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Vayikra: Leavening and Fruit Honey and Salt: Min ha-Ma’ayan

“For you shall not cause to go up in smoke from any leavening or fruit honey as a fire offering to God (Vayikra 2:11).” There are a number of questions that come to mind: First of all what is the idea behind this prohibition of burning leavening or fruit honey on the altar?


What is the idea in the commandment of salting the sacrifices, and the fact that the mitzvah to, “You shall salt your every meal offering with salt; you may not discontinue the salt of your God’s Covenant from upon your meal offering; when your every offering show you offer salt,” immediately follows the prohibition against burning leavening and fruit honey on the altar?

The verse, in describing leavening and fruit honey says, “You shall offer them as a first fruit offering to God.” Rashi explains that leavening and fruit may be used for only two offerings, both of which may be described as “first fruit offerings.” They are: Bikkurim, which are the first produce of the seven species for which the Land of Israel is praised (Deuteronomy 26:1–11); and “the Two Loaves” of wheat flour that are offered on Shavuot (Vayikra 23:17). “From your dwelling places you shall bring bread that shall be waived, to loaves made of tenth-eipah, they shall be fine flour, they shall be baked leavened; first offerings to God.” The Bikkurim themselves are brought from fruit that make fruit honey; figs and dates!

We must understand this, for if leavening and honey are invalid for burning on the altar why is it that there are two times when they are not only permitted but actually an obligation to offer?

Maimonides rules (The Laws of the Altar, Chapter 5:1–3) that it is forbidden to burn leavening or honey with an offering even if they are not offered as part of the sacrifice itself but only as wood. Although it is forbidden to offer them as a sacrifice one would not be liable for punishment. One would be liable for burning them as wood. Why do we have all these strange laws about leavening and fruit honey?

It appears that we can explain this entire matter based on the following Talmud (Berachot 17a): after Rabbi Alexandri completed his formal prayer, he would recite the following, “Master of the Worlds; it is revealed and known before You that it is our will to do Your will. And who stops us? The leaven in the dough.” Rashi explains that this is referring to the evil inclination inside of us that causes us to sit.

In another place the Talmud (JT Shabbat 14:3) says, “Rabbi Abun said, “God will remove from you every evil illness; and all the bad maladies of Egypt that you knew, He will not put them upon you, but will put them up on all your photos (Deuteronomy 7:15).” The “bad maladies” refers to the Evil Inclination that always begins with sweetness and ends with bitterness.

This changes are pointing out to aspects of this strategy of the Evil Inclination: it begins with sweetness in order to seduce the person and to cover over its destructive intent. But it will only lead to bitterness and suffering for the one who follows its advice and sins. The same is true of the leavening process for it can puff this spirit of a person to see only what the Evil Inclination wants him to see. Its leaven is a poison.

This is why the Torah says that we should not mix leavening and honey in our service of God, because they so powerfully represent the strategies of the evil inclination. It is only by avoiding the temptations of leavening and honey that we will be able to cheat achieve complete service which is pure, with out any blemish or staying. Therefore whether we are offering them as a sacrifice or if we want to add them to an offering as wood, they are absolutely forbidden for we do not want any of the strategies of the Evil Inclination to be included in our service.

Salt on the other hand reveals and articulates the Good Inclination in all its purity and perfection. The verse says, “Everything that is separated from the sanctities that the Children of Israel raise up to God have I given to you and your sons and daughters with you as an eternal portion; it is an eternal salt like covenant before God, for you and your offspring with you (Numbers 18:19)” Rashi explains that God is informing the Cohanim that His Covenant with them is eternal, as if it had been preserved with salt. Salt never spoils, it is a symbol of indestructibility

Thus we see that the nature of the Good Inclination is directly opposite of the strategies of the Evil Inclination. The Evil Inclination represents the “terrible maladies,” that destroy our spiritual essence by the making us arrogant, puffing us up, tempting us with sweetness only to later lead us to bitter ruin. However, the Good Inclination is entirely healthy and healthful. It gives us continued existence. It does not change. It allows us to retain our tender sweetness to the and he just as it was at the beginning without any blemish or staying.

This is why the two mitzvot are placed together; the prohibition against burning leavening and honey immediately followed by the mitzvah to salt the offerings. In order for our Service of God to be performed with purity and clarity we need the preserving, healthy, healthful, power of salt ended to avoid the false sweetness and empty arrogance of the leavening–honey of the Evil Inclination.

Why are there two offerings that demanded leavening and honey? The Talmud (kiddush in 30 B) teaches, “they taught in the yeshiva of Rabbi Ishmael, if the disgusting one, the Evil Inclination, confronts you, dragged him to this Study Hall, for if it is a stone it will shatter and if it is a meadow it will melt before the intense fire of the Torah. It is Torah that can smash and destroy the strategies of the Evil Inclination. Therefore the To To loaves that we bring on Shavuot, the day on which we experienced Revelation at Sinai, we can allow and even encourage and demand leavening and honey for they will be purified by the fire of the talk. The mitzvah of Bikkurim begins on Shavuot and is empowered by the fire of Torah of that day. (Min ha-Maayan)

How can you use this teaching with the salt on the Shabbat Table, and the honey on Rosh Hashanah?

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