Bible scholars tell us that the ancient Israelites (the Jews) likely got their ideas of a soul or spirit and the afterlife from foreign sources, because such ideas, they say, are not in the Torah, the first five books of the Jewish bible generally ascribed to Moses.

But the symbolism of the sin offerings made at the Mosaic tabernacle and later the stone temple of Solomon contradicts this view, it seems.

The Divine scheme of offerings (korbanot ) for sin (chatat ) indicates that each person has a soul or spirit requiring expiation through such offerings; and through this process the offerer’s spirit ascends  symbolically and then returns as a non-Levite priest to serve here on earth. However, we are not concerned with the entire system of offerings and its many details, but only or mostly with how the expiatory offerings revealing man’s soul or spirit ascending (terms are used here as synonyms).

Priesthood for All Israel

Originally, the promise of priesthood was given to the entire Israelite nation, not the Levite tribe alone. The Lord is recorded as saying in Exodus 19:6 ‘you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,’ a verse that should be well known to all Jews today. At this time there were no Levite priests. The promise was made to the whole ‘house of Jacob,’ i.e., the entire nation of Israel, v. 3. Therefore, Israel – all Israel – through the first born male of each family was to become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

Their national consecration to priesthood is recorded in Exodus 19:10, 14. In v. 10 the Lord tells Moses to ‘consecrate’ them and have them ‘wash their clothes,’ and this is executed in v. 14. Notice that putting on freshly washed clothes is intimately linked with consecration because the Lord was going “come down on Mount Sinai,” v. 11. In other words, the Lord was going to come nearer to them. A kohen (priest) is someone who stands before  or draws near to God, as they were about to do.  Note also that when ordinary Levites were appointed as helpers to the Aaronic priestly Levites similar instructions were given at that time, Numbers 8:20, 21. So the Israelites avoided certain activities and washed their clothes and stood at the base of Mount Sinai, nearer to the Lord than other nation of that time. But their priesthood duties at the Tabernacle were soon transferred to the small, lone Levite tribe after the monstrous Sin of the Golden Calf.

The Marvelous Hidden Symbolism of the Sin Offering

The first chapters of the Book of Leviticus list various offerings: Burnt Offering, Grain Offering, Peace Offering, Sin Offering, and Trespass Offering and related rites; and each of these, in turn, has subparts. The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) Offering is in chapter sixteen. We are concerned only or mostly with the Sin Offering in chapter four that for good reason is also known as the Purification Offering. And since this offering involves slaying an animal at the Altar, we wish to focus on the blood, the flesh, and the fat and smoke, because it is here that the human soul or spirit symbolically appears.

The blood  In certain sacrifices, but not others, the blood was taken inside the Tabernacle or Temple and sprinkled seven times before the curtain (paroket) of the Holy of Holies, daubed on the horns of  the Golden Altar of Incense and then poured out at the base of the bronze Sacrificial Altar outside, Leviticus 4:6;7. In other offerings this was not required, the blood was merely daubed on the horns of the bronze Sacrificial Altar and the remainder poured out at its base, 4:30. The key question in regard to sin is: What purpose did the blood serve?

The answer is given concisely in Leviticus 17:11: ‘For the life of the flesh is in the blood ... I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for as life, it is the blood that makes atonement’. Here the Hebrew word for ‘life’ is nepes, which a few bibles and some commentators render as ‘soul’. However, the preferred translation in this context is life, according to at least four Jewish bibles and some non-Jewish ones. Hence, animal blood “as life” symbolized and atoned for sins of humans.

What it does NOT tell us, though – and this is a key element – is that the blood also functions as a separator. How? – by making it possible to separate (detach) sin from man’s spirit (soul), and make him or her purified. For until the blood is spilled, there is no separation of sins from man’s spirit.

The flesh The flesh and hide of the animal symbolizes sin and this is why it was burned ‘outside the camp’ (Leviticus 4:11,12; 29:14) and not atop the Altar. Its removal signified the removal of sin (cp. 4:20, 21) from the camp of Israel.  But the reader should know that in other offerings the flesh and hide may not depict sin, but in this case it surely does. Further, in certain settings  the officiating priest could eat the flesh of the sin offering to ‘bear the guilt of the congregation,’ 10:17, and by so doing – and by virtue of his office –  expiate sin. This latter relates to a different aspect of atonement that is not our concern here.

The Fat  and Smoke In contrast, the fat of the animal was, indeed, placed atop the Altar (Leviticus 4:8-10, 19, 26, 31; 35), not  taken outside the camp, because it symbolized the soul or spirit of the offerer . For instance, in Leviticus 4:10, 19 all the fat is “turned into smoke atop the altar,” ref. Tanakh, Jewish Publication Society. Here some Jewish and non-Jewish bibles wrongly translate as burned atop the altar. But the purpose was not incineration – not  mere burning – but, rather, the fat’s transformation into a rising cloud of smoke, symbolizing an expiated spirit ascending to God’s celestial abode (Paradise) for acceptance. This is the key secret of the Bronze Altar as a maker of priests.

Also, the fat is of equal value as the blood, for ‘All the fat is the Lord’s,’ Leviticus 3:16, and the eating of it, like the blood, is strictly banned, 3:17; 7:23, 24. Anyone so doing was to be ‘cut off’ from the community of Israel,’ 7:25. The kidneys and liver counted as fat. And finally, different rules apply to different offerings, as in the Whole Burnt (or Dedication) Offering where flesh and fat were burned together on the Altar.

And although the rising smoke cloud signifies the ascending spirit, the action is only symbolic. A man’s spirit or soul does not actually leave his body. It symbolizes, rather, the offerer himself – in his spirit  essence being accepted by heaven. For example, after being exiled and properly chastised, the Lord says to national Israel that he will bring them back and ‘accept them’ as a ‘sweet aroma,’ Ezekiel 20:41. Observe that his smelling of their smoke aromas (v.40) signifies his acceptance of them, the people themselves, v. 41. Sweet aromas are mentioned in Leviticus: 1:9,13,17; 2:2,9,12; 3:5,16, etc., and, therefore, the rejection of an offering aroma is equivalent to rejection of the offerer himself. See Genesis 4:5 - 7 dealing with the Lord’s acceptance and/or rejection of Abel’s and Cain’s offerings.

Hence, after the smoke rises and the Israelite offerer is accepted by heaven, he reappears not as a cloud of smoke – but as a priest attired in white, portrayed by the officiating Levite priest! The Levite is now a substitute for the offerer, and the Levite’s white attire is the offerer’s purification. Then through this Levite substitute the offerer appears in the Priests’ Court where only Levites are allowed, thus re-affirming the original promise of making Israel – all Israel –  “a kingdom of priests,” Exodus 19:6. 

What is the ‘food’ of God?

In Ezekiel 44:6, 7 the Lord rebukes “rebellious” Israel for profaning his temple by offering him food in an unacceptable manner. What is his food? According to v. 7, “the fat and the blood;”  similarly in  v. 15 where only the Zadok priests may ”offer me the fat and the blood, says the Lord God”. There you have it! His “food” is blood and fat! Should we accept this literally? Yes, in the sense that blood and fat were literally offered to him. But No because he did not consume either. Why does he say this, then? Because the blood, actually poured outside into a Temple drain, symbolizes the spirit’s separation/expiation from sin; while the fat, when turned into smoke, symbolizes the spirit’s ascension to him for acceptance. God’s “food,” then, is simply the language of symbol, and it means that separation/expiation from sin (by the blood) and ascension of purified souls (the rising smoke) are the things he desires from people.

The Spirit or Soul as a ‘pleasing aroma ’

It may seem strange that God smells (though it signifies Divine judgment ) the aromas of offerings and that these – as clouds of smoke or incense – portray man’s spirit or soul. Yet linguistically it is quite logical when we consider three Hebrew words, ruach, reah, and riah.

Genesis 1:2 tells us that the spirit (ruach) of God hovered over the waters – or that a wind from God did so, depending on which translation one uses. Both are equally correct because ruach may be translated either way, and occasionally as mind, but mostly it refers to air in motion. Professor Richard E. Friedman notes on p. 6 of his Commentary on the Torah that ruach is translated as wind, spirit, soul, or breath and compares it to the Greek word pneuma, meaning spirit or wind. Ruach, riah and reah are all cognate, closely related words originating from the same source. Reah means odor and riah means smelled, as shown below  (parentheses, mine):

Genesis 8:21, The Lord smelled (riah) the pleasing odor (reah) and ...
Genesis 27:27, ... and he (Isaac) smelled (riah) the smell (reah) of his garments and

As anyone knows, without air or wind (ruach) it is impossible to smell any odor, pleasant or foul, and this is why the spirit or soul of man is portrayed as a cloud of smoke lifted up by heated air that the Lord ‘smells’ as a ‘pleasing aroma’. The smoke – a product of combustion – merely serves to make the hot air visible and aromatically detectable. Contrarily, it is nowhere written that the smoke from the flesh of the Sin Offering burned outside the camp produced an aroma pleasing to the Lord. Why? Because it signified, rather, the foul stench of sin, not the sweet aroma of an expiated soul ascending, nor  the well-pleasing spiritual life of an offerer. For more on Divine judgment and smelling, see, More Secrets of the Holy Ark.

No Afterlife Mentioned in Torah?

What do  bible scholars think about the afterlife with respect to the Pentateuch (the Torah)? Some Jewish and non-Jewish ones agree that there is no mention of the afterlife in any of Moses’ books, except in Genesis 3:22. But this tells us only how Adam lost access to the tree of life and immortality, not whether an afterlife is still available. Jewish professor Richard E. Friedman says these concepts – afterlife, heaven, hell – developed later, Commentary on the Torah, pp. 17, 25. The other four books (Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) do not speak at all of the Israelites being given any promise of an afterlife, only the inheritance of the physical ‘Promised Land,’ Canaan. The Tanach mostly speaks of deceased persons descending into sheol, the abode of the dead. Only in the latter biblical books do we find the concepts of a resurrection and an afterlife, such scholars say.  

And according to Jewish theologian Neil Gillman (Chair of the Department of Jewish Philosophy  at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York) only three verses in the Tanach explicitly promise an afterlife, Daniel 12:1-3 and Isaiah 25:7-8; 26:18-19 (ref. The Death of Death, Jewish Lights, chapter four). Gillman also says that since Talmudic rabbis could not find such references in the Pentateuch, they contrived highly improbable interpretations of Mosaic verses. For instance, Rabbi Gamaliel attempt-ed  to prove the resurrection of the dead by citing Deuteronomy 31:16 where the Lord tells Moses that he will die and afterwards rise, but which actually says that after his death the people will rise and make use of idols. Finding such references, adds Gillman, would favor Talmudic rabbinical views because the Torah was – and still is – considered the most authoritative section of the Jewish bible, pp. 128-129. Gillman explains that the ideas of the resurrection and afterlife were possibly “borrowed” and that Persia (Iran today) was the most likely source, pp. 96, 97.

Perhaps the afterlife cannot be found in the Torah because these searchers are looking for a direct or explicit statement when, instead, it is conveyed through verbal portraits within the Levitical offerings. We should not imagine that God or his prophets must knuckle under to our modern hermeneutical approach; rather, it is we who must knuckle under to his and his prophets. In any case, the animal offerings themselves were not the means of eternal life but, rather, a living faith resulting in obedience. Nor was the bloody butchering of beasts solely ordered for displaying Divine wrath against sin, but also for imparting a view of man’s spirit or soul ascending as a sign and hope of immortality in the hereafter.

EV = English Version,  for non- Jewish bibles with different verse numbers.