VAYIKRA (Leviticus, 1:1-5:26) — “Dehydrated Water”

It is customary to dip bread in salt before eating it at the beginning of a meal.  This custom is based upon a verse from this week’s Torah Reading: 

… You may not withhold the salt of G-d’s Covenant from your meal offering; on every offering you must offer salt.  (Leviticus, 2:13)

All sacrificial parts which were burnt on the Altar had to be salted first.  We do not currently have a Temple in which to bring offerings to G-d.  Instead, our tables serve as an Altar upon which we serve G-d.  As such, our bread, which serves as a “surrogate” offering, is salted.

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What does the Torah mean by “… the salt of G-d’s Covenant”?  The Torah tells us that on the second day of Creation, G-d … separated between the waters which were above the sky and the waters that were below the sky… (Genesis 1:7) 

The Midrash tells us that the lower waters “wanted to be closer to G-d.” (I briefly discussed the concept of inanimate objects “thinking” in “G-d’s ‘Apology.’”)  The lower waters wanted to join the upper waters in Heaven.  To comfort them, G-d made a Covenant with the waters that on Sukkos, fresh water would be poured onto the Altar, and that every day, salt — essentially dehydrated sea water — would be placed on the offerings on the Altar.

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I came across a beautiful thought, quoted in the name of Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky, of Blessed Memory. 

Why, asks Rabbi Kamenetzky, was the common practice to use salt, rather than actual water, on the Altar, as was done only on Sukkos?  The answer can be found in analyzing the method of extracting salt from sea water. 

When you boil salt water, the H2O evaporates, leaving the salt in the bottom of the pot.  Thus, says Rabbi Kamenetzky, the water itself also rises up toward Heaven.  Only the salt, which doesn’t evaporate, is not able to rise toward G-d unless it is placed upon the Altar. 

The lesson we learn here, says Rabbi Kamenetzky, is that spirituality can be found, not only in those pursuits that are “heavenly” and holy, but in everyday activities as well.  The simple process of making salt was sufficient to make the water holy.

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If I may, I’d like to add a little “spice” to Rabbi Kamenetzky’s observation. 

Salt is a preservative.  Before the days of refrigeration, they used to preserve meats by salting them.  A well-salted side of beef could last for months without being refrigerated. 

Why would you want to preserve foods that are being “consumed” by G-d on the Altar?  If they’re being “eaten” right away, they won’t have time to spoil!  If you cook something and eat it immediately, there is no reason to keep it fresh by putting it in the Fridge! 

There, I believe, lies the difference between physical activities and spiritual activities.  When you engage in an activity that is totally mundane, it doesn’t last very long.  A triple-decker banana split with all the trimmings, eaten for the simple satisfaction of hunger, rapidly disappears, never to be remembered (except through excess poundage on the scale the next day!). 

A meal at one’s table/Altar, on the other hand, is a religious experience.  When we eat our meals in order to have the strength to serve our Creator, that is an offering in our own private Temple.  When mealtime, especially Shabbos mealtime, is spent as family time, quality time, Torah time, it is a holy time.  At such an event, the mere calories of our food are transcended into something far beyond an energy source to be dissipated by tomorrow.  It is something that lasts forever.  The salt on our offerings and our bread is there to show us that our good deeds are “preserved” permanently.  G-d has a very long memory! 

How sad it is when we live our lives “for the day,” not stopping to appreciate the true meaning and purpose of life.  How empty!  How temporary!  How bland! 

When, however, we elevate our day-to-day life by living it with spirituality, we “salt” it.  We give it meaning.  We give it permanence.  We give it flavor! 

Torah – It’s the spice of life!

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

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 FROM THE ARCHIVES

 “Where’s The Beef?” (2010)

 …Leviticus is a vegetarian’s nightmare.  …  Do we, the civilized Jews of the 21st century really expect to return to the antiquated cult of animal sacrifice?! Can you see it… Jackie Mason… slaughtering bulls on the Temple Mount? Meanwhile, Paul McCartney and the animal rights crowd will be protesting outside!  🙂 And should we really be burning all that meat?  Is G-d THAT hungry?  Why not send it to a homeless shelter??! :-)… The interesting thing about animal sacrifice is that there is no such thing…

Read more.

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“Bringing G-d Home” (2008)

 He called to Moses, and G-d spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting…  (Leviticus, 1:1)

 The grammar of this verse is problematic – “He called to Moses.”  WHO called to Moses?  Obviously, as we see at the end of the verse, it was G-d who called him.  Wouldn’t the verse be clearer if it said, “G-d called to Moses, and He spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting”?…  G-d… “shrank Himself” … 

Read more.

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“Keeping Score” (2006) 

I try to write a new Torah Talk message every week…I was planning to write a new message this week.  As you will soon see, I have good reason to send this message, from three years ago, once again. 

Last Shabbos, my family enjoyed the pleasure of hosting a couple whom we have known for many years…  As we sat at the table Friday night, I told them a story about a former student of mine.  I didn’t recall at the time that I had written up the story in Torah Talk, and I certainly didn’t realize that it was written in reference to this week’s Torah Portion. But I was totally unprepared for what met me on Sunday morning…

Read more.

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“Dehydrated Water” (2005)

… Salt is a preservative.  Before the days of refrigeration, they used to preserve meats by salting them.  A well-salted side of beef could last for months without being refrigerated.

Why would you want to preserve foods that are being “consumed” by G-d on the Altar?  If they’re being “eaten” right away, they won’t have time to spoil!  If you cook something and eat it immediately, there is no reason to keep it fresh by putting it in the Fridge!…

Read more.

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“Hey, YOU!” (2004)

… Did you ever send someone a well thought-out message by email?  A little while later, we receive the response — a short, terse, copy of our comments with a two-or-three word response.  No “hello,” no “good-bye,” just the proclamation from on high!…

Read more.

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“Little Big Man” (2001)

They say out there that Jews have horns.  Even Michelangelo thought so – you remember his famous statue of Moses with horns.  Where’d he get that crazy notion? …

Read more.

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 This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com)  and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on March 16, 2005 at 1:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

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