Salt of the Covenant

Every Friday night at the Sabbath table, we salt the Sabbath bread as a remembrance of the Temple's ritual of salting the sacrifices. What does the salt symbolize?

Challah, the cup of wine, and salt, ready for the Sabbath. (Image: © Bigstock)


Regular Shabbat Readings

Read / Listen to these Portions

  • Vayikra (ויקרא | And he called)
  • Torah: Leviticus 1:1-5:26
  • Haftarah: Isaiah 43:21-44:23
  • Gospel: Matthew 5:23-30

Note: The regular readings are often interrupted with special readings on Jewish holidays, special Sabbaths, and Rosh Chodesh. Refer to the annual Torah Portion schedule for these special portions.

Portion Outline

  • Torah
    • Leviticus 1:1 | The Burnt Offering
    • Leviticus 2:1 | Grain Offerings
    • Leviticus 3:1 | Offerings of Well-Being
    • Leviticus 4:1 | Sin Offerings
    • Leviticus 5:14 | Offerings with Restitution
  • Prophets
    • Isaiah 43:1 | Restoration and Protection Promised
    • Isaiah 44:1 | God's Blessing on Israel
    • Isaiah 44:9 | The Absurdity of Idol Worship
    • Isaiah 44:21 | Israel Is Not Forgotten

Portion Summary

The title "Leviticus" is derived from the Greek Septuagint (LXX) version of the Torah. The book of Leviticus is predominantly concerned with Levitical rituals. An older Hebrew name for the book was "The Laws of the Priesthood," but in Judaism today, it is referred to by the name Vayikra (ויקרא), which means "And He called." Vayikra is the first Hebrew word of the book, which begins by saying, "And the LORD called to Moses and spoke to him from inside the tent of meeting" (Leviticus 1:1).

Leviticus describes the sacrificial service and the duties of the priests. It also introduces ritual purity, the biblical diet, the calendar of appointed times, laws of holiness and laws relating to redemption, vows and tithes. In addition, Leviticus discourses on ethical instruction and holiness. The twenty-fourth reading from the Torah is eponymous with the Hebrew name of the book it introduces: Vayikra. This portion introduces the sacrificial service and describes five different types of sacrifices.

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.

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