Why We Salt Challah

On Friday night there is a sequence of rituals to begin the Shabbat meal: sanctification of the wine (kiddush), washing of the hands (netilat yada'im), and sanctification of the bread (ha'motzi).

After the bread is broken the challah is dipped in salt. This salting alludes to the Temple sacrifices. In lieu of a sacrificial system, our dining tables become the altar:

Never shall you suspend the salt covenant of your G-d... with all your offerings you shall offer salt.
—Leviticus 2:13

But this begs the question. Why were the sacrifices salted to begin with? What is the significance of salt?

The world is one part wilderness, one part settled land, and one part sea. Said the sea to G-d: "Master of the Universe! The Torah will be given in the wilderness; the Holy Temple will be built on settled land; and what about me?" Said G-d: "The people of Israel will offer your salt upon the Altar."
—Yalkut HaReuveni

This commentary beautifully maps the three items we consecrate and consume to three domains of this world:

  • The wine is like the wilderness—fermentation requires wild, airborne yeast.
  • The bread is like the settled land—bread is created through cultivation and human intervention.
  • Salt is like the ocean—the sea, where life began and purity begins....

Through our Sabbath meal we take of the three realms of the world and partake in their unification on the altar of our homes.

Sources: Lev. 2:13, Yalkut HaReuveni, and Rav. Zalman Schachter-Shalomi.

Shir-Yaakov Feinstein-Feit is a student of mysticism, a midrashic musician, and the web designer of telshemesh. You can view his site at sixthirteen.org.

more fire wisdom

back to top