Vayikra: Completing the Offering

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Vayikra

If I told you that this week’s Torah commentary was going to include
all the salty details, you might think the the topic was yet another
New York political scandal- but no, we’re merely referring to a detail
of how the religous offerings of our Biblical ancestors were placed
upon the altar of the Mishkan [portable Santuary]:

“You shall salt every one of your meal offering sacrifices with salt,
and you shall not omit the salt of your God’s covenant from [being
placed] upon your meal offerings. You shall offer salt on all your
sacrifices. ” (Vayikra/Leviticus 2:13)

What’s interesting about this text is that salt seems to be both a
positive commandment (you shall salt the meal offerings) and part of a
negative commandment (you shall NOT leave out the salt from the meal
offerings).

So at least for one kind of offering- the meal offering- salt was such
a crucial component that it was a transgression to offer the ritual
without it. Now, we don’t have a Mishkan upon which to make salted
offerings, but many commentators connect the custom of putting a
little salt on our Shabbat challah with the verse quoted above. The
Shabbat table is seen as taking the place of the ancient altar, and
salting our challah (sometimes a dip, sometimes a sprinkle, depending
on your custom) is understood to be a reminder of, if not the
equivalent of, the ancient sacrifices.

OK, so far, so good, but we’re still left with the question of why
salt is so important. The Torah itself doesn’t tell us, so the
commentators offer various theories. Two interpretations which speak
to me come from Sefer HaHinnuch ( a medieval textbook of the
commandments) and our friend Rashi. Sefer HaHinnuch points out that
food without salt is incomplete, unfinished, and we should offer only
complete, whole offerings to God- the best of what we have. For us, I
think this represents the idea that we should bring our whole selves,
our best selves, into our spiritual moments- if salt represents
completion, it can be for us a symbol of being whole, integrated, not
“compartmentalized” when we make a blessing or say a prayer or offer
thanks.

Rashi, on the other hand, connects the salt to a “covenant of salt”
dating back from Creation itself, when the Creator promised the seas
that they would be offered on the altar in the form of salt and the
fall water pouring ritual. I like this, too, because it brings an
ecological perspective to our Shabbat table- if the salt on the
challah is representative of the seas and the waters of the world, it
reminds us that we only have bread because of all the natural systems
which interact in incredibly complex ways to enable us to “bring forth
bread from the earth.”

So the next time you sprinkle a little salt on your challah, remember
this: you are standing in the Presence of God just as our ancestors
did, and linking yourself not only to Jewish history, but to all of
Creation. Salt may complete the meal, but it’s gratitude for our
blessings which nurtures wholeness in the spirit.

Shabbat Shalom,

RNJL

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