fatlings. Spare Me the sound of your hymns, and let Me not hear the music of your lutes. But let justice well up like water, righteousness like an unfailing stream" (Amos 5:21-24, NJPS). What He was seeking a people who were keeping the Torah and loving each other. Without that, the smell was rancid and definitely not pleasing. God could only smell the pleasing aroma if the offering came from a place of obedience and honesty.
Consider, then, Yeshua's sacrifice on the cross to redeem all those who would trust in Him. Due to the Jewish calendar, Yeshua both celebrated the Pesach festival with His disciples at twilight on the fourteenth of Aviv having been examined by the people and the Jewish leaders "in the house - the Temple" for four days, and was crucified by the Romans outside the walls of Jerusalem "at the ninth hour" (Matthew 24:26), the same time as Israel sacrificed all the Pesach lambs in the Temple. He died at the festival of Pesach so that His death might inaugurate the exodus of G-d's people from slavery to sin; that He might set us free. Yeshua's resurrection showed that His cry - "It is finished!" (John 19:30) - was correct; He was accepted as the perfect offering and now causes G-d to remember His people when they cry out to Him in Him. His offering came from a place of complete obedience and humility; Rav Sha'ul tells that "being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:8, ESV) and Luke records that in the garden He submitted in obedience to the will of the Father as He prayed, "Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me. Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done" (Luke 22:42, ESV). He "gave Himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our G-d and Father" (Galatians 1:4, ESV).
What do we have to do to be pleasing to G-d and be a pleasing aroma? In one sense, of course, nothing. Yeshua has done everything for us and when G-d looks at us, He sees Yeshua. On the other hand, Rav Sha'ul sees us as "the aroma of Messiah to G-d among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing" (2 Corinthians 2:15, ESV). How do we do this? Part of it is Yeshua in us - He radiates "the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere" (v. 14, ESV) - but part of the work falls to us. The answer lies in the words of the prophet: "What does the L-RD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d?" (Micah 6:8, ESV). A scribe's assessment that "to love [G-d] with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices" (Mark 12:33, ESV) earned Yeshua's response, "You are not far from the kingdom of G-d" (v. 34, ESV). Beyond that, we cling to Yeshua, listen to and walk in the Spirit and wait eagerly for His return. Then the wind of the Spirit will blow the pleasing aroma of Messiah through our lives so that it rises to heaven and causes our Father to look upon us with His favour.
Chag Pesach Sameach!
1. - David J. A. Clines (ed.) The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009), page 421.
2. - Ibid., page 272.
3. - Walter C. Kaiser, "Leviticus" in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 530.
4. - John E. Hartley, Leviticus, Word Biblical Commentary, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1992), page 22.
Further Study: Isaiah 1:11-17; Ephesianc 5:1-2; James 1:27
Application: Are you aware of G-d's presence resting on you so that a sweet savour radiates out to touch all those within whom you come into contact? Cry out this Pesach-tide for a fresh anointing of Yeshua's power and grace to proclaim the kingdom and change the world where you live!
Comment - 02:45 05Apr20 KCB: Beautiful. Thank you. Loved hearing about the cut down tree budding out because of the "mere scent" of water. Like when Aslan was on the move! My soul knew exactly what that meant.
© Jonathan Allen, 2020
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