Shiur #12: The History of the Resting of the Shekhina - (Part III) - The Garden of Eden, Kayin and Hevel, and Noach

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

 

 

I.          THE GARDEN OF EDEN AND THE MIKDASH

 

The description of the Garden of Eden contains many allusions to the Mishkan and the Mikdash.  Thus, Scripture continues to describe the revelation of the Shekhina that had begun with the creation of the world and of man.[1]  In the previous lecture, we saw that when Adam was sent out of the Garden of Eden, he returned to the site of the altar on Mount Moriya, for it was from there that he had been created and there that he could achieve atonement.  I noted the apparent proximity between the Garden of Eden and Mount Moriya.  In this lecture, I wish to dwell upon this profoundly essential connection between the Mishkan/Mikdash and the Garden of Eden.

 

1.         THE PHYSICAL LANDSCAPE

 

                      ·                      The Garden of Eden was fully irrigated: "And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and branched into four streams" (Bereishit 2:10).  A similar scene is depicted in the vision of the end of days (Yechezkel 47; Yoel 4:18; Zekharya 14:8): a spring  issues forth from the Mikdash and waters the entire world.  So, too, two of the springs in the Jerusalem vicinity have the same names as two of the rivers in the Garden of Eden – the Gichon and the Perat.

                      ·                      The garden was abundantly filled with trees remarkable in their beauty, the quality of their fruit, and their marvelous characteristics, including cedars and cypress trees: "And out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food" (Bereishit 2:9); "The cedars in the garden of God could not obscure it: the cypress trees were not like its boughs, and the plane trees were not like its branches; nor did any tree in the garden of God compare with it in beauty.  I have made it fair by the multitude of its branches, so that all the trees of Eden, that were in the garden of God, envied him" (Yechezkel 31:8-9).  The Mikdash was also built with boards of cedar and planks of cypress (I Melakhim 6:10, 15 and elsewhere).  And the Midrash says: "Rav Levi said: When Shlomo brought the ark into the Mikdash, all the trees and cedars that were there turned green and yielded fruit, as it is stated: 'Those that are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God' (Tehilim 92:14), and they continued to produce fruit… until Menashe brought the idol into the Holy of Holies, and the Shekhina departed and the fruit dried up, as it is stated: 'And the flower of Lebanon fades' (Nachum 1:4)" (Tanchuma Teruma 11).  Both in the Garden of Eden and in the Mikdash, the Divine Presence bestows special vitality upon the plant world.

                      ·                      There is an interesting connection in the prophecy of Yechezkel (28:11-14) between the Garden of Eden and Lebanon.  Parallel to this, Chazal interpret: "'And the Lebanon' (Devarim 3:25) – this is the Temple" (Mekhilta De-Rabbi Yishmael Beshalach Massekhta De-Amalek, parasha 2; and similarly in many other midrashim that are based on the assumption that the word "Lebanon" denotes the Temple).

                      ·                      Pishon – the first of the rivers in the Garden of Eden – streamed through the land of Chavila, which was filled with gold and precious stones (Yechezkel 28:14).  Parallel to this, mention is made of great amounts of gold in the construction of the Mishkan, the Mikdash and their vessels, and of precious stones in the future building of Jerusalem (Yeshayahu 54:11-12).

                      ·                      A river issued forth from the garden – that is to say, the garden is planted at the top of a mountain – and this river separated into four streams that water the world.  And in the future: "The mountain of the Lord's house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills, and all the nations shall flow into it" (Yeshayahu 2:2 and Mikha 4:1).

 

2.         THE SPIRITUAL LANDSCAPE

 

                      ·                      Regarding the garden, it says: "And they heard the voice of the Lord walking in the garden in the breeze of the day" (Bereishit 3:8), and regarding the Mishkan, it says: "And I will set My Mishkan among you… and I will walk among you" (Vayikra 26:11-12).  Both in the garden and in the Mishkan we find "walking" of the Shekhina and special providence.

                      ·                      In both places God meets and speaks with man.  In the garden, this was a direct meeting, and in the Mishkan, it took place from on top of the kapporet between the two keruvim.  In their meeting in the Mishkan, God gave His commandments for Israel to Moshe, just as in the garden commandments were cast upon Adam.  Moreover, Chazal (Bereishit Rabba 16, 4) understood that the commandment "to till it and to keep it" relates to sacrifices, and the sacrificial order and guarding of the place were the primary tasks imposed upon the priests and the Levites in the Mishkan and the Mikdash.

                      ·                      After Adam was expelled from the garden, the keruvim guarded the way to the Tree of Life.  In the Mishkan and in the Mikdash, the keruvim guarded the kaporet and the ark and marked the place where God spoke to Moshe and from where the Torah issued forth to all of Israel.

                      ·                      Chazal identified the coats (kutnot) of skin that God made for Adam and Chava with the priestly garments (Bamidbar Rabba 4, 8).  Indeed, among the priestly garments there were also kutnot.

 

In the future, not only will the physical landscape of the garden be renewed (living waters will issue forth from Jerusalem and precious stones will adorn its walls), but its spiritual landscape will as well.  The entire nation will achieve prophecy (Yoel 3:1-2), the entire creation will be perfected (Yeshayahu 65:17), the light will be like the light of the seven days of creation (ibid.  30:26), and the enmity between the offspring of the serpent and the seed of the woman will be abolished (ibid.  11:8).

 

3.         THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE CORRESPONDENCE

 

Regarding the significance of the correspondence, there are two complementary approaches.

 

One approach sees the Mishkan and the Mikdash as a continuation of the Garden of Eden in this world.  Just as the Garden of Eden bestowed blessing on the entire world, so too does the Mikdash bestow material and spiritual blessing on the entire world.  In this sense, the Mikdash perpetuates the Garden of Eden for the people of Israel and the entire world.

 

The second approach sees the Mikdash as a repair of the sin committed in the Garden of Eden.[2] For example, the keruvim east of Eden prevent inappropriate closeness to God, whereas the keruvim in the Mikdash are the height of intimacy with Him.  Adam donned garments in the wake of the sin, whereas the priestly garments are "for honor and for beauty" (Shemot 28:2, 40).  Following the sin, Adam is unable to stand before the voice of God, whereas in the Mishkan Moshe entered into the place of the Shekhina whenever God called to him.

 

As stated above, these two understandings complement each other.  The Mikdash has a dimension of continuity with the Garden of Eden as well as a dimension of repair of the sin committed therein.  In any event, the correspondence is undoubtedly instructive about the hope and expectation to return to a repaired and perfect world, where there will be great and unmediated intimacy between God and the Jewish people, as well as the hope to renew the encounter and dialogue between man and God.  In this sense, the Mikdash is a place of hope and repair.

 

4.         THE EXPULSION FROM THE GARDEN OF EDEN

 

Following Adam's sin in the garden, the Torah states:

 

Therefore the Lord God sent him out of the Garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.  So He drove out the man, and He placed the keruvim at the east of the Garden of Eden, and the bright blade of a revolving sword to guard the way to the Tree of Life.  (Bereishit 3:23-24)

 

            I have already noted the correspondence between the keruvim that guard the path to the Tree of Life and the keruvim in the Mishkan.

 

            The removal of man toward the east parallels the Shekhina's departure from the Mikdash prior to the destruction of the first Temple, which was also eastward (Yechezkel 11:23).  The Mikdash is built on an east-west axis, so that the holiest section, the Holy of Holies, is on the west side, parallel to the original site of the Garden of Eden.  The Holy of Holies comes in place of the garden, and the altar, the place from which Adam was created and the place where he sought repair, is to its east (see the previous lecture).[3]

 

II.        THE SACRIFICES BROUGHT BY KAYIN AND HEVEL

 

Following Adam's removal from the Garden of Eden, the Torah relates:

 

And the man knew Chava his wife; and she conceived and bore Kayin saying, "I have acquired a manchild from the Lord." And she again bore his brother Hevel.  And Hevel was a keeper of sheep, but Kayin was a tiller of the ground.  And in process of time it came to pass, that Kayin brought of the fruit of the ground an offering to the Lord.  And Hevel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat parts thereof.  And the Lord gave respect to Hevel and to his offering, but to Kayin and to his offering he had no respect.  And Kayin was very angry, and his face fell.  And the Lord said to Kayin, "Why are you angry and why are you crestfallen? If you do well, shall you not be accepted? And if you do not well, sin crouches at the door, and to you shall be his desire.  Yet you may rule over him." And Kayin talked with Hevel his brother, and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Kayin rose up against Hevel his brother, and slew him.  (Bereishit 4:1-8)

 

            As is well known, this passage raises many exegetical questions.  I will briefly note the questions and answers that are most important for our discussion.

 

            Kayin and Hevel offer the first explicit sacrifices in Scripture.  Radak (Bereishit 4:3), however, based on the words of Chazal (Shabbat 28b), writes "that the bullock sacrificed by Adam had one horn in its forehead, as it is stated: 'that has a horn [sic] and hoofs.' And his sons learned from him, and each one brought from the work in which he was involved to thank God for the good that He bestowed upon him in his work." In the previous lecture, I cited the words of the Rambam in Hilkhot Bet Ha-Bechira (2:2) that Kayin and Hevel offered their sacrifices on the altar that Adam had built, and upon which Noach and Avraham would later bring their offerings.  This also follows from Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer (chap. 23).[4]

 

            The main question on this passage is why Hevel's sacrifice was accepted while Kayin's offering was rejected.  Chazal offer various answers.  Here I shall only note the famous answer that Kayin brought "of the fruit of the ground… of the waste, similar to a wicked tenant who eats of the first fruits and presents the late fruits to the king," whereas Hevel brought a high quality offering – "of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat parts thereof" (Bereishit Rabba 22, 5).[5]

 

            With respect to the second major question in the story – the nature of the quarrel between the two brothers – I will again bring only one opinion from the midrash that is connected to our discussion: "This one said: The Temple will be built in my territory, and that one said: The Temple will be built in my territory.  As it is stated: 'And it came to pass, when they were in the field,' and 'field' refers only to the Temple, as it is stated: 'Zion shall be plowed like a field' (Mikha 3:12)" (Bereishit Rabba 22, 7).  Chazal may be emphasizing here the importance that the brothers attached to their respective relationships with God.

 

            In light of all this, Rabbi David Tzvi Hoffmann, in his commentary to the book of Vayikra (vol. I, pp. 64-65), describes the offerings brought by Kayin and Hevel as follows:

 

The first sacrifices were brought by Kayin and Hevel.  They were called "mincha," that is, a gift (Bereishit 4:3).  The term "mincha," wherever it appears in Scripture, refers to a gift that is presented to one who is great in stature and power (other gifts are called "mas'et" or "matana").  Some present this mincha to a high official because it is in his power to confiscate all of his property.  They wish to arrive at a compromise with the despot and offer part in order to save the rest.  But a mincha may also serve as a sign of submission to one's superior.  They recognize his lordship and put themselves as his servants, so that everything that they own belongs to their master.  In this case, they honor the master with the best and most precious, and only what is left do they keep for themselves. 

Hevel's sacrifice was of this latter type.  He brought his mincha from the firstlings of his flock and the fat parts thereof with the intention that was favorable to God, for it was his intention to lay at the feet of his true Master the best and the most select of his property in order to receive the rest from His hand as a gift of kindness.

Hevel's mincha was therefore accepted with favor, not because of its inherent superiority, but because it was seen as a tangible expression of delicate emotion.  Therefore it does not say: "And the Lord had respect for Hevel's offering," but rather: "And the Lord had respect for Hevel and his offering."

Kayin's offering, however, was of the first type.  He recognized that the blessing of his land depended upon God and that He had the power to take all his property, and therefore he wished to arrive at a compromise and give Him part in order to secure for himself the rest.  And therefore: "To Kayin and to his offering he had no respect." Most of the sacrifices brought by idol worshipers where accompanied by such thoughts.  They were seized by shock because of the "jealousy of the gods," and they strove to come to a compromise with the supernal powers, as it were, that threatened their lives and property.

 

            An important milestone in the history of the resting of God's Shekhina and the relationship between God and man was reached in the days of Enosh, when "men huchal to call upon the Lord by name" (Bereishit 4:26), the term "huchal" either understood in the sense of beginning or (as most commentators understood it) profanation.  I shall not deal with this issue in this framework.  In the rest of this lecture I wish to examine Noach's relationship with God, and especially the erection of the altar and offering of sacrifices following the flood.

 

III.       THE SACRIFICE BROUGHT BY NOACH

 

The first thing that Noach did after having been saved from the flood was to build an altar and offer sacrifices:

 

And Noach built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean beast and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.  And the Lord smelled the sweet savor, and the Lord said in His heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake, for the impulse of man's heart is evil from his youth.  Neither will I again smite any more everything living, as I have done.  (Bereishit 8:20-21)

 

            This is the first mention in the Torah of the building of an altar, as well as the first mention of the "smelling of sweet savor" as God's response to a sacrifice.  I wish to examine the nature and spiritual meaning of this sacrifice.

 

1.         THE SITE OF THE ALTAR

 

According to the plain sense of Scripture, the altar was built in the place where the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.  We have already seen, however, the rabbinic tradition (Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer, chap. 23; Rambam, Hilkhot Beit Ha-Bechira 2:2) that identifies this altar with the altar on Mount Moriya, upon which, according to that same tradition, sacrifices had been brought also by Adam, Kayin and Hevel, and would later be brought by Avraham.

 

In addition to the desire to establish one special and select place for offering sacrifices, this tradition might also have special significance regarding Noach in particular.  The name Noach marks his father's hope that his son "shall comfort us for our work and the toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord has cursed" (Bereishit 5:29).  The curse of the ground mentioned here is the curse that had been pronounced upon the ground in the wake of Adam's sin: "Cursed is the ground for your sake; in sorrow shall you eat of it all the days of your life" (Bereishit 3:17).  And indeed, in the wake of Noach's sacrifice, God declares: "I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake." Through his sacrifice, Noach continues the repair of Adam's sin; since Adam had been created on Mount Moriya, lived there, and  sought atonement there, it is very reasonable that it was also there that Noach brought his sacrifice.

 

2.         THE SACRIFICE

 

            On the words, "And he took from every clean animal and from every clean bird," Radak comments:

 

This includes clean beasts, for he brought sacrifices from all clean creatures.  This was an act of thanksgiving to God who had saved them from dying in the flood.  But the unclean are not fit for sacrifice, for they are not even fit for human consumption, except for times of dire need… all the more so for a sacrifice to God.

 

            Radak's comment appears to be based on a midrash:

 

"And Noach built (va-yiven) an altar to God." It is written: va-yiven, which may be understood in the sense of nitbonen, "he contemplated." He said: Why did the Holy One, blessed be He, command me to bring more clean beasts than unclean ones? Only that I should offer from them a sacrifice.  Immediately, "And he took of every clean beast." (Bereishit Rabba 34, 9)

 

            We have here an early allusion to a command to offer sacrifices only from clean beasts.

 

            Why did Noach bring olot, whole-burnt offerings, as opposed to Kayin and Hevel, whose sacrifices Scripture calls menachot?[6] Rav S. R. Hirsch (Bereishit 8:20) explains the matter as follows:

 

Noach brought olot, whereas Kayin and Hevel brought menachot.  A mincha is a sacrifice of thanksgiving, whereas the purpose of an ola is the dedication of action.  Ola denotes development and elevation; from here, the leaf (ala) of a tree.  The ola achieves atonement for positive precepts; it wakes up one's power of action and warns against negligence.  It spurs a person to rise, advance, and strive upwards to reach his goal.  A chatat, sin offering, instructs man to remain fast to that height of morality that he had reached, after he had lapsed through carelessness.  The finger of the priest directs the blood to the top of the altar, putting it on the corners of the altar.  This is not the case with an ola: The priest stands at a distance and sprinkles the blood on the lower half of the altar, and thus he alludes to the one who brings the offering: You are still standing far away, not even at the bottom of the mountain – and you have certainly not reached the height of the mission of your life.  You must gather all the strength of your life, offer it and raise it to the heights of what you are meant to be.

 

            Rav Hirsch emphasizes here the deed that elevates man.  It should be added that in the case of an ola, one who brings the sacrifice offers everything to God, thereby recognizing that everything is in His hands.

 

3.         THE BUILDING OF AN ALTAR AND THE OBJECTIVE OF THE SACRIFICE

 

As stated above, this is the first place in the Torah which explicitly mentions the building of an altar.  Rav Hirsch uses this initial appearance of an altar to explain its significance:

 

It is explicit in many places that a mizbeach, an altar, is built by the hands of man – and through it the earth, as it were, is elevated towards God.  This is the reason that we find in the book of Yechezkel (42:15) that the altar is called simply Har-El, the mountain of God.

Building an altar expresses the elevation [of man] above nature and his rising to the free-willed standpoint of man, in order to rise from there to God.  Thus, when Noach built an altar to God – on the earth that was given to him for the second time – he dedicated the entire earth and made it a sanctuary, adding stone to stone until the entire earth would become a holy mountain of God.

Noach built an altar to God on the earth that was given to him for a second time, and he offered whole-burnt offerings on the altar.  At the same time he dedicated the entire earth and made it a sanctuary of God.  Indeed, man will in the future construct there a building that strives upwards to God.  In the future he will add stone to stone, until the entire earth is a mountain of God.  And humanity will sacrifice there with all of its powers in order to rise and advance in the service of God.

 

            Rav Hirsch explains that the structure and form of the altar teach that its primary function is the elevation of the earth, as it were, toward heaven through human activity.  The altar, which gives expression to human service, symbolizes the elevation of the earth – the material dimension of reality – to God.  But the context of building the altar gives the action additional meaning.  When he was saved from the flood, the earth, as it were, was given anew to Noach;[7] with the construction of the altar, he once again dedicated the world to God.

 

            In light of this, we can also understand the essence and objective of Noach's sacrifice.  According to the simple understanding, the sacrifice was an expression of gratitude for having been saved from the flood.[8] This is the way it was understood by Pirkei De-Rabbi Eliezer (chap. 23), Radak, Chizkuni and others.  I have chosen to present this understanding as it was fittingly formulated by Rabbi D. Tz. Hoffmann in his commentary to the book of Vayikra (vol. I, p. 65):

 

Even if Hevel's sacrifice testified to a noble thought, it was in essence only a mincha, a gift.  Indeed, he freely donated living creatures, but these living creatures, as living creatures, were not meant to symbolize his  life as belonging to and dependent upon God.  Rather, they were part of his property, just as the fruits of the ground were part of Kayin's property.

Only Noach, who with his own eyes saw the destruction of a world filled with wicked men, from which he alone was saved by way of a miracle from God, only he felt that his life was given to him by God and depended upon Him.  He gave expression to this feeling by way of sacrificing living creatures.  The blood that was shed as the "nefesh" of the living creature on the altar symbolized man's soul and life.  Through this sacrifice, Noach's emotions were tangibly expressed; not through his property, but also through his blood, he belongs to God, "in whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind" (Iyov 12:10).

 

            Rabbi Hoffmann sees here advancement to a higher level: Kayin and Hevel offered God of their wealth, whereas Noach's sacrifices represented man himself and the entire world.[9]

 

            A second approach follows from Bamidbar Rabba (14:12):

 

Why did they [the tribal princes] offer three kinds [of sacrifices]? The whole-burnt offering corresponds to Noach, who took of all the beasts and offered whole-burnt offerings.  As it is stated: "And he took of every clean beast, and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar" (Bereishit 8:20)… Why a goat as a sin-offering? Because Noach offered those whole-burnt offerings in order to atone for the curse of the ground.  As it is stated: "And the Lord smelled the sweet savor; and the Lord said in His heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake."

 

            According to this midrash, Noach's sacrifice came to atone for sin, as is evident from the result: "And the Lord said in His heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake."[10]

 

            Of course, the two reasons complement each other; the construction of an altar at that time and for future generations has a dimension of raising the entire world to its source by way of the sacrifice of animals, whose blood/life represents the person bringing the offering.  It also has a dimension of atonement for sin and repair of the world, which are considered among the most important functions of the altar.

 

***

 

            The next lecture will deal with the tower of Bavel in contrast with the Mikdash.

 

(Translated by David Strauss)

 

[1] We follow here the approach of Yehuda Kil in his introduction to the Da'at Mikra commentary to the book of Bereishit, pp. 102-120.

[2] Thus, for example: "Another explanation: 'I am come into my garden' (Shir Ha-shirim 5, 1) – Rabbi Shimon bar Yosni said: It does not say here: 'I am come into the garden,' but rather: 'into my garden.' To that same garden from which I had been removed, as it says: 'walking in the garden' (Bereishit 3:8)" (Peskikta Rabbati, ed. Ish-Shalom, parasha 5; and with minor variants in many other midrashim).

[3] A separate lecture will be devoted to the idea of the Shekhina being in the west and the east-west axis in the Mikdash.

[4] How did Hevel (and Adam before him) sacrifice animals? Radak (Bereishit 4:4) suggests: "It seems to me that he did not slaughter the sacrifice.  Rather he put it down alive and bound in the designated place so that fire would come down from heaven to consume it, as occurred to his father's sacrifice, for they did not slaughter animals, inasmuch as they did not eat meat." The alternative, of course, is that a distinction can be made between eating meat, which was not permitted to Adam, and offering animal sacrifices to God, which was permitted to him.

A more complex question arises from the gemara in Zevachim 116a.  The gemara there records a dispute whether "the sons of Noach offered peace offerings." That is to say: were peace-offerings permitted prior to the giving of the Torah, or perhaps they were permitted only to Israel with the giving of the Torah, but before that only whole-burnt offerings were brought? As proof for the first possibility, the gemara adduces the sacrifice of Hevel: "What is the reasoning of the authority who said: The sons of Noach offered peace offerings? For it is stated: 'And Hevel also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat parts thereof.' What is it whose fat is offered on the altar, but it is not entirely offered on the altar? Say: This refers to peace offerings." One of the characteristics of a peace offering is that one who brings it eats of its meat, and thus the question arises: How did Hevel eat of the meat of his sacrifice? Radak continues in the same exegetical line and argues that, according to this opinion, Hevel left those parts of the animal that are not offered on the altar "for the beasts and the birds, for he did not eat them, since he did not eat meat." The alternative is to distinguish between eating unconsecrated meat and eating sacrificial meat and to say that "eating from God's table" was permitted even to Adam. 

The second approach in the gemara, according to which the offering of peace offerings was permitted only with the giving of the Torah, sees in man's eating of the sacrifice an expression of the raising of the entire world ("Shelamim – that all are at peace: part to the altar, part to the priests and part to he who brought it"; Tosefta Zevachim 11:1), which was made possible only after the Torah was given.

[5] The Tanchuma (Bereishit 9) makes an interesting comment which finds in this story an explanation of the prohibition of sha'atnez (wearing a garment made of wool and linen): "'And Kayin brought of the fruit of the ground.' What is that? From what was left over from his food.  And the Sages said: It was flax seed.  'And Hevel also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat parts thereof.' Therefore [a mixture] of wool and linen is forbidden.  As it is stated: 'You shall not wear a garment of diverse kinds, of wool and linen together' (Devarim 22:11).  And the Holy One, blessed be He, said: 'It is not right that the offering of the sinner should be intermingled with the offering of the guiltless.  Therefore it is forbidden.'" In this context, it should be noted that Scripture makes a fundamental distinction between shepherds and tillers of the soil, which Rav Hirsch, in his commentary to this story, sees as the fundamental difference between the two brothers. 

[6] In note 4, I noted the dispute in Zevachim (116a) over whether or not the sons of Noach offered peace offerings.  Radak (Bereishit 8:2) connects this dispute to Noach's sacrifice, saying: "And our Rabbis, of blessed memory, disagree whether he offered only whole-burnt offerings or also peace offerings along with the whole-burnt offerings." This would appear to connect the eating of the meat of the peace offerings to the allowance given to the sons of Noach to eat meat, which would then resolve the problem discussed in the aforementioned note in simple fashion.  This, however, does not really resolve the problem, for as we saw above, the gemara there adduces proof from Hevel.  In light of the gemara's proof from Hevel, and in light of the fact that Noach's sacrifice is not discussed there at all, it would seem that the expression, "sons of Noach," used in that passage does not relate to the actual sons of Noach, but rather it is used in the halakhic sense of the term.  Thus, the connection drawn by Radak requires further study. 

[7] As is well known, with the destruction of the old world through the flood, a new world came into being that paralleled the original creation (in the order of the appearance of the animals and in the actions undertaken by Noach when he left the ark).  For a detailed account of the parallels see: Rav Z. Witman, "Ha-Beri'a Ha-Chadasha," Alon Shevut 78 (Kislev 5740), pp. 27-39; Y. Berman, "Ha-Mechadesh Be-Tuvo Ma'aseh Bereishit: Hakbalot Ve-Hevdelim Bein Perek 1 and Perek 8 Bi-Bereishit," Megadim 9 (Tishrei, 5750), pp. 9-14.

[8] While, in general, thanksgiving offerings are peace offerings (see Radak cited above in note 6), here Noach offers burnt offerings as an expression of the absolute elevation of the world.  Noach thanks God for the fact that while He destroyed the world, He also renewed the world through the rescue of the ark; thus, he leaves nothing of the sacrifice for himself.

[9] In the continuation of his comment, he points to the continuation of the process of drawing near to God through Avraham's burnt-offering at the Akeida and through Yaakov's sacrifices. 

[10] So, too, in Midrash Tehillim 29: "'And He sits enthroned as king forever' (Tehilim 29:10) – His mind became settled with the sacrifice of Noach and He had mercy on the entire world.  As it is stated: 'And the Lord smelled the sweet savor.'"