Salt, Bread and the Talmud
By Avi Lazerson
According to Jewish law, we are supposed to have salt on the table when we have a meal with bread. Why is this? Because back in the good old days, meaning in the time of the Talmud, bread was simply made from flour and water. Dipping one's bread in salt gave it taste.
Today when all breads have salt or some other flavorings inside, it should be that we do not have to put salt on the table. However the codifiers of the Jewish law still require that salt be put on the table. They give two reasons:
1. The table is like an altar. Just like in the Temple, each sacrifice that was brought on to the altar would have salt offered with it, so too, our table, we must have salt on it too.
2. When several Jews eat a meal together, again with bread, they must wash their hands in a ritually proper manner and make a blessing over the washing. They then sit silently, for it becomes forbidden to speak until they eat the bread. So they must wait for the last person. In the meantime, we are told, the Satan will start up with them; but since salt is on the table, the Satan goes away.
It sounds like something that we could accept. Why not? It certainly doesn't cause us any hardship, and who doesn't like salt? It is something everyone needs in their body (unless, of course, you have an unfortunate medical problem).
But this like all other things in the Jewish religion, are based on very deep concepts.
Let us look a bit deeper:
Salt is made up of two elements: Sodium and Chlorine.
Both sodium and chlorine are very deadly poisons. Chlorine is a poisonous, yellow-green gas, with a very sharp odor, and was used in gas warfare during World War I. Sodium is a silver-colored metal which is soft enough to cut with a knife. It is an extremely reactive metal, and is always found naturally in ionic compounds, not in its pure metallic form. Pure sodium metal reacts violently (and sometimes explosively) with water, producing sodium hydroxide, hydrogen gas, and heat.
Sodium and chlorine react with each other, however, to produce a substance that is familiar to almost everyone in the world: sodium chloride, commonly referred to as table salt. Mixing them together is extremely volatile, producing a bright yellow light and a great deal of heat energy.
When Jews are together, they are like salt. The world needs them and they are beneficial to all. But when there is diversity amongst the Jews, then they are like poisons to the world.
Even though each person has his viewpoint, and most likely it is valid, when he separates from his fellow Jews, it is a dangerous thing. Differences must be worked out in order to bring unity. Unity is when each Jew not only does his personal task, but helps his friend with his personal G-d given task.
Can you imagine a factory where the office workers were trying to convince the factory workers that what they do is important and that the factory workers should do it also? (Or vise versa) The factory would cease to produce! But an efficient factory is where every one does the task assigned to him and helps his co-worker with his task.
So we Jews must be like the factory workers, like the salt, be together. Only in our recognition of the other's intrinsic worth and that we too have our separate intrinsic worth can we finally bring the coming of the Messiah.
From something like salt, common table salt, we can learn big things!
from the January 2004 Edition of the Jewish Magazine