Parshas Vayikra – The secret of salt

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By: Rabbi Shlomo Rosenfeld

Welcome to ספר ויקרא! Where many people see a time to snooze and doze off, only to jump back in ספר במדבר when the stories start again. And yes, a lot of these laws can seem irrelevant and technical, but if we look at the language, ideas, and structure of these Pesukim, beautiful messages start to emerge for us, things that we can use to improve our lives even in 2018. Let me share one example.

The first קרבן we hear about is the עולה, which is a קרבן נדבה, a gift offering. It is brought when you feel so in awe of Hashem, so graced by the fact that you even exist, that you bring a קרבן which is sent directly back to Hashem, all of it is burnt on the מזבח and nothing is eaten by the kohanim or the owner. Almost as if to say, I have possessions in this world but in truth, Hashem you own everything so here, let me send this back to You. There are 3 things that can be brought as an עולה, cattle, a bird, or a dough offering. And which one a person chose was usually determined by their financial status and how much they can afford. The poorest of the poor would bring dough, which consisted of about 3.5 pounds of flour mixed with about 10 ounces of oil and some spices. There are a few specific words and concepts used only in this קרבן that I think can give us a message for how to live with Hashem.

This is the only קרבן נדבה where it says נפש כי תקריב as opposed to אדם כי יקריב, the person bringing the קרבן is referred to as a soul and not a man. Since this was the cheapest קרבן, we are talking about an extremely poor man, someone who would likely feel embarrassed by his measly קרבן. Imagine the scene, walking into the Mishkan or בית המקדש with gold, silver, copper, and beautiful tapestry everywhere, walking up to a kohen dressed in pure white linen garments, maybe he can even see the כהן גדול with colorful and glorious clothes, with precious stones and gold, and here he is with a little bowl and some flour and oil. It looks pitiful, but the Pasuk says that this person is a soul in the eyes of Hashem. He does not have the confidence and comfortability of the rich man standing next to him, he came to open his soul to his Creator in awe of how powerful He is.

I think we all have areas where we view ourselves as poor, where we feel neglected, stripped, not confident or adequate. It might be in a certain area of עבודת ה’ or with a certain מדה that affects our relationships with other people, or even in a place where only we deal with personally and privately. And the יצר הרע has a way of making us feel that we shouldn’t even bother making corrections or steps forward in this area, they are too small and insignificant to matter. But the Torah says that it is specifically in our “poor” places that we are considered a shining beautiful soul stepping forward to Hashem’s house with our precious bowl of flour and oil.

Another point which helps give some depth to what we just said, is that at the end of the פרשה of the קרבן מנחה the Torah tells us וכל קרבן מנחתך במלח תמלח ולא תשבית מלח ברית אלקיך מעל מנחתך. We need to put salt onto the קרבנות before we burn them on the מזבח, and this mitzva is actually mandatory to all קרבנות, but the Torah specifically writes it by the קרבן מנחה. Also, the Torah calls this a ברית, a covenant between us and Hashem. There are not many בריתות in the Torah and they are usually reserved for special things like Shabbos, ברית מילה, the rainbow promising to never destroy the world again, how does salt fit into that group?

Salt is one big paradox, sodium by itself is potentially explosive, chlorine by itself can be damaging to our health, but when they mix together, we get sodium chloride or good old salt. Salt has burning attributes, which many מפרשים say it’s because it is rooted in fire, yet the way to farm salt is through the sea water. Salt’s purpose in the culinary world is to be invisible, it is meant to be used in a large enough quantity that it is noticed and enhance the flavor of the other foods, but still a small enough quantity that you don’t taste the salt itself. A lot of salt tastes horrible, yet a lot of salt is what can preserve food and prevent spoiling.

Every single ברית is something that brings together opposites. When we do a ברית מילה on a baby we are exercising our command and control over the physical body, bringing spiritual and physical into one body. Shabbos is the time when we live outside this world. It is a 24-hour day of eternity. Salt is also a mixing of paradox, two poisonous substances coming together to bring not only the most fundamental ingredient in any good cooking, but also the ability to preserve food. In fact, I just noticed that the word אות in the Torah which is used in congruence with the concept of ברית is spelled א-ו-ת, “ו” is a connecting letter in Hebrew, as a prefix it means and, if you spell it out, וו, it means a hook, and even its shape is a line which connects two points. א and ת are opposites, א represents infinity while ת is numerically 400 which represents complete expansion and multiplicity. Even the way they feel on the tongue and sound are opposites.

I think the message of the קרבן מנחה is this. You think you are a measly beggar?? Stand up! You are a נפש, you are a shining soul which can light up the world with your flour, specifically because it is so difficult for you to pull that little offering together. But remember, don’t forget the salt. Keep in mind that you are a paradoxical mixture between heaven and earth, a crazy compound of physical matter and spiritual energy. That reality is what makes you struggle and that is what makes you have those places that you feel like a poor person, but Hashem says, bring Me the most meager and petty offering that you can scrape together, and I will love it more than 1,000 sheep that a king will bring. Because that friction of opposites bumping together is what separates us from both the animals and the angels, and that is what gives us the power to forge ahead and make a difference in both the physical world and the spiritual world.

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