“A Covenant of Salt”
At the end of this week’s Torah portion, we read the following verse:
“All the holy gifts, which are set aside by the children of Israel for the Lord, I have given to you, and to your children, as an eternal portion; it is like an eternal covenant of salt before the Lord, for you and your descendants with you.”
In another Biblical verse:
“Should you not know that the Lord God of Israel gave the kingdom over Israel to David forever, to him and to his sons by a covenant of salt?”
A Salt Covenant is mentioned twice in the Bible
Numbers 19 – God’s covenant with the Priesthood
2 Chronicles – refers to the Davidic covenant with God which involves the Family lineage that leads to the eventual Messiah
What’s the deal with salt?
Salt is for Sacrifice according to Leviticus 2:13
“And you shall salt every one of your meal offering sacrifices with salt, and you shall not omit the salt of your God’s covenant from [being placed] upon your meal offerings. You shall offer salt on all your sacrifices.”
What does salt do?
Part of Sacrificial Procedure
Although it appears from Leviticus that salt was required for meal-offerings only, the Rabbis concluded that, just as none of the sacrifices could be offered without priests, so too they could not be offered without salt. The salt which belonged to the Temple for sacrificial purposes was also used by the priests when they ate their portion of the sacrifices. And it wasn’t that pink Himalayan stuff!
The Rabbis recognized different properties in salt as it is prominent in the ritual code. The most important function of salt, recommended by the Rabbis, was for draining the blood from meat. Blood can not be thoroughly extracted from meat unless it is well salted. This is where Kosher Salt comes from.
One study on salt found that when rats were deprived of sodium, they kept away from activities that they normally enjoyed. I’m not sure what rats consider enjoyable activities but their lack of salt caused depression in rodents. The researchers suggested, therefore, that sodium could act as an antidepressant.
For many decades a certain type of salt, lithium carbonate, has been used in treating Bi-Polar Disorder. Those who live with this form of mental illness, when unmedicated, can experience the extremes of depression and mania. The application of lithium, which had been known about since the late 19th century, in the treatment of manic illness was approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration in 1970 and because of its effectiveness, in many patients, it is still prescribed today. However the taking of lithium requires frequent blood tests because it can reach levels of toxicity in the kidneys.
Too much salt is not a good thing.
The body uses salt, sodium to maintain fluid levels. A balance of fluid and sodium is necessary for the health of the heart, liver, and kidneys. It regulates blood fluids and prevents low blood pressure. A human has, on average, 50 teaspoons of salt in their body.
Whereas salt removes blood from meat, the kidneys filter out excess water from the blood.
A high salt diet will alter one’s sodium balance, causing the kidneys to have reduced function which will remove less water. This can result in higher blood pressure which puts strain on the kidneys and can lead to kidney disease. Without this balance, nerves, muscles, and other tissues in your body would not work normally. And infants under one year old should not be given salt because their kidneys are not matured.
Why are the kidneys important in Judaism?
The kidneys are mentioned five times in the Bible as the organs examined by God to pass judgment on a person. When God wants to evaluate your conduct the Creator investigates your kidneys. This double organ is mentioned mostly in parallel with the heart. In Hebrew tradition, they were considered to be the most important internal organs. Why? The kidneys were associated with emotional life. But they were also viewed as the seat of human thought; they are used as a metaphor for morals and values, for reflection and inspiration. In the Bible the use of the kidneys and heart as the central essence of a person is primarily used as metaphor for the core of the person, for their greatest vulnerabilities or, as what we would call now, the psyche of a person.
Getting back to salt…
Salt has many practical applications and is scientifically very cool…or hot
In fact, adding salt lowers the freezing temperature of water and for winter roads, it means that the water won’t freeze as easily. For ice cream, it allows the temperature of the mixture to get colder. Since ice cream isn’t just water, it needs to be a little below 32°F to freeze
But salt also does the exact opposite. Salt added to water increases the boiling point of the water, meaning your water will have a higher temperature when you add your pasta, so it will cook better.
Salt has these two possible extremes.
Salt is a crystal. Crystals play an important role in the duties of the High Priest as his breastplate featured 12 rare stones and crystals. Crystals also appear in a shared, rare vision of God.
“Then Moses, and Aaron, Nadav, and Avihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up the mountain; And they saw the God of Israel; and there was under his feet a kind of paved crystal of a sapphire stone, as clear as the sky itself.”
Some people believe that crystals have an inherent power that can be harnessed and used for their benefit. Some use crystals to ward off bad energy and attract good luck.
None of these superstitious beliefs about crystals come from the Bible. The Bible does’nt say that crystals are helpful for attracting wealth, romance, or warding off evil spirits; neither does it say that crystals are needed to connect to the Creator. On the contrary, the Bible warns strongly against engaging in anything related to superstition and the occult.
What does it mean to be a crystal? How is the word “crystal“ used?i
If you crystallize an opinion or idea, or if it crystallizes, it becomes fixed and definite in someone’s mind. It is to make the mind free from confusion or ambiguity; to make things clear.
In business crystallization is to sell an investment at a particular time and to make a profit or loss from that investment:
“By selling the shares now, your gain will be crystallized.”
So what is the Torah’s most famous reference to salt? Genesis 19:26
“But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.”
Of course this is referring to Lot’s wife. Lot is the nephew of Abraham and has a penchant for getting into trouble. The Torah doesn’t give a name for Lot’s spouse. In the Midrash, Lot’s wife’s name is given as Edith…I call her Crystal.
The Hebrew verb used for Lot’s wife “looking” back at Sodom is TaBaT. Here, her looking back at Sodom differs from other words with the same meaning in this portion. This implies that Edith’s looking back is significant.
The verb TaBaT implies – looking at, keeping in sight. a looking down from above, watching owner-less objects, or abandoned objects, a watching which gives one the right of possession.
Lot’s wife looked back with abandon, with no inhibitions or restraint. Perhaps she still felt attached to the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, that she belonged with them, and so she felt that she had abandoned her city, her home. Perhaps the ideology of the evil people of Sodom, of taking advantage of the vulnerable, crystallized in her mind. And because of this her inability to show true compassion became an obstacle in the evolution of the Jewish people. And so she is still standing in the desert of Israel not having moved in 5,000 years.
There are those whose minds have crystallized, who hold tight to their opinions and ideas, and there is no possibility of ever getting them to reconsider their position on things, or to acknowledge basic facts and truth. We may find this very frustrating. But just as one could have negativity crystallized in their very essence it is also possible to have the positive permanently imprinted into our kishkes or our kidneys.
And maybe this what a Covenant of Salt is all about. That deep in our core, in our very essence, we agree to find the positive and holiness everywhere and in everyone. Like the Creator’s relationship with the Priests and with the offspring of King David we make a covenant that crystallizes in our kidneys when we commit to avoid extremes, to find inner balance and wholeness and to wish this for others.
So, take all this with a grain of salt….and may we all cultivate and crystallize compassion in our hearts, and soul, and our kidneys.