Vayikra – With a Grain of Salt
People prefer different flavors in the food they eat. Some douse their food in ketchup, others shower their food with salt (often before tasting the food), and others prefer their foods bland. Some like it spicy, some go for sweet, and yet others have a taste for sour. Chefs also develop preferences for their cooking, choosing a particular range of spices to produce their desired dishes.
The Temple was a place of prayer, a theater of music as well as a slaughterhouse. It was also a kitchen. Meats and grains were constantly being processed, and the large altar produced throughout the day well-done roasts along with steaming breads. Unlike a caterer’s kitchen, however, spices and flavorings in the Temple services are circumscribed. In regards to the meal offerings, from which breads were made, the Torah states: “All meal offerings you offer to the Lord shall not be prepared leavened, for all leavening and all [fruit] honey must not be burnt as a fire offering to the Lord.” (Leviticus 2:11)
The book of The Chinuch, which ascribes reasons to all the Mitzvot in the Torah, explains that this prohibition is symbolic of how people must act in the service of God. Leavening is a slow process, signifying sluggishness and laziness. When performing service of God, as in the Temple offerings, one must act with promptness and zeal. Leavening agents were thus restricted as additives to the meal offerings. A similar notion is ascribed to the restriction of honey. Sweetness is a symbol for pleasure. When serving God one must not be distracted by the pursuit of self-gratification and pleasure, and therefore honey must not accompany any offering brought before God.
A couple of verses later the Torah instructs of a spice which must always accompany an offering. “And all your meal offerings shall be salted with salt; the salt of your Lord’s covenant shall never cease from your meal offering. Upon all your offerings you shall bring salt.” (2:13)
The editors of the Artscroll chumash cite the following explanation originating from R’ Yaakov Kaminetzky. Salt was first collected from sea water. When the water evaporates the condensation rises and joins the “upper waters,” the clouds in the sky. The only element condemned to remain below is the salt. The salt is required as part of every offering to show that spirituality can be found in the lowest component as well as the highest. A Jew must seek the spiritual element of every object and every activity, no matter how mundane.
The explanations given for the restriction against using leavening agents and honey, as well as the explanation offered for the requirement of salt, invoke symbolism, but each element symbolizes a different idea and draws different lessons. R’ Mordechai Gifter, in his work Pirkei Torah, offers an explanation that accounts for both the restrictions of leavening and honey as well as the requirement of adding salt. The offerings represent us, they are the instrument of our service. When we come with our self to God, God wishes for authenticity. Leavening and honey are two examples of additives which change the constitution of the offering. They create flavor where there was previously no flavor. The leavening gives the bread a particular taste. Bakeries are very particular about the type of yeast they use in their breads as well as the amount. Different strains of yeast create varieties of taste. Similarly, honey creates sweetness in the food which was not present earlier.
In contrast to the former additives, salt is a flavor enhancer. It doesn’t create a new flavor, it brings out and sharpens the flavors already present in the food. R’ Gifter explains that in our service of God we need to bring forward our authentic self, without artificial enhancements that don’t stem from within. On Purim we dress up (some of us). On Purim we pretend briefly to be someone else. We create new flavors of self with honey, yeast, masks and costumes. The rest of the year, however, the only acceptable additive is salt, an ingredient that brings out the flavors latent within us. We don’t act in conformity with others just to be like others, we act in a way that expresses our inner self, our personal strivings and aspirations. God wishes for us to be our true selves.