Salt of the Covenant

When discussing the levitical sacrifices, the Torah says, “all your offerings you shall offer salt” (Leviticus 2:13). The priesthood kept a pile of salt near the altar for this purpose. Unlike so many other rituals and ceremonial commandments, in this instance, the Torah explains the meaning of the symbolism, defining it as a covenant symbol: “the salt of the covenant of your God.”

The Torah coupled the commandment to salt the offerings along with the prohibition on leaven. Both rules helped avoid corruption and helped keep the holy things in an imperishable state. People in the ancient world used salt primarily as a preservative. In the days before chemical additives and refrigeration, heavy salting was the best means of preserving meat. Because the ancient world considered salt as a preservative, salt came to represent a state of permanence. The term “covenant of salt” indicates a covenant of perpetual obligation—an everlasting covenant relationship. Two other biblical passages refer to “salt covenants,” and both of the passages describe the salt covenant as everlasting and eternal:

  • A salt covenant with the Aaronic Priesthood: It is an everlasting covenant of salt before the LORD to you and your descendants with you. (Numbers 18:19)
  • A salt covenant with the house of David: Do you not know that the LORD God of Israel gave the rule over Israel forever to David and his sons by a covenant of salt? (2 Chronicles 13:5)

The commandment to salt the sacrifices as a symbol of the salt covenant provides us with a key for unlocking the mystery of much of the sacrificial system. It provides a basis for interpreting the sacrifices as covenantal gestures. Salting of the offerings symbolizes the eternal nature of God’s covenant with Israel. If so, the offerings themselves must represent various aspects of that same covenant. Each korban and each function of worship within the Tabernacle will symbolize some characteristic of the covenant between God and Israel. In this sense, we can interpret the sacrificial services as dramatizations of the God’s covenant relationship with His people.

Traditional Jewish teaching says that every home is as a small temple. The table within the home corresponds to the altar. On every Sabbath and festival, we place bread and wine before the LORD on the table. We pronounce blessings over the cup and share the wine. We pronounce a blessing over the bread, salt it, break it, and share it. These simple covenant rites have survived over 3,000 years. By partaking in the cup and the bread on Sabbath and the festivals, we reenact a covenant remembrance that originated on the altar. We eat from the table of the LORD.

Vayikra – ויקרא : “And he called”
Torah : Leviticus 1:1-5:19
Haftarah : Isaiah 43:21-44:23
Gospel : Mark 7:1-30

Source: Torah Portion