In the Noah story, God is angry enough to bring about a flood that destroys the entire world. How does it feel to be so angry that you willfully destroy everything you have lovingly created? Is such an over-the-top response appropriate to God? What depth of despair informs such destructive violence? It is worth pausing in the presence of that question. For me, as for others who have witnessed tsunamis of human rage, the question has never been an abstract one.
When after 40 days and 40 nights the floodwaters subside, an obedient but spiritually-stunted Noah emerges from confinement and offers up a sacrifice to God. The fragrance – or “sweet savor” as Avivah Zornbeg calls it – of Noah’s burnt offering reaches God’s nostrils. Here’s the crucial moment: A previously withdrawn human being has reached out towards God with a sacrifice. The sweet savor, in turn, causes a surprising shift in God’s inner life; the sweet savor inspires God’s promise that he will never again destroy all of creation. Instead, God is moved to offer humanity a chance to mature. He reflects that though we humans are imperfect, he will partner with us in what will surely be a stop and start, inevitably frustrating, forever spiraling story of spiritual evolution. And as Avivah Zornberg explains, “The agent of this change in God’s inner world” – his movement from disgust to patience, from despair to tolerance – “ is called the sweet savor.”
Ein Keloheinu… this is the divine energy that is unique to our God. It is a divine paradigm of constant unfolding, one that mirrors the unfolding of each of our souls. Fragrance on the wings of metaphor lifts us into the invisible realm where we might be restored, even after the worst possible rupture.