Salt of the Covenant
When discussing the levitical sacrifices, the Torah says, “all your offerings you shall offer salt” (Leviticus 2:13). In the days of the Holy Temple, a pile of salt was kept on the altar for this purpose. Unlike so many other rituals and so many other commandments, in this instance, the ritual is explained to us. The Torah goes on to explain that the salt symbolizes the “salt covenant of your God.” It is defined as a “covenant symbol.”
In the ancient world, salt was chiefly employed as a preservative. Before chemical additives and refrigeration, salt was the only means of preserving meat. That is why the commandment to salt the offerings is coupled with the prohibition on allowing leaven. Both are intended to avoid fermentation. The Tabernacle sacrifices must be maintained in an imperishable state.
Because salt was the preservative of the ancient world, salt came to represent a state of permanence. A “covenant of salt” was a covenant of perpetual obligation. Two other biblical passages refer to “salt covenants.” Both of the passages describe the salt covenant as everlasting and eternal:
“It is an everlasting covenant of salt before the LORD to you and your descendants with you.” (Numbers 18:19)
“Do you not know that the LORD God of Israel gave the rule over Israel forever to David and his sons by a covenant of salt?” (2 Chronicles 13:5)
Salting of the offerings symbolizes the eternal nature of God’s covenant with Israel. Therefore, the offerings themselves represent various aspects of that same covenant. Each sacrifice and each function of worship within the Tabernacle symbolized some characteristic of the covenant. In this sense, the sacrificial services can be seen as visual dramatizations of the covenant between God and His people.
In traditional Jewish observance, the home is regarded as a small temple, and the table within the home is regarded as an altar. Every Sabbath and festival, bread and wine are placed before the LORD on the table. A blessing is pronounced over the cup and the wine is shared. Then a blessing is pronounced over the bread. It is salted, broken and shared. These simple covenant rites have survived over 3,000 years.
By partaking in the cup and the bread on Sabbath and the festivals, we reenact a covenant remembrance that finds its origin on the altar. We eat from the table of the LORD.