The Lessons of Salt by Rabbi Michael Hoenig


This week, we read the beginning of Sefer VaYikra, which deals primarily with the laws related to the Korbanot. One of the laws associated with these offerings is, “VeChol Korban Minchatecha BaMelach Timlach,” “You shall salt your every meal offering with salt” (VaYikra 2:13). Chazal explain this commandment to salt Korbanot by quoting the following Midrash (BeReishit Rabbah 5:4): When Hashem split the upper waters from the lower waters during the creation of the world (BeReishit 1:7), the lower waters were upset with their placement and claimed that it was not fair that they were more distant from the heavens. They claimed that their distance from Hashem would not allow them to become holy, because they would be confined to the earth. Hashem consoled the lower waters by promising them that one day, salt, a byproduct of the lower waters, would be elevated by being used in the offerings in the Beit HaMikdash.

Rav Ya’akov Kamenetsky points out that Hashem’s consolation to the lower waters does not offer true comfort.  The lower waters complained that they should have the possibility of being holy, not that one of their byproducts would possibly become holy. In order to explain why Hashem’s consolation truly was comforting, Rav Ya’akov quotes Rashi’s description (Ketubot 79b s.v. HaMelach VeHaChol) of how salt is acquired. Rashi explains that salt is formed when a person digs a shallow pond next to a body of saltwater, and the water consequently streams into the pond. When the sun beats down on the pond, the water evaporates, and a residue of salt is now present at the bottom of the pond.

Hashem was in fact offering solace to the lower waters by explaining the importance of its byproduct, salt. Essentially, Hashem was telling the lower waters that even salt, which is the lowest part of the lower waters, is to be sanctified daily on the altar. This demonstrates Hashem’s care and love for the lower waters.

The lesson of the lower waters and salt is very powerful and relevant. We live in a very physical and superficial world and are constantly surrounded and harassed by strong urges and temptations. Some might complain that it would be fairer and easier if we lived in a heavenly world without physical temptations. The elevation and sanctification of the lower waters and the salt contained within them counter this approach. Hashem specifically placed us in this physical world with the challenge of elevating our physical and mundane lives. The sanctification of the salt, the particles that were left in the pond, demonstrates the great potential for mankind. Hashem specifically chose the particles that were left in the mud to be elevated constantly on the holy altar. Like the salt, mankind is given the opportunity to uplift and elevate its physical existence.

In his Flames of Faith, Rav Zev Reichman beautifully explains the importance of our physical surrounding. He writes,

 If we would live in an exclusively spiritual state, our observance of Mitzvot would not be a display of dedication.  Now that we are in a physical realm and blessed with difficult temptations, our observance of Hashem’s Mitzvot and avoidance of misdeeds solely because He commanded, shows our love for the King.

Similarly, the Ba’al HaTanya writes that the entire purpose of the creation of man is to make a dwelling place for Hashem in this world.  This physical world is the ultimate theater for the revelation of Hashem’s glory. The lower waters and salt should give us great Chizuk  and help us remember the tremendous amount of Kedushah we could potentially bring into this physical world.

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