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The Ocean's Salty

In Parashat Vayikra, God commands that salt be sprinkled on every sacrifice that is offered on the altar in the Tabernacle. JPS renders Leviticus 2:13 “You shall season your every offering of meal with salt; you shall not omit from your meal offering the salt of your covenant with God; with all your offerings you must offer salt.” Rashi cites a Midrash here, which says that during Creation, when God split the waters above and the waters below, the waters below complained that they would now be far from God’s abode in the heavens. The Midrash goes on to say that God made a covenant with the waters that they would contain salt, which would be offered up with every sacrifice in the Tabernacle. To clarify, the traditional understanding of Creation in Genesis is that above the atmosphere is water, which God separated from the lower waters (oceans) on the second day.

I find this interesting for a couple reasons. Firstly, this is not the only time in the Tanakh that the ideas of covenant and being split appear together. In Genesis, God mysteriously confirms his covenant with Abraham by having Abraham cut two birds and a ram in half and placing them opposite each other. I also heard an interpretation from Jeff A. Benner, an amateur Christian biblical scholar, that the Kingdom of Israel was split into two parts, Northern and Southern, because they broke their covenant with God to keep the commandments. Just thinking about the idea of covenant conceptually, the idea is that there shall be an unbroken agreement between two parts. Covenant is all about unity. Two parties forever binded by the covenant which they make. Being split is the opposite of covenant.

The second reason I find this interesting is that I think the salt’s situation can serve as a metaphor for the entire purpose of the Tabernacle. The salt, of all the things consumed by the altar’s fire, is the most “of this world.” If you think of the world as a hierarchy of humans, then the other animals, then plants, and then lifeless material, salt falls into that lowest category. It is the only rock we eat. As a rock, without life, it has special properties. It lasts forever. It is not organic, so it doesn’t spoil. It is also unchanging; it doesn’t go through physical cycles like water. When the water of the ocean evaporates, the salt stays below. It is the lowest, most constant, most elementary substance on the altar. It is seemingly the furthest thing from God, an unlikely candidate for the most regular player in the sacrificial lineup. And yet, it is. The salt on the altar becomes smoke, wafting up towards the heavens. It reunites with its Creator. I feel like that is the purpose of the Tabernacle itself (NOT an original idea; very common theme in Torah commentary). Humanity feels separated from God. Our lives are lived in the physical world. The catch with Creation was that, by virtue of existing in the physical realm, we are distanced from the spiritual realm, from the heavens. The Tabernacle, and later Temple, is a place where we offer sacrifices, or korbanot. This Hebrew word comes from the root K-R-V, meaning close. We come close to God, to the spiritual and Divine, by turning physical objects into upwardly wafting smoke on the altars. The Holy of Holies, in the heart of the Tabernacle, is said to contain God’s presence. The Tabernacle is a kind of meeting place between Heaven and Earth, between the physical and Divine. The humble crystal of NaClo exemplifies this. That most physical element can become spiritual through Divine Service.

If you’ve read anything on, this may sound familiar. The idea of the Jew’s role as a reuniter of Heaven and Earth is one of their big things. I feel like the salt kind of exemplifies that. Anyways, I know this has been a bit of a ramble, so I’ll end it here. Below are some sources that I used to write this post.

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