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By Willow (willowashmaple.xyz)

Claiming a letter

March 10, 2024

It is part of the Jewish tradition to "own" a letter of a newly written sefer Torah. It symbolizes that each person, like a letter in a Torah scroll (which contains a total of 304,805 characters), is part of one big story of God. Traditionally, "every letter and every space of the Torah" is sacred.

I have a letter yod, the smallest character and the 10th letter of the Hebrew alef-bet, within the word "riach" (which means fragrance or aroma). This is found in Genesis 8:21, which is read on an autumn shabbat as part of Parashat Noach, just after the great flood and right before God's covenant with Noah.

It's intriguing that the word "riach" looks similar to "ruach" (if the yod is replaced with a vav): fragrance and wind/spirit. They seem to be derived from the same Hebrew root word.

רִיחַ rîaḥ; See רוּחַ rûwach
רוּחַ rûwach, roo'-akh; a primitive root; properly, to blow, i.e. breathe; only (literally) to smell or (by implication, perceive (figuratively, to anticipate, enjoy):—accept, smell, × touch, make of quick understanding.

-- Strong's Definitions (1890).

Here, God is appeased when Noah grilled some meat and the aroma of this barbecue reached God. It is kind of an interesting passage, in which an ancient people anthropomorphized their deity as someone not unlike them -- who wouldn't feel happier, lured by the fragrance of some cooking? They assumed that God gets hungry like humans do, and sure enough, likes some barbecue, or as it's called in Argentina, asados!

This event took place right after the great flood. It is long before the Mosaic covenant. So they did not even have a concept of animal sacrifices to propitiate for their transgressions. In fact, God didn't even tell Noah to do this. In Gen. 8:14-19, we read that on 27 Iyar (in other words, late spring -- it will be June 4 this year), the land was dry enough that Noah and his family could disembark. God instructs Noah to get all the animals off the ship, too. But there is no directives about a sacrifice. So I would assume that Noah simply did this as an act of thanksgiving and maybe celebration, as though he is treating a valued guest to a big barbecue. Offering foods to deities as a means of thanksgiving is a rather universal cultural phenomenon.

Strong's H-7381 (lexicon and other occurrences of the word in the Tanakh)
Strong's H-7306 (another form of the same word)
Genesis 8:21 in both Hebrew and English (RJPS 2023)
Ibn Ezra's commentary


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