Please Pass the Salt
I’m Jewish and was invited by a relative for my first Shabbat meal last weekend. It was fun and gave me a lot to think about. It raised a lot of questions but they did something that especially bewildered me. The host dipped the Challah in salt before passing it to family and guests. What is the significance of the salt? Thank you.
There are several reasons for dipping Challah in salt after saying the blessing on the bread.
Salt gives flavor and is a “matter of taste”. It is a way of making sure that the piece of bread you eat after saying the blessing is tasty. This follows the Torah idea that physical pleasure can be used as a vehicle to elevate the physical world in a spiritual manner.
A second reason is to recall the idea that “Man” eats through the salty sweat of his brow. Meaning, as result of the transgression of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden we need to toil for our sustenance. And God rewards our efforts with sustenance.
Another reason is that when we had the Temple and brought offerings on the altar, salt accompanied every offering. The significance of salt is that it completes other foods and enhances their taste. Also, it preserves things which would otherwise spoil. For these two reasons, the Torah tells us to salt our offerings: To offer a completed offering, and to symbolize that our offerings help preserve our relationship with God.
We no longer have the altar to atone for us. However, the Talmud teaches that nowadays our table is our “altar”, implying that the bread itself, as well as the food we eat with it, is viewed as an offering, since the energy we derive from it should be used to fuel our service of God. Also, when we share our food with the needy, our table is like an altar of offering and this atones for us. Since our table is like the altar in these ways, we try to keep salt on the table all the time.
Interestingly, our sources teach that Lot’s wife turned into salt because she was stingy towards the needy. Lot himself was a generous person, always inviting guests. His wife resented guests and discouraged them. One trick of hers was not to provide salt, a small thing which makes a big difference to guests. Therefore, she was punished by means of salt, measure for measure. We, however, put salt on the table to show our willingness to share with others the bounty God bestowed upon us.