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By Nechama Stampler | Series: | Level:

Water, Lowered and Raised1

    All your minchah offerings should be salted. You should not desist from putting the salt of G-d’s covenant upon your minchah offering. Offer salt upon all your offerings.

Rashi: The salt covenant is sourced in the six days of Creation. When the upper and lower waters were separated from each other, the lower waters were promised that they would also have a chance at elevation. They would be offered on the altar as salt, as well as during the water-libation of Sukkos.

Maharal: Both opportunities had to be promised to the lower waters to mollify them. Using salt on offerings does indeed give a place to the primordial waters on the altar. Salt is, after all, a major component of sea water. 2 Yet it seems somewhat roundabout to include a water derivative rather than pouring water directly on the altar. The water-libations of most of the nights of Sukkah afford the opportunity for the direct application of water.

Once the nissuch hamayim ceremony is in place, however, we should wonder why salt is then needed at all? Water has its day in the sun, at least during the holiday of Sukkos!

Inspecting the variety of offerings on the mizbeach, we quickly arrive at an answer. We can place all korbanos under two major headings: foods and drinks. The food-korbanos include meat and flour products; the many wine-libations are drink-offerings. The primordial waters have a share in both types of korban. Salt is brought with the food-korbanos, while the nisuch hamayim corresponds to the drink-offerings.

Another reason for the dual role of water is the complete dissimilarity of the ocean water components. Salt is a solid; the fresh water that remains when salt is extracted is a liquid. Solids and liquids strike us as opposites – particularly in reference to salt and water. Water speaks to us as an enabler of plant growth. Whatever potential life lies dormant in the earth requires water to move it to sprout and flourish. Salt, the other component of sea water, does the opposite. It tends to stifle plant life, to desiccate it and rob it of its vitality. In explaining our topic, Ramban argues that the salt-covenant includes multiple midos of Hashem, which are symbolized by the separate utilizing of the salt and water components.

There is more. As we said earlier, salt and water not only act differently, they can be seen as polar opposites. Korbanos point to the Oneness of Hashem; it is that recognition that “prolongs the days of man,” as Chazal tell us3 . Only within Hashem are true opposites united. Only His absolute Oneness brings together everything that seems disparate and even contradictory. Uniting salt and water on the same altar is perfectly consistent with what avodas hakorbanos attempts to do.

Yet another perspective. It is a truism that everything, one way or another tends towards elevation. The division and suppression of the lower waters – by Hashem Himself! – is inconsistent with this spiritual law. This is the reason why those waters “balked” at being fixed in the lower, earthly world, until Hashem promised that they would have a place on the mizbeach. Essentially he told them that the way to elevation is to sustain demotion! By lowering themselves, they ironically best positioned themselves for promotion to a yet higher place.

This irony flows from Hashem’s practice of preferring the lowly and downtrodden. The gemara4 comments on the animals that are offered on the altar. It argues that no birds are as relentlessly pursued as are turtledoves and young doves. No animals are attacked as constantly as oxen, sheep and goats. Hashem chose those species specifically because they are victimized, because they are at the bottom of the pecking order.

This is not simply a choice of the underdog for its own sake. Rather, it is a preference for things that are not as mired in the earthly. The animals that push their way to the top of the dominance pyramid may seem to be elevated, but the opposite is really the case. Those that are wildly successful in the affairs of this world show themselves to be truly part of it. Those that are not so successful and powerful are not as fully engaged with this world. They are somewhat detached from it, and not as coarsely physical as the others. This makes them much better candidates for spiritual elevation on the altar.

The forced separation of some of the primordial waters from the upper ones may seem insulting, a sign of essential insignificance. The reality is that it was the opposite. Assuming a less inviting, less prominent position is what allowed those waters to ascend the altar of Hashem.

This is only an illustration of the general rule. You begin to be able to transcend the limitations of this physical world by minimizing your essential connection to it, by curtailing its hold over you.


1. Based on Gur Aryeh, Vayikra 2:13; Shemos 20:22; Gevuros Hashem chap. 55
2. We can assume that the waters that covered the face of the earth were salty ocean waters, just as they continued to be even after land masses had pushed them aside.
3. Mechilta 11
4. Bava Kama 93A