Honey or Salt
Have you ever eaten a tomato, fresh from the garden? Have you ever taken that fresh tomato and added just a pinch of salt to it? Somehow, as if by magic, the tomato flavor becomes bolder, more intense — more tomato-like.
This week we begin Sefer Vayikra, the third of the five books of the Torah, which focuses on the rituals and sacrifices surrounding the mishkan. In this week’s parshah we find a fascinating contrast between two different ways of changing the flavor of the sacrifices offered to God.
First, in Vayikra 2:11, the Torah teaches us that “you shall not cause to [go up in] smoke…any honey, [as] a fire offering to the Lord.” Two verses later, however, the Torah instructs us that “You shall offer salt on all your sacrifices.”
Why is it that honey is forbidden on sacrifices, but salt is mandatory? If the intention was to offer sacrifices in their most natural state, we could understand why honey would be forbidden, but wouldn’t salt then be forbidden as well? If the goal was to make the sacrifices taste their best, it would be obvious why salt is permitted, but wouldn’t honey also be permitted?
The Torah is conveying a deep truth about Jewish growth. Salt and honey work in fundamentally different ways. Adding honey to a food somewhat masks its flavor, adding a sweet aspect that wasn’t there before. Salt doesn’t add flavor, but rather, when used judiciously, salt helps to reveal the flavor inherent in the food itself. Honey adds to food a new flavor element that hadn’t been there, while salt reveals what was always present but had yet to be realized.
When we study Jewish texts and traditions, we can do it with one of two approaches. We can learn with a “honey” approach, where our teachers try to mold us into being the kinds of Jews they most value, the kinds of Jews who think and pray and speak just as they do. Alternatively, we can learn with a “salt” approach, where our teachers work to help us reveal our authentic, organic Jewish selves. At camp, where each of us is both a student and a teacher, the message of parshat Vaykira is that every one of us must engage in the holy work of helping those around us to discover who they truly are as Jews.
- Has a teacher or friend ever helped you connect better to your Judaism? How did they do it, and why do you think that approach worked?
- What is a way that you could help your friends, classmates and fellow campers to uncover who they really are as Jews?