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Vayikra/Leviticus 2:13 And every offering of your meal-offerings you shall salt with salt. And you shall not cease the salt of the covenant of your G-d from over your meal-offerings; on every offering of yours you shall offer salt.
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This is a long text - one complete verse - from the middle of the section dealing with grain offerings. Although there are a few other words, the majority of the verse is made up of variations on only three three-letter Hebrew roots: , and . In its Qal or simple meaning, means "to draw or come near, to approach"; the Hif'il stem "cause to draw near" and the derived noun , despite the insistence of Joel Hoffman1 that the meanings are not etymologically connected, are frequently translated "offer" and "offering" respectively. The root is not used in biblical Hebrew, but in Arabic means "to give"; the feminine noun is a gift or present, tribute or a sacrifice. Its most common application is for a grain or meal offering and the name used for the afternoon prayer service in the synagogue. Lastly, is a denominative verb meaning "to salt", from the noun , "salt", which also appears in place names such as , the Dead Sea - the sea of salt.
Hebrew often delights to use nouns and verbs from the same root to emphasise the meaning, frequently as adjacent words. On the first line, for example is the noun for salt, prepended by "in/with-the", followed by a Qal prefix 2ms verb form, to mean "with salt you shall salt. On the third line, is the noun "offering" with a 2ms possessive pronoun suffix, "of yours", coupled with - usually "all", but with a singular noun "each" or "every" - followed by a Hif'il prefix 2ms verb form, to mean "every offering you shall offer".
Later on in the Torah, Moshe explains to Aharon and his sons that they have "a covenant of salt forever before the L-RD for you and your offspring with you" (B'Midbar 18:19, ESV). This is picked up by the sages of the Talmud: "Rabbi Simeon says, Here it is said, It is a covenant of salt for ever, and there it is said, 'a covenant of perpetual priesthood' (B'Midbar 25:13, ESV). As it is impossible to conceive of sacrifices without the priesthood so it is impossible to conceive of sacrifices without salt!" (b. Menachot 20a). TheBaal HaTurim explains that, "the noun 'salt' is mentioned three times in this verse. For there were three places [in the Temple] where salt was placed [on the offerings]: in the Chamber of the Salt, on the ramp [of the altar], and on the altar itself". This is drawn from the Talmud: "in the salt chamber where they used to salt the hides of animal-offerings; on the ascent where they used to salt the sacrificial limbs; at the head of the altar where they used to salt the handful, the frankincense, the incense-offering, the meal-offering of the priests, the anointed [High] Priest's meal-offering, the meal-offering that is offered with the drink-offerings, and the burnt-offering of a bird!" (b. Menachot 21b). This makes a strong connection that it is the priests' responsibility to put the salt on the sacrifices - so much so that the salt comes from the general public Temple funds rather than the individual making a sacrifice. The priests have an everlasting covenant to make sure the offerings are well salted.
Baruch Levine points out that "large quantities of salt were delivered to the post-exilic temple in Jerusalem for use in the sacrificial cult", citing Darius, confirming the decree of Cyrus: "whatever is needed -- bulls, rams, or sheep for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, or oil, as the priests at Jerusalem require -- let that be given to them day by day without fail" (Ezra 6:9, ESV) to provide for the service of G-d from the Persian public purse. King Artaxerxes repeated this in writing in the letter he gave to Ezra the priest when he went up to Jerusalem to take charge of affairs in Jerusalem: "And I, Artaxerxes the king, make a decree to all the treasurers in the province Beyond the River: Whatever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the Law of the God of heaven, requires of you, let it be done with all diligence, up to 100 talents of silver, 100 cors of wheat, 100 baths of wine, 100 baths of oil, and salt without prescribing how much" (Ezra 7:21-22, ESV).
Perhaps the most telling of the Jewish commentators, however, isIbn Ezra, who (quoted by Michael Carasik) puts these words in G-d's mouth: "the covenant I have brought you into with Me, and sworn you to, is that you not offer anything unsalted and bland, for that would be disrespectful". Just as food is bland and lacking in taste without salt, to season and lift the flavours, so the sacrifices are considered bland without salt. The Bechor Schor adds that "salt and sacrifices should stimulate people to clean their thoughts and behaviour, return to G-d's commands and be forgiven". The Ramban, citing "And you, O tower of the flock, hill of the daughter of Zion, to you shall it come, the former dominion shall come, kingship for the daughter of Jerusalem" (Micah 4:8, ESV), makes the amazing comment that "the Kingdom of G-d is like salt which seasons all foods and helps to preserve them. This salt is like the covenant, for the covenant is 'the salt of the world' and by virtue of it [the world] exists or may be destroyed". The offerings must have salt so that they are not bland, salt stimulates people to return to G-d, and salt is a symbol of the Kingdom of G-d, without which the world might be destroyed.
In the Sermon on the Mount, bringing that exact theme firmly into our remit as disciples, Yeshua said, "You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet" (Matthew 5:13, ESV). We are to be involved in this process of salt - seasoning and flavouring - for the world! G-d does not want service or relationship that is bland or insipid; not only is it no good for us, but it does nothing for the world around us. Using another image, Yeshua told the churches, "I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth" (Revelation 3:15-16, ESV).
How, then, are we to be salt in the world? Mark's version of Yeshua's salt comment gives us a first clue: "Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another" (Mark 9:50, ESV). Being at peace with one another can be tricky, but what value does our witness have to the world if we are always arguing between ourselves or emphasising the differences between us? A second clue is found in Rav Sha'ul's letter to the community in Colossae: "Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person" (Colossians 4:6, ESV). The way we speak is important, so that we may gain an entrance for the gospel rather than lay obstacles in its path. Without resorting in any way to violence or unlawful action, we need to take a firm stand on issues of principle and proclaim boldly the truth that is found in the Bible; we need to be zealous for G-d's name and reputation where and whenever it is attacked. Phinehas, after all, was told, "I give to him My covenant of peace ... the covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his G-d" (B'Midbar 25:13, ESV).
1. - Dr Joel M. Hoffman, And God Said, St Martin's Press, New York 2010, 978-0-312-56558-9
Further Study: Matthew 10:32-33; Romans 10:9-10; 2 Timothy 2:12
Application: It's all too easy to cower behind political correctness, to avoid offending people with the truth, but our faith demands that we sometimes speak out and be seen. When did you last take a stand for G-d and confess that you too are a follower of Yeshua?
© Jonathan Allen, 2013
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