“All the sacred gifts that the Israelites set aside for the Lord I give to you… It shall be an everlasting covenant of salt before the Lord for you and for your offspring as well” Numbers 18:19


There is a ubiquitous Jewish custom of placing salt on our tables and eating it with our challah bread. Its origin is found in this week’s Torah reading. Accordingly, salt was added to all of the Temple sacrifices and as our tables are considered akin to the altar, so too we add salt to our bread as a way of replicating the sacrificial cult. But what is the meaning of this salt?

Numerous commentaries suggest that it has to do with the qualities of salt. Salt is everlasting and it is a preservative. Along these lines, the salt is a metaphor for God’s covenant with the Jewish nation— it is everlasting and always preserved. Each time we see the salt on our “altars” we are reminded of, and recommitted to, our covenant with God, and our commitments to it.

Nachmanides of Girona, Spain (13th century), offered an additional insight. He pointed out that salt can also be destructive. On its own, it can parch the land, making it inhospitable for anything to grow. So too, just as the covenant is everlasting, if neglected it can be harmful to those who ignore it.

During these past months our commitments have been tested. Without the continuity of communal worship we have had the opportunity to spend our time otherwise. For many this has meant more time at home with family, as well as the experience of individual prayer. These different experiences may have brought enrichment and joy, and that appreciation shouldn’t be forgotten.

At the same time, we have missed the power of collective prayer, and the camaraderie of participating in a minyan. As much as our synagogues have heroically maintained virtual communities during the lockdown, the digital world does not replace a tangible one.

Indeed, as we look forward to our synagogues opening again, we can hopefully return to them with a renewed sense of appreciation for what we have in them and the value that they bring to our lives. Like the symbol of salt, the Jewish house of worship is everlasting. It is our second home and our mikdash me’at (small Temple).

Rabbi Shalom Morris

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