Friday, June 30, 2023

The Covenant...of Salt?

A batch of my za'atar challah, with
its giant flecks of salt!
Pretty much every Friday morning, I spend a few hours alone in my kitchen, baking golden braids of challah.* 

It all started three years ago, when I was missing my grandparents. I decided to do something tangible that would connect me to them and the foundation of faith they'd instilled in me. This Friday ritual quickly became an anchor in my psyche: a sanctuary to simply take time and to receive it. Shelter from life's noise and haste. A time and place where there is nothing for my mind to do but wonder and wander and pray.

I no longer use a written recipe; it's pretty much muscle memory now. But when I first got started, I used my grandma's instructions as a foundation and then started tweaking it each week. Tweaks based on others' suggestions and my personal preferences. 

Chief among my personal preferences is sweetness. Honey, to be exact. An entire half-cup of it. My grandma's recipe has just three tablespoons of sugar and absolutely zero honey. 

But I love honey. And I love what it does to the Sabbath bread as we celebrate the sweetness of holy rest. On occasion, we even drench the bread in honey for good measure. As I like to say (despite the eyerolls of those around me, like my kiddos): instead of a double-fudge brownie, it's double-honey challah!

Yet, for all the love of sweetness and honey, there's also an age-old tradition to dip challah in something that is decidedly not sweet. You may see people dip the bread in salt on Shabbat. "Tradition" isn't the right word, though, because this practice isn't built on tradition. It's built on covenant

A covenant, you say? A covenant of salt? Yes, exactly.

Don’t you know that the LORD, the God of Israel, has given the kingship of Israel
to David and his descendants forever by a covenant of salt?  2 Chronicles 13:5 NIV (emphasis mine)

What in the world is a covenant of salt? Well, the first time we hear this phrase is in Leviticus, everyone's favorite book of the whole entire Bible. 

You shall season all your grain offerings with salt. You shall not let the salt of the covenant
with your God be missing from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.
Leviticus 2:13 ESV (emphasis mine)

And then...

Whatever is set aside from the holy offerings the Israelites present
to the LORD I give to you and your sons and daughters
as your perpetual share. It is an everlasting covenant of salt
before the LORD for both you and your offspring.” Numbers 18:19 NIV (emphasis mine)

What is it about salt that ties together King David's throne, Levitical sacrifices, and the priesthood's sustenance? In a way that is covenantal? 

It is, quite simply, that salt preserves

A covenant invoking salt is about permanence. The permanence of David's throne. The permanence of God's mercy through the altar. The permanence of the priesthood. Each of them bridging the gap between God and people in different ways. Because no matter who claimed power in Israel - whether Jerusalem or Babylon or Rome - God remained our true King. No matter how grievous the sin, the altar's blood maintained mercy from generation to generation. And no matter which descendant of Aaron held the high priestly office, he bore the names of all God's people on his shoulders and over his heart as he ministered in the sanctuary. A covenant of salt endures.

Indeed, what could possibly be more enduring than a covenant with the Eternal?

This lovely piece from
Yair Emanuel is one
example of challah boards
that feature a salt well.

And so, when we dip our sabbath bread in a little dish of salt on Friday evenings, we are remembering and celebrating the permanence of God's promises - and the permanence of God's presence - even as the sun quietly slips below the horizon.

And yet. A covenant that depends on fallible people keeping up their end of the bargain is prone to fracture. Prone to decay. Prone to impermanence. We know it about the Israelites and we certainly know it about ourselves.

Of course, God knew this, too. And so the covenant of salt continued to preserve His promises and His presence among us by giving way to a new age. A newer covenant. Where someone else holds up our end of the deal on our behalf, delivering us from our own impermanence, our own decay. That someone that God gave us was Himself, through the incarnation of the Messiah. The Anointed. Yeshua. Jesus.

The once-and-for-all sacrifice, made with eternal blood, covers us always.

The Priest in the order of Melchizedek intercedes without ceasing.

And the Lion of Judah reigns, on the everlasting heavenly throne.

God has kept his covenant of salt with us in ways we could not have imagined. Through such a profoundly magnificent - yet personal - rescue. 

And so the ancient covenant of salt endures without threat of fracture or decay. Upheld by the One greater than death, the One outside of time, the One entirely and perfectly - and eternally - good.

*Challah is pronounced either with a throaty "ch" or just the "h" (hallah); not a "ch" like in 'church' or a hard "k" as in 'choir.' Here's a great explanation/tutorial