Parshat Vayikra

The book of Vayikra mainly deals with topics of holiness and opens with a presentation of the different offerings, brought in thanks, repentance and more, with a detailed discussion of each type of offering brought from livestock, different foods and various spices. The offerings provided a means to express in some way our interaction with Hashem, which now days we can only seek through prayer and perhaps kind and good behavior to our fellow man.

There is detailed discussion of what can and cannot be part of the sacrifice and in the discussion of the meal offering, we are told on the one hand not to use honey but on the other hand in Ch2v13 “and every meal offering you should season with salt,  and you may not discontinue the salt of Hashem’s covenant, and on every offering you shall offer salt.” Salt is clearly an essential part of the sacrifice but our sages differ on how to understand it’s significance.

Rabenu Behaye, in his inimitable manner, summarizes the different approaches. Firstly the pshat, the basic approach. As we know from meat, koshering, salt is used to soak up the blood and this was the opposite to the gentile custom of retaining the blood in the sacrifice (Rambam). In addition, no meal fit for a King would be served without proper seasoning (Ibn Ezra).

The Midrashic approach brings the story of the mythical interaction on the second day of creation when the waters were divided. The lower waters complained of being distanced from the Almighty and Hashem compensated them with the addition of salt to the sea which would be used in sacrifices and so create a connection to the heavens (Rashi).

The Kabalistic approach looks at the unique opposite characteristics of salt, on the one hand a basic necessity in the preparation and the preservation of food, but on the other hand the symbol of waste and destruction.  Salt is dominant in the story Lot and destruction of Sodom, and when Moshe warns of the dangers of straying in Devarim he proclaims “brimstone and salt and burning of the land,” (Ramban). The Ramban also notes that the Royal Lineage of the House of David is mentioned in Chronicles 2 Ch13 “You should know that the Hashem gave the kingdom over Israel to David forever, to him and to his sons by a covenant of salt.” Perhaps the inference here is the fact that this covenant is everlasting but salt (and Kings) can provide good taste but can be ruinous in excess.

Of course, we still ceremoniously use salt as an essential part of our meal with bread and the Shulchan Aruch relates that this is the reminder of the sacrifices, and adds that the use of other seasoning is permitted. and that our table is the reminder of the altar.

Perhaps we can view the work of our priesthood as having being required to ensure to provide a fine tasting sacrifice to Hashem and in addition many of the sacrificial left overs were for them to eat. Interesting the Torah uses the expression “lehaktir” to describe the sacrificial roasting which is translated in the traditional English translations as burning the offering, however I have seen more sensible modern translations using the term smoking of the offering. The priest would take great care in preparation of the sacrifices to present something properly seasoned and cooked and then this would truly express –“ ishei re’ach nicho’ach le’Hashem ”  – a satisfying aroma to Hashem, one of the main purposes of many of the sacrifices.

As a sideline, the modern word for the train locomotive is a “katar” from the word “lehaktir” reminding us of the smoky steam engines of bygone times. The trains in Israel are now an essential form of transport and we are on the brink of change with the train line to Jerusalem. Nevertheless, in our enigmatic startup nation, the new line is having teething troubles, both technical and administrative. In addition, the train drivers are also not happy with their new workload and often report sick and this is described as new type of illness “kateret.”

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