“Why do we dip the hallah in salt when we make Hamotzi?” This is one of those questions that comes up frequently. The traditional answer is that the table upon which we eat is a mizbeah, an altar, in miniature; just as the korbanot, the ancient sacrificial offerings, were salted, so, too, is our hallah.
But that begs another question: why were the korbanot salted? The answer to that one is in our Torah portion, Vayikra: “The 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” (Leviticus 2:13). “Because the Torah says so” is a firm answer, but it doesn’t explain why salt is a necessary component of sacrifice. And what, exactly, is the role of salt in our covenant with God?
Rashi, the great medieval commentator (1040-1105), quotes a midrash that is part of the creation myth to explain. When the lower (ocean) waters were separated from their upper counterparts on Day Two, they cried out in anguish over being fated to remain below, in an impure place. So God told them to be silent, promising them a prominent role in the water-drawing ceremony of Simhat Beit Hashoevah on Sukkot. Still the lower waters were unsatisfied; Sukkot comes just once a year! So God made a covenant with them that their salinity would come in handy regularly, as a featured act on the altar.
What were the ocean water’s fears? Are our fears any different? Could that be why we have the idiom “salt of the earth?” To be continued on Shabbat morning…
Rabbi David Wise