Salt of the Earth – Emor


Emor is one of my favorite parshiyot because, amongst other things, it contains the recipe for the Lechem Hapanim. In Parshat Truma we have the first mention of the Lechem Hapanim, directly following the description of the Shulchan, but there the Torah does not go into any detail what the Lechem Hapanim is. This week’s parsha fills in some of the blanks.

In this shiur I will b”H be introducing some chiddushim from my sefer מאיר פנים. The fundamental question I will be trying to answer is – “Did the Lechem Hapanim include salt?

Above, I use the term “recipe” in its loosest sense, because, disappointingly, the psukkim do not go into much detail about what ingredients made up the Lechem Hapanim. If you thought you were going to find a detailed description of each ingredient and its quantity (like Pitum Haketoret regarding the makeup of the Ketoret), you will be sorely disappointed. The passuk (Vayikra 24, 5) mentions one and only one ingredient – 2 isaron of solet (semolina flour) per loaf and that’s it! The passuk tells us that it was a bread baked in an oven וְאָפִיתָ אֹתָהּ and that Levonah was also present (the Levonah was not part of the actual bread, it was placed on the Shulchan separately, in two bowls – bazichim). Curiously the Torah is sparse with details regarding the Lechem Hapanim and the question is why?

You may say that the detailed eleven ingredient/proportion description of Pitum Haketoret is not from the Torah, but from a Gemara (Kritut 6a). This is true, however the Torah is more forthcoming regarding the Ketoret (Shmot 30, 34), specifically mentioning four of the main ingredients and hinting to the others. The passuk describing the makeup of the Lechem Hapanim only tells us how much flour there was per loaf and that’s it. In addition, unlike the Ketoret, there is no Gemara to pick up the slack and again the question is why? It has taken over seven years of research to begin to figure out the recipe for Lechem Hapanim and it is still a work in progress.

The Gemara (Yoma 38a) throws a little light on the matter. It informs us that both the Lechem Hapanim and the Ketoret were made according to secret recipes known only to a small, close-knit group/family, neither of the recipes were public knowledge. It was for this reason that the Chachamim approached these two families (Beit Garmu – Lechem Hapanim, Beit Avtinas – Ketoret) and asked them to reveal the secret recipes so they may record it for posterity. The Chachamim knew that the 2nd Beit Mikdash was about to be destroyed and they wanted to insure that the מסורת would not be lost. The Avtinas family, after initially refusing, finally acquiesced and this is why we have Pitum Haketoret. The Garmu family, however, refused and their refusal has fueled seven years of laborious research, attempting to “reverse engineer” this incredible bread.

When HKB”H told Moshe to build the Mishkan and its keilim, Moshe had difficulty picturing what they looked like from the description listed in the psukkim. HKB”H then showed Moshe visual “images of fire” of the Aron, the Menorah and the Shulchan (Menachot 29a). Moshe conveyed this information to Betzalel and Oholiav, who with their own Ruach Hakodesh understood how everything fit together. It is one thing to see a “snapshot/movie” (in fire) of the kli, but quite another to define it down to the last millimeter and precise angle. In addition, Moshe conveyed to the Kehat family of Levi’im - who would be in charge of preparing the Lechem Hapanim and the Ketoret - the exact recipes of each.

Neither of these recipes were allowed to become public knowledge, for the simple reason that they harnessed incredible power.

We all know the power and “volatility” of the Ketoret, which has the power to cure a plague, but if prepared or offered incorrectly, at the wrong time or the wrong place - also had the power to kill (re: Nadav and Avihu).  Similarly, the Lechem Hapanim is a “gateway” for sustenance and prosperity for the entire world! Neither of these things were something you wanted people “tinkering around with” at home (or chas vechalila using for avodah zara).

When you begin delving into the depths of the Lechem Hapanim, you soon come to the realization that every minute detail of this iconic bread encompasses profound symbolism, purpose and complexity - layered to infinity. As you peel away one layer, you discover ten more and I have barely begun to scratch the outer surface. Sefer מאיר פנים reveals the discoveries to date and even though it is an infinitesimal iota of the full picture, it is already a mind blowing series of revelations.

Today I will focus on one of the ingredients in the Lechem Hapanim – salt. The question asked above is “Did the Lechem Hapanim have salt?”

Anyone who knows basic Vayikra knows the famous passuk –

וְכָל קָרְבַּן מִנְחָתְךָ בַּמֶּלַח תִּמְלָח וְלֹא תַשְׁבִּית מֶלַח בְּרִית אֱ-לֹקֶיךָ מֵעַל מִנְחָתֶךָ עַל כָּל קָרְבָּנְךָ תַּקְרִיב מֶלַח (ויקרא ב, יג).

It is a מצוות עשה to add salt to all the Menachot! So the no-brainer answer seems to be – yes!

Hang on a minute though …. Is the Lechem Hapanim a Mincha? Seems like a dumb question – it is detailed in the Gemara in masechet Menachot (chapter 11), but curiously enough there is no direct source that comes right out and states that the Lechem Hapanim was one of the Menachot. It is not included in the list of Menachot in parshiyot Vayikra and Tsav where the the Torah details the תורת המנחה. It takes a lot of deciphering and logic to arrive at the conclusion that indeed the Lechem Hapanim was of the category Menachot. This is already a hint to the fact that the Lechem Hapanim is an “odd ball” amongst the Menachot, it belongs to the category, but at the same time it doesn’t exactly fit the bill.

For example, the Lechem Hapanim was one of a select few Menachot that were not offered (even in part) on the מזבח (another was the Shtei Halechem).  As we know, the מליחה, the salting of the korbanot was performed on the מזבח, sometimes on the way up the ramp, sometimes at the top – depending on which korban. If it is obligatory to add salt to ALL the Menachot and the Lechem Hapanim is a Mincha – when and where did they add salt to the Lechem Hapanim, which never even got near the מזבח?

You may say, “Well, the Levonah – which was part of the Korban Lechem Hapanim – was offered on the מזבח and that same Levonah was salted on the מזבח”.  However the Levonah itself is not a Mincha, the Lechem Hapanim is, so that answer is inadequate.

In מאיר פנים (פרק א) I bring proofs to show that the Lechem Hapanim was salted, not once, but twice.

The first salting took place when they mixed the dough – salt was added to the dough as one of the ingredients. Although to anyone who bakes bread this may seem obvious, there are no direct or even indirect sources hinting to this fact and it takes a lot of “academic acrobatics” to prove this.

The second time the Lechem Hapanim was salted was before it was eaten by the Kohanim – after it had been removed from the Shulchan on Shabbat. From this the halacha (או"ח סי' קס"ז ס"ה) is derived - that one should not break bread before either salt or relish is placed on the table to dip the bread in. (The Ashkenazic custom is that if the bread itself includes salt, this is not obligatory but optional).

The main reason for adding salt to the Lechem Hapanim, even though it was not offered on the מזבח is hinted at in the passuk במלח תמלח - the purpose of the salt with the Lechem Hapanim is להמליך את המלך. The Shulchan and the Lechem Hapanim were equivalent to the table of a king, specifically דוד המלך – which is why it says תערך לפני שלחן נגד צררי (תהילים כג, ה). It is unacceptable to place bread on the table of a king that is טפל – lacking in taste, על אחת כמה וכמה on the table of the King of kings. Bread lacking salt, like matzo on Pesach, is considered “poor man’s bread”. Since the Lechem Hapanim symbolized wealth and prosperity, anything “poor” doesn’t enter the equation.

The reason salt is used in the Lechem Hapanim spefically and in the Mikdash in general is because of ברית מלח. During the Creation HKB”H separated the waters into two, the “upper” waters in Heaven and the “lower” waters down here on earth. The lower waters complained that they were no longer in close proximity to Hashem, so He promised them that they would be brought as korbanot in the Mikdash and re-attain their elevated status, in the form of salt (derived from sea water) and ניסוך המים on Sukkot  (derived from fresh water).

By adding salt to the Lechem Hapanim you infuse it with שמחה, which is a central focus of the Lechem Hapanim (מאיר פנים, פרק יד). The gematria of "קרבן מנחתך במלח" is "ושמחת לפני ה'". Similarly, the salt in the Lechem Hapanim is a כפרה for the sin of Adam Harishon, another central focus of this bread (מאיר פנים, פרק טו). The gematria of "במלח תמלח" is "נחש קמדון".

The presence of salt in the Lechem Hapanim was a contributing factor to the fact that the bread remained fresh an entire week on the Shulchan, one of the miracles of the Lechem Hapanim. The presence of salt does not fully explain the miracle, it is simply the minimum hishtadlut necessary (one is forbidden to totally rely on a miracle and has to make their own maximum effort first). In addition, the presence of salt in the dough strengthens the gluten structure and contributes to the fact that the Lechem Hapanim achieved the thickness of a tefach (8cm) when baked.

The salt used in the Lechem Hapanim was מלח סדומית. The Gemara (Menachot 21a) describes two types of salt – מלח סדומית and מלח איסתרוקנית. The Sdomit type of salt is created from evaporating sea water. The second type is obtained from excavating rock from the area of Sdom and mining the salt from the rock.

The chemical composition of מלח סדומית is a topic under debate (Professor Zohar Amar, Land of Isael Studies, University of Bar Ilan and others) and it is not clear cut that it is the simple sodium chloride we use as table salt today. In fact the origin of the halacha of doing מים אחרונים is that we clean our hands of מלח סדומית, which if rubbed in the eyes may be harmful and cause blindness. This seems to indicate that it was not simple sodium chloride, which does irritate the eyes but does not cause serious damage.

If the fact that salt was added to the Lechem Hapanim is omitted in the sources, it certainly does not describe how much salt to add. Beit Garmu knew from experience and instinct how much salt to add to the Lechem Hapanim dough to achieve the desired results.

There is a deep connection between bread and salt in general, and the Lechem Hapanim in particular, as it says in Pirkei Avot (6, 4) –

כך היא דרכה של תורה, פת במלח תאכל....אשריך וטוב לך.

The letters of לחם and מלח are the same, just in a different order. Each day when we wake up we say מודה אני לפניך מלך חי וקיים. The rashei teivot of לפניך מלך חי make up the words לחם and מלח. In addition to thanking HKB”H for returning our neshama to our body after sleeping, we are also giving thanks to HKB”H for our daily parnasa, which we receive by virtue of the Lechem Hapanim (or today, by applying the spiritual concepts inherent in the Lechem Hapanim).

The letter מ is symbolic of מלך, a king. The shape of the letter ח looks like and is symbolic of a king’s throne. The letter ל is the tallest of the 22 letters of the alef-bet, it towers over the other letters and symbolizes ascension. Salt, מלח, is not something that can be eaten on its own, it is a precursor, a facilitator. This is hinted at in the order of the letters מלח.  The מ, the king is not yet on the ח, the throne, he is separated from the throne by the ל. The king, the מ needs to use the ל to ascend the throne, the ח. Salt is the facilitator, by adding salt to the dough you eventually get לחם, bread. This is hinted at by the order of the letters in the word לחם. After the ל, the ascension, the מ, the king, is on top of the ח, the throne. This is the idea brought above that the purpose of במלח תמלח is להמליך את המלך, to raise the King (HKB”H) up on His throne.

This week we celebrate Yom Ha’atzma’ut and the prophetic, historic return of Am Yisrael to our ancestral homeland. If I were to ask you to select the national food/dish that most symbolizes this festival, most of you would probably say – BBQ’d meat!

I totally agree that this is the perfect symbolic food for Yom Ha’atzma’ut and I truly believe that one day it will be, but I think that today it is a little premature. I would like to suggest that a more appropriate festival food for Yom Ha’atzma’ut today – is the Lechem Hapanim.

The Lechem Hapanim on the Shulchan symbolizes the Twelve Tribes on their native soil, Eretz Yisrael (מאיר פנים, פרק יד). All of the Twelve Tribes are “Salt of the Earth”, they are all facilitators, each has a unique part to play in the “whole”. Some to study Torah, some to defend our cities and borders, some to farm, some to run successful startups, some to care for the sick and elderly, some to build, some to teach, some to do chessed, some to transport, some to bake, some to uphold justice, some to uphold human rights, some to sing, some to dance, some to fly, some to sail, some to conserve, some to raise a family, some to innovate, some to research, some to support, some to settle, some to compute, some to account, some to feed, some to increase the population, some to inspire.

There is no arrogance on the Shulchan, no bread thinks it is “better” than any of the others. There is no conflict regarding their placement, some on top, some on the bottom, others 2nd from the middle. They all coexist in harmony the entire week and do not tire of each other, they are as “fresh” as when they were first placed on the Shulchan. If one bread is passul, it makes the other 11 passul as well. This is Am Yisrael at its best, the way we should be.

I believe that in these times Yom Ha’atzma’ut would be better celebrated learning about the Lechem Hapanim than BBQ’ing in parks. If we understand who we really are and what we are really here for, then we will soon be doing the other kind of BBQ’ing, the real kind – מן הזבחים ומן הפסחים in the Beit Hamikdash Hashlishi בבי"א.

We are all “Salt of the Earth” and would do well to remember it.

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