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The whole world has just been destroyed due to the failures of the generation of Noach. Noach and his family live for many days in the ark and after the waters subside they leave.

Noach builds an alter to Hashem upon leaving the ark and brings up sacrifices (Bereishit 8:20-21):

כ וַיִּבֶן נֹחַ מִזְבֵּחַ, לַיהוָה; וַיִּקַּח מִכֹּל הַבְּהֵמָה הַטְּהֹרָה, וּמִכֹּל הָעוֹף הַטָּהוֹר, וַיַּעַל עֹלֹת, בַּמִּזְבֵּחַ. כא וַיָּרַח יְהוָה, אֶת-רֵיחַ הַנִּיחֹחַ, וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-לִבּוֹ לֹא-אֹסִף לְקַלֵּל עוֹד אֶת-הָאֲדָמָה בַּעֲבוּר הָאָדָם, כִּי יֵצֶר לֵב הָאָדָם רַע מִנְּעֻרָיו; וְלֹא-אֹסִף עוֹד לְהַכּוֹת אֶת-כָּל-חַי, כַּאֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתִי

And Noah built an altar to the Lord, and he took of all the clean animals and of all the clean fowl and brought up burnt offerings on the altar. And the Lord smelled the pleasant aroma, and the Lord said to Himself, "I will no longer curse the earth because of man, for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth, and I will no longer smite all living things as I have done.

How did Noach know that building an alter for Hashem would 'inspire' Him not to carry out another armageddon. What is the significance of Hashem smelling the pleasing aroma upon Noach making the offering?

(I have heard that there is a connection between, רֵיחַ הַנִּיחֹחַ, and the fact that the sense of smell was the only sense not to be contaminated by the sin of Adam. Is that connection relevant here?)

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From logic, Hashem is not a physical being that "smells" the physical odors of cooking meat. The sense of smell is the only one that is considered a "physical touching" with the "nonphysical". Similarly as part of havdallah we smell the basamim because of the loss of the neshamah yeseirah.

Hashem is stating that from Noach's actions he sees that he is attempting to raise himself above the purely animal and that even though the Yeitzar Hara is active, people are still capable of reaching the heights. Thus, each person will be judged by what he has managed to accomplish and the entire world will be able to continue.

It was only because everyone had lowered themselves to the animal (and below) that the world no longer had a purpose. Now that Hashem sees that even though people had fallen they retained their ability to create a "pleasant odor" (a spiritual rise), thus the world has a purpose and can exist.

Note the connection between the words Reiach (smell) and Ruach (spirit). Also note Moshiach is called "mari'ach veda'in - he is able to judge a person by merely "smelling" him." (Sanhedrin 93b)

Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch translates רֵיחַ הַנִּיחֹחַ as "expression of compliance" rather than as a literal smell. He has a large section explaining this and why the idiom of smell is used, but it is too long to copy into this post. Look up Rav Hirsch on Noach 8:21

Here we see

Judaism teaches, "Which sense does the soul enjoy but not the body? This is the sense of smell." In other words, smell is spiritual.

Thus, we attempt to revive a person who has fainted with smelling salts, because scent reaches the essence of the soul, which is never unconscious. The soul, which is revitalized by the scent, then infuses new life into the body. At the Havdala ceremony performed after Shabbat has ended, we make a blessing on aromatic spices, and then smell them, to refresh our souls which are saddened by the loss of the special Shabbat dimension.

For example in The Kabbalah of Smell we have an excerpt

In my grandfather’s synagogue there was a bottle of pungent-smelling salt. A senior member of the congregation explained to me that the bottle was set aside for Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, a day when all fast. “In the event that someone faints,” he said, “we pull out the bottle and place it beneath the individual’s nose. It does the trick. It brings the person back to consciousness.” While I never personally witnessed such an incident, it got me thinking. Why not just stuff a piece of cheesecake in the person’s mouth? Would that not do the trick?

Similarly there is a comment

The Sense of Smell is directly wired to the area of the brain where we retain our memories. Remove this sense and a human being's identity loses its internal compass (and to a degree, its spiritual compass based on what you have shared). Anosmia is the name for the loss of the sense of smell; and it is a loss in the highest sense. Anosmia is one of the early signs of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Disease. Taste +Smell = Flavor so one cannot enjoy food as much when one loses their ability to smell. These are facts, not opinions. Kindly consider them the next time you write about the sense of smell.

Consider this person's account of what happened when she lost her sense of smell. It is indeed more significant than we can know.

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Noach knew he was supposed to bring sacrifices based on the amount of 'extra' clean animals he was commanded to save as mentioned in Rashi 8 20. As far as the smell goes, this is a standard description of a pleasure that is connected to neshama, not to physicality, see for instance Brachos 43b.

  • There is a better quote in the gemara about the smell of korbanos being of a non physical nature but it alludes me at the moment. – user6591 Oct 24 '14 at 0:28

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