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Salt vs. Honey: The Spiritual Taste Test

By: Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb

At first glance there seems to be an inconsistency between two halachos which govern the Korban Minchah, the meal offering. On the one hand we are told that, "lo te'aseh chametz," the offering may not be prepared leavened, and that, "kol devash lo saktiru mimenu," it may not include honey either (Vayikra 2:11). This clearly implies that the offering's basic ingredients of flour and oil must remain free from anything extra. And yet, just two pesukim later we are told "ba'melach timlach," that all menachos should be salted (2:13). In fact, the verse continues and further commands that all sacrifices must include the addition of salt.

The question is two-fold: Why may we not add leaven or honey to the korban? And if we are commanded not to add ingredients, why must we add salt? A number of classical meforshim offer symbolic explanations for the problems of leaven and honey, but most of these explanations don't address the positive contribution of salt.

R. Mordechai Gifter (Pirkei Torah), on the other hand, offers a beautiful and unified explanation of both rules.

The problem with honey and leaven is that they are additives. They improve the taste or consistency of food by changing it. The external nature of the change they induce is the source of their prohibition. Salt, on the other hand, preserves and enhances the natural flavor of food and this is the reason that we add it to korbanos. I am reminded of my beloved grandmother who takes well-deserved pride in her cooking. Add (a little) salt to her food? No problem. Add ketchup? Don't even think about it!

R. Gifter goes on to explain that these twin halachos do not merely govern what ingredients can be added to a sacrifice, but - more profoundly - they serve as a model for spiritual expression and aspiration.

Symbolically, we are being taught that our service of Hashem shouldn't be artificial mimicry of others but rather, a natural expression of our true inner selves. In order for our relationship with Hashem to be meaningful it must - like all relationships - be genuine. The desire to grow and improve is a necessary part of religious life, but that growth must be authentic and not artificial. [A similar thought is expressed by the Sefas Emes in his commentary on the phrase "adam ki yakriv mi'kem" (1:2).]

Obviously there is much about a halachic lifestyle which is objective and non-negotiable. No one is perfect and we all fall short at times, but this doesn't change the binding nature of our obligation.

However, there is also large component of our religious life which is subjective and could fairly be described as more "gray" than "black or white." For example, on many issues there is a multiplicity of legitimate opinions and, as a result, some people or communities follow one opinion while others follow an alternate approach. There are also many practices that aren't mandated by strict halachah but are, nevertheless, observed by some member of the community.

I believe that it is in these situations - the all important "gray" areas - that it is crucial that we internalize the lesson of the Korban Minchah. Changes that emerge from a genuine desire to improve our personal relationship with Ha-Kadosh Baruch Hu are wonderful and admirable. Just like adding salt to the korban, actions which preserve and even enhance the "natural flavor" of a person's Avodas Hashem are unquestionably positive.

This is to be contrasted, however, with doing something primarily because "that's what other people are doing," which is the equivalent of adding honey to the korban. Perhaps it improves the taste but - ultimately - it's artificial. And when it comes to matters of the soul, inyanei ruchniyus, artificiality simply has no place.

A short time after the passing of legendary film and Broadway star Hume Cronyn, family and friends gathered to memorialize his life. During a video shown that evening he described his basic love of acting, "I enjoy it. Why? Because it's a lovely escape from the Hume Cronyn I have to live with twenty four hours a day."

In addition to revealing a remarkable capacity for self-reflection, his observation candidly articulates the common human desire to hide from ones true self. While Mr. Cronyn was able to use the different roles that he played as a mask to hide behind, many of us utilize a different method and hide behind the mask of social conformity. It's sad enough when this lack of individuality affects other parts of our lives, but it becomes even more tragic when this becomes a dominant motif in our relationship with Hashem. On the contrary, the challenge of life is to improve - and not hide from - who we are.

Remember: When it comes to Avodas Hashem, there is no single recipe and salt is always sweeter than honey.