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PASS THE SALT

by Benyamin Cohen    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

We are taught by our sages that there is a Jewish custom to sprinkle salt over the two loaves of bread at the Shabbat table. What is the reason for this peculiar custom? What is the significance of sprinkling salt?

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We are taught by our sages that there is a Jewish custom to sprinkle salt over the two loaves of bread at the Shabbat table. What is the reason for this peculiar custom? What is the significance of sprinkling salt?

Our sages teach that the Shabbat table is holy, for it reminds us of the altar in the holy Temple where offerings were brought, as is described in this week's Torah portion. And since salt was shaken over the offerings, so too our Shabbat table, symbolic of that religious experience, should have a salt shaker on it for us to sprinkle over the loaves of bread. However, one may wonder what the altar in the holy Temple has to do with our dinner table. After all, we're not sacrificing anything on it.

Hashem wishes for us to transform every aspect of our lives into a holy endeavor. The goal of a Jew is to sanctify the physical. We should attempt to live a physical life that is permeated with holiness. Our business dealings have to be done in accordance with the Torah. We exercise in order to be more healthy to perform mitzvot. We surf the Internet to study more Torah. Similarly, at the Shabbat table, we do not eat delicious delicacies simply to fill our stomachs and to satisfy our cravings, but rather as a means to celebrate the true joy and essence of Shabbat. Friday night dinner should be elevated from a mere meal to a spiritual experience. But how can we do that? How can we change the eating of gefilte fish and matzah balls into a holy act?

The Shabbat meal is engulfed with mitzvot. We don't just say "rub a dub dub, thanks for the grub" and wolf down everything in sight. On the contrary, every aspect of the meal can be heightened to a new spiritual plateau. Before the festive meal we sing Shalom Aleichem and Eishet Chayil, welcoming in the holy Sabbath day and expressing our gratitude to the women of the household. We recite kiddush over the wine and wash our hands and say hamotzi on the bread. During the course of the meal, we speak words of Torah with our guests. And then we recite the Birkat Hamazon (Grace After Meals), thanking Hashem for providing us sustenance.

The quintessential example of a "mitzvah meal" is the upcoming Passover seder. Throughout the evening, we recall our miraculous exodus from Egypt, we drink the four cups of wine, we recite the Hallel prayer which praises Hashem and His glory. As far as meals are concerned, the seder has a maximum mitzvah output. But it is also important for us to remember the spiritual potential of any meal. Even when we partake of a simple glass of water, we recite a short blessing before and after giving thanks to the Almighty for His generosity in providing us with this sustenance. We must remember the message of the salt shaker. Everything we do, every step that we take can become an ex'salt'ed experience.

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Benyamin Cohen, a native Atlantan and alumnus of Yeshiva Atlanta and Georgia State University, is editor of Torah from Dixie.

You are invited to read more Parshat Tzav articles.

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