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Watch Your Salt: Parashat Vayikra

Tags: Shabbat, Judaism, Jewish Identity, Tradition

The Hebrew name of the book, Vayikra (= He called) is taken from its first word. This very technical book, more than any of the others, deals with halachot, Jewish laws, pertaining to the Temple and sacrifices, and therefore it is termed “The Torah of the Kohanim” – the Torah of the priests and those who work in the Temple. We hardly find within it stories or descriptions of the life of the nation as in the books of Bereisheet and Exodus.

The Temple was a spiritual center from which every person could absorb values which make life’s routines more transcendent, but as the Prophet Isaiah stated in his eternal words, “For My House shall be called a House of Prayer for all the nations.” (Isaiah 56:7) Even though Vayikra is primarily laws about the rituals performed in the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, there are elements that are relevant both to those who are not Cohanim and even when our Temple no longer stands.

The first Torah portion in the Book of Leviticus, Vayikra, details the basic laws of the sacrifices sacrificed at the Temple. One of these laws emphasizes the significance of salt included in the sacrifices. There are different interpretations of how the importance of salt can be applied to our service of G-d today, how we live our lives both Jewishly, and as Jews, as members of the nation of Israel.

Watch Your Salt: Parashat Vayikra

Don’t Substitute Salt For Substance: Rabbi David Samson

The Maggid of Dubno told a typically marvelous parable to explain a verse in our Haftarah: “And you have not worshiped me, Jacob, that you should have tired of me, Israel” (Yeshayahu 43:22). This verse, like other verses in the Haftara, uses the metaphors of yegiya, fatigue, and avoda kasha, hard labor, to describe the sacrificial service in order to claim that G-d takes no pleasure in this “fatigue” unless its offerers’ motives are pure.

In his parable, the Maggid of Dubno speaks of a hauler who charged a customer too little for his services because he underestimated the weight of the goods that he had to haul. At day’s end, the hauler accuses the merchant of having misled him by describing the goods as light in weight. Not only did the merchant deny the accusation but he also offered a surprising argument of his own: “The goods that you carried on your back must not have been mine. After all, my goods really are light. Therefore, I owe you nothing whatsoever for your work.”

The Maggid interpreted the verse similarly. If your sacrificial services really make you tired, you must have come to the wrong address and your efforts aren’t being made in the service of G-d at all. If a person who engages in G-d’s exalted service considers it a source of fatigue, it can be only mean that he finds it hard to identify with the inner contents of G-d’s mitzvah (commandment). This difficulty can only lead the person into a series of errors, each feeding the next, that lock him into a closed circuit from which escape is difficult.

The alienation that such a person feels toward the inner contents of G-d’s mitzvah prompts him to busy himself with its external facets. He tries to fill his inner spiritual void by making the practical burden of the mitzvah artificially heavier. For example, the more alienated the offerer of a sacrifice feels toward the value of intimacy and forgoing, the more motivated he is to offer a large and expensive sacrifice in order to compensate for his distance from G-d. These desperate exertions, however, are doomed to failure and ultimately do more harm than good. This is because when a person works harder and harder to force himself into a state of spiritual excitation, he only becomes more and more frustrated. The harder he works, the less it “pays.”

The Torah goes out of its way to emphasize that it is not quantity but quality that counts. It does this for a good reason. The Torah spares no words in presenting a wide variety of animal and meal offerings, ranking them from the most expensive to the least. Its purpose is to teach us that “One offers profusely and another offers sparingly, but all that matters is that one aims one’s heart at Heaven.

This idea is reflected in the commandment of seasoning every meal offering with salt (Vayikra 2:13). The nature of salt is that its flavor enhances food only when the chef makes sure to apply it sparingly. A profusion of salt ruins the entire dish. Rabbenu Bachya (ad loc.) made an additional point: the covenant with G-d is consecrated with salt because salt can sustain the world or destroy it.

On the one hand, it is the most fundamental of the spices that make our food tasty and pleasing. On the other hand, too much salt may make fertile soil infertile.

One may, in a manner of speaking, liken the “flavor” of a mitzvah to dipping one’s food in salt. Whenever the mitzvah is the main object of identification and the flavor of the salt is subordinate to it, the salt is beneficial indeed. But when salt attempts to take over the main role, it ruins the entire dish as nothing else can.

Such is the way of true service of G-d: one must find the right salt in the right dosage, in order to add flavor to the true value of the mitzvah—“Taste and see that G-d is good” (Tehillim 34:9).

FOOD FOR THOUGHT:

  • Do you think the merchant’s counter-argument in the parable is valid? Why or why not?
  • Think of a commandment (or two, or five). What are some “superficial” and “pure” expressions of the commandment(s)? 
  • Are there any commandments that you feel you are “overcompensating” lack of connection with increase of effort? What are some ways you can re-adjust the balance of “salt” to “substance” in this commandment?

The Dead Sea

Choose the Salty Path:Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz

For you shall not cause to [go up in] smoke any leavening or any honey, [as] a fire offering to the Lord... You shall offer salt on all your sacrifices.” (Leviticus 2:11-13) These two halachot deal with the way in which the sacrifices should be seasoned, and they clearly express a negative attitude toward sweet and a positive one toward salty. Honey – no; salt – yes. The question is: Why? What is so bad about sweet flavors and good about salty? This question is even more perplexing in light of the fact that in other places in the Torah, we find a positive attitude toward sweet. Thus, for example, the Promised Land, Eretz Yisrael, is described as the “Land of Milk and Honey,” and as a land where figs, grapes, pomegranates and dates grow – all very sweet fruit.

In many crossroads in which man finds himself, he has the choice between taking the easy route, the “sweet” one which is enjoyable but meaningless to himself or society; and taking the rougher, “salty,” route, which is challenging and risky – but full of meaning and satisfaction, and beneficial to man and his surroundings.

This can be expressed, for example, regarding preservation of family loyalty. Even when temptation is great and “sweet,” the “salty” loyalty is that which provides a person with the stability and strength that are so crucial to life. This can be expressed also regarding standing up to pressure, when the “sweet” path might be to run away from responsibility, but the “salty” path is to make the effort and bring results.

This can be expressed regarding educating children, when it is easier and “sweeter” to leave them alone and forgo parental authority, but the “salty” educational effort leads to satisfaction and joy for the parents and the children.

The Torah is hinting to us that when a person brings a sacrifice, when a person wants to get closer to the source of his life, to the eternal significance that faith bequeaths to us, he must choose the more challenging and significant path, and not search for the sweetness and easy way out, losing out on spiritual and emotional gains.

Thus, in these two halachot that have not been actual for two thousand years due to there being no Temple, we find guidance for the daily life of anyone in the 21st century. As the Prophet Isaiah said: “And it shall be at the end of the days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be firmly established at the top of the mountains, and it shall be raised above the hills, and all the nations shall stream to it. And many peoples shall go, and they shall say, ‘Come, let us go up to the Lord’s mount, to the house of the G-d of Jacob, and let Him teach us of His ways, and we will go in His paths,’ for out of Zion shall the Torah come forth, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 2:2-3)

FOOD FOR THOUGHT:

  • How in your life will you take the more “salty” route?
  • How does one make sure to stay focus on the goal and not get sidetracked from all the “sweeter” options?
  • Why would taking the hard way make one gain from the process more?

It would seem like these articles offer opposite opinions on the weight of “salt” in our choices. The first warns us that we shouldn’t use “salt”, superficial and/or masochistic effort, to compensate for our disconnect from our actions. The second instructs us to deliberately choose the “saltier” route, that though it is hard, the increased challenge will provide a greater reward. But if we equate “salt” with “effort” or “difficulty”, there is no argument that some is necessary.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT:

  • Which of these two approaches/interpretations resonates more with you? Why? Why could someone connect with the opposing one?
  • When it comes to a decision about yourself, the Jewish people, or the Jewish state, how will you find the right balance of “salt” in your actions? 

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Tags: Shabbat, Judaism, Jewish Identity, Tradition

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