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Parashat Vayikra 5782

March 10, 2022

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The Covenant of Salt, the Salt of Your Covenant
A D’var Torah for Parashat Vayikra
By Rabbi Katy Allen (’05)

וְכׇל־קׇרְבַּ֣ן מִנְחָתְךָ֮ בַּמֶּ֣לַח תִּמְלָח֒ וְלֹ֣א תַשְׁבִּ֗ית מֶ֚לַח בְּרִ֣ית אֱ-לֹהֶ֔יךָ מֵעַ֖ל מִנְחָתֶ֑ךָ עַ֥ל כׇּל־קׇרְבָּנְךָ֖ תַּקְרִ֥יב מֶֽלַח:

You shall season your every offering of meal with salt; you shall not omit from your meal offering the salt of your covenant with G!d; with all your offerings you must offer salt. —Leviticus 2:13

lapping gently against warm sand,
crashing ferociously against rocky crags,
mixing with sweet water in sheltered estuaries,
cresting endlessly across vast open oceans—
a constant reminder
of the everlasting brit melah, covenant of salt. (Num. 18:19)

Ancient is this covenant,
from Creation, (Rashi Lev. 2:13)
when G!d decreed that salt would be offered on the altar
with the sacrifices—
derived from the sea,
perhaps to enhance the taste,
perhaps to remember Creation,
but always,
a reminder of complexity,
of paradox.

The oceans need salt,
their inhabitants unable to live without it;
the land, the lakes, the rivers,
their inhabitants unable to live with it.

When we extract the salt from seawater
for our sacrifice,
to meet our covenantal agreement,
the remaining water becomes fresh.

Salt can mean life,
and salt can mean death.

Demanding too much of the land
through irrigation or excessive fertilization,
whether in ancient Mesopotamia or modern California,
causes the same impact—
saltification of the land,
death to life,
brought on by our collective sins against G!d and the Earth,
as we sacrifice the land
to our quest for more and better,
always something more,
creating land inhospitable,
save to those “whose heart departs from G!d”. (Jer. 17:6)

Like the inhabitants of the sea,
we cannot live without salt—
perhaps the wisdom behind that ancient promise—
but an excess of salt can kill us, too.

What is our part of the bargain,
our side of the everlasting covenant?
Is it only to bring salt to an altar
no longer in existence?
Or is it something more complex?
More profound?
What does it take for us to acknowledge boundaries?
Can we understand the connection,
the fine line
between not enough and too much?

Can we maintain our responsibility
to the third day of Creation
and help maintain the balance
of the oceans
and the land
and the rivers
and our souls?

Can we bring salt
as an offering of our hearts
on the invisible altar of the future
in a sacred ritual,
praising, thanking, beseeching G!d,

or can we only sprinkle it on
or extract it
or waste it
without thinking?

Can we allow the reality of salt
to become a metaphor
for allowing our lives to be transformed
and learn to live in balance?

The ancient and everlasting covenant of salt
is present for us still,
if we choose to remain partners
with G!d.

כן יהי רצון

Ken yehi ratzon – May it be so.
Rabbi Katy Allen (AJR ’05) is the founder and rabbi of Ma’yan Tikvah – A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long and has a growing children’s outdoor learning program, Y’ladim BaTeva. She is the founder of the Jewish Climate Action Network-MA, a board certified chaplain, and a former hospital and hospice chaplain. She lives in Wayland, MA, with her spouse, Gabi Mezger, who leads the singing at Ma’yan Tikvah. She blogs, and invites others to share their wisdom as well, at www.mayantikvah.blogspot.com.