While all serious carnivores have different ways in which they like their steak cooked and spiced, one probably would not expect God to be a picky eater. Nevertheless, when the Torah describes the laws of Korbanot in Parashat VaYikra, it highlights the need for all meat offered on the Mizbeiach to be salted. It states, “VeChol Korban Minchahtecha BaMelach Timlach, VeLo Tashbit Melech Berit Elokecha MeiAl Minchahtecha Al Kol Korbanecha Takriv Melach,” “Every Minchah sacrifice must be seasoned with salt. Never shall the salt of your treaty with God be lacking from your Minchah offering. With all Minchah offerings you shall offer salt” (VaYikra 2:13). Far more than a minor detail in one Pasuk, the root word Melach, salt, is repeated six times. Moreover, the entire institution of Korbanot is referred to as “Melach Berit Elokecha,” “The salty covenant.” Why is this idea of salting so essential for Korbanot? Clearly, God does not taste the meat we offer, and the particular flavoring cannot be simply to appease His “taste buds.” What, then, might the unique characteristics of salt symbolize as something that is meant to accompany our Korbanot?
The Ibn Ezra explains that bringing meat without salt would belittle the Chashivut, significance, of the offering. God does not care about the flavor of the meat, but He does demand that what we offer Him a meal as fancy and respectful as what we would serve our Shabbat guests (they didn’t have “Kosher by Design” in the times of the Beit HaMikdash!). In this way, the Torah may be signifying that our religious observance, symbolized by Korbanot, must be expressed with same level of aesthetics and sophistication with which we would present ourselves to other human beings. While in essence there is no physical enhancement to the Korban, the attitude we express enhances our Avodat Hashem, divine service.
On the other hand, the Netziv finds unique significance in the use of salt. Salt, he argues, is a chemical that on its own has great destructive powers and is, in and of itself, not particularly tasty. Nevertheless, when combined in the right proportions with most foods, salt has the ability to enhance and improve. While the Netziv discusses the implications of this on a more global level, his insight suggests an alternate perspective on the symbolism of salt for every individual. Even products that may be less than meaningful and even destructive on their own can serve as powerful tools to enhance our Torah study and Mitzvah performance. This approach broadens the scope of what we are willing to accept and integrate as condiments to religious observance. At the same time, we must recognize these external additions as “value added” and not just a way of making sure that Torah is just as “cool” and “stylish” as everything else we are involved in
However, one has to wonder if there are any limitations. At what point do the extra ingredients drown out the taste of the dish? If we are open to a broader range of tools that help us promote and develop our appreciation for a life of Torah and Mitzvot, how do we ensure that those tools are recognized as a mere enhancement to our core values and are not themselves viewed as the end goal?
In a 1966 speech, Rav Norman Lamm emphasized the unique character of salt. As opposed to other spices that add an external flavor to the item they garnish, salt brings out and enhances the flavor intrinsic to the food itself. Without salt, the blandness of a dish might prevent someone from recognizing its culinary merit. The Torah is encouraging the use of external means for enhancing the Korban if its role is merely to draw out the Korban’s own “flavor.”As individuals and members of a community, we are asked to carefully examine whether the external and more physical manifestations of our observance enable us to extract and express our uniquely individual personalities and religious commitment.
Similarly, on a more educational level, even as we look to garnish Torah and Mitzvot with the most engaging and exciting advancements and the latest and greatest forms of media and technology, we must pay careful attention not to lose sight of the real goal: demonstrating the inherit power and beauty of a Torah life.
This challenge may also be reflected in the unique role that clothing plays throughout Megillat Esther. When improperly used by Achashveirosh and Haman, clothing is an end unto itself. Achashveriosh displays the materials of regal clothing and tapestry throughout his palace while, according to the Midrash, he asks Vashti to attend the party without any clothes. In Haman’s mind, the ultimate reward is to be able to wear the clothing that King had worn as a shallow and physical sign of his personal political achievements, without any concern about the responsibility of authority that comes with the royal garb. For Mordechai, on the other hand, clothing represents a vehicle through which he can demonstrate and sensitize the people to his own emotions and the perspective they should take to the events occurring around them. When Mordechai walks with sackcloth, there is mourning and fasting among the Jewish people. When he walks out, at the end of the Megillah, BeLevush Malchut, in royal clothing, it leads to the ecstatic happiness of the Jews of Shushan.
On Purim, we celebrate a holiday that asks us to focus on external manifestations of Simcha, happiness. Like the salt on a Korban, this celebration is meant to help us draw out and appreciate our own excitement for and commitment to our daily lives of Torah and Mitzvot. Our challenge is not to become too obsessed with the gold and glitter, the costumes, or Mishloach Manot baskets for their own sake; rather, as Rav Hutner points out, we ought to remind ourselves how useful all these tools are in realizing that which we have had all along: “LaYehudim Hayeta Orah VeSimcha VeSasson ViYkar” “The Jews had light, happiness, joy, and honor” (Esther 8:16). On Purim, the Jewish people were “Kiyemu Mah SheKibelu Kevar” (Shevuot 39a), they re-affirmed their commitment to the Torah that they had already received. As generation after generation introduces new technologies that have the potential to enhance and deepen our tradition, we must recognize it as a means to enhance that which we have already received and build upon the Torah we have already accepted.