Each Shabbat morning, I look forward to a concluding song called Ein Keloheinu. Ari, the Cantor at the keyboard, leads us in a particularly rousing version sung in both Hebrew and Ladino. This is a song of questions: Who is like our God? Who is like our Lord? How is our God unlike the others? The verses conclude with our God’s singular identifying feature. Of all the traits that might be chosen to distinguish him, the song curiously declares: This is the God before whom our ancestors offered a fragrant offering of incense.
What, I wonder, is so crucial about fragrant incense that its offering is mentioned as a reliable clue for distinguishing this God from all competing notions of divinity?
Throughout the liturgy, especially that of the High Holidays, Yahweh insists upon pleasing fragrance to accompany sacrifice. Why is God calling out to us in need of aroma? Why, of all things, does God exhort us not to forget “his fragrance fix” along with our prayers?
Prayer is all about a rapprochement, a coming closer, a healing of radical aloneness. For some, it is an expression of an unfolding relationship with God. In what way I wonder, is fragrant incense an agent of this unfolding?
The answer is blowing in the aromatic wind…t.b.c….