The Salt Solution
What do all the sacrificial offerings that comprised the Temple
service have in common? Each class of offering had its own specialized
set of detailed instructions, calling for a certain species and gender of
animal or bird, for various kinds of cakes, for libations, spices or
condiments of a particular sort, and so on. No two sacrifices were
identical, and no requirement was universal. Except for one. Every
sacrifice required salt. Furthermore, the requirement of salt was not
simply a minor instruction. There is a specific positive commandment in
the Torah mandating the addition of salt to all sacrifices, and to add
emphasis to emphasis, there is also a specific prohibition forbidding the
omission of salt from any sacrifice. Clearly, the addition of salt is
critical. Why salt?
The Talmud sheds light on this puzzling question. At the time of
creation, the Talmud explains, the Creator parted the lower world from
the firmament, separating the waters of the heavens from the waters of
the seas. The seas were mortified. “Master of the Universe!” they cried
out. “We want to be close to Your heavenly throne. Why have You
placed us off in the distance?” In order to reassure the seas that they
had not been abandoned or rejected, the Creator granted them the
privilege of providing salt for all sacrifices brought in the Temple.
But the questions still remain. How could a minuscule drop of salt
added to a sacrifice appease the overwhelming desire of the sea to be
closer to Hashem? How was that adequate compensation for being
distant from Hashem?
The commentators explain that we are often all too dependent on
our environment for our level of spirituality. If only we could live in
more sheltered surroundings, we tell ourselves, we would be such spiritual
people. If only we could isolate ourselves from the hubbub of the
mundane world we could draw closer to the Creator and the fulfillment
of the transcendent aspirations of our inner souls. In the meantime,
however, we resign ourselves to the reality of our existence and the
futility of aspiring to high levels of spirituality.
But this is not what Hashem expects of us. He does not want us to
make our spiritual growth dependent on what we consider ideal
conditions. In any setting, no matter how distant, no matter how difficult,
He wants us to yearn to connect with Him. Moreover, it is this very
yearning which will bring us closer to Him and forge that powerful
spiritual connection. The aching desire in our hearts spans any chasms
of time and space and brings us right into Hashem’s enfolding embrace.
In this light we can understand Hashem’s words of consolation to
the waters of the seas. True, they would have to remain in the lower
world while the waters of the heavens rose to the upper world. But this
did not necessarily mean that they would be estranged from Hashem.
The solution was in the salt.
Salt is the sublimation of all the elements dissolved in the water. It
is the very essence of the entire sea reduced to a tiny pinch. By
providing salt for the sacrifices, the sea would be reaching with all its
being out across the vast distances to the center of spirituality, and this
reaching out itself would bring it close to Hashem.
A king had two sons. One of them lived in the palace and served as
the chief minister of the kingdom. He met with his father daily and
conferred with him on a wide variety of state and other matters. The
second son served as the king’s ambassador to an important but very
distant kingdom. Every other year, he returned to the palace for a short
visit, but for all the rest of the time he remained in the faraway land.
After a number of years, the king grew old and feeble, He decided
to address the question of the succession to the throne. He called in his
ministers and informed them that he had chosen a successor.
“The son who is closer to me,” he said, “shall sit on my throne.”
The ministers nodded sagely. It was as they expected. The chief
minister would make a good king.
“Send for my son right away,” the king continued. “He must travel a
great distance to come back here to the palace.”
The ministers were baffled. “But you just said that you had chosen
the closer son, your majesty!”
“Indeed I have,” said the king. “The chief minister is a good, loyal
son, but he is with me all the time. He is not excited when he comes to
see me. The ambassador, however, may live far away, but he yearns to
see me with all his heart. No distance can affect our closeness.”
In our own lives, we can all reach deep within ourselves for that
pinch of salt that represents our very being and identity. If we dedicate
that salt to our relationship with our creator, we can gain untold
spiritual riches no matter where we find ourselves.
Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Naftali Reich and Torah.org.
Rabbi Reich is on the faculty of the Ohr Somayach Tanebaum Education Center.