Shabbat Greetings – Purim Edition

In this week’s Torah portion, we begin the third book of the Torah, Leviticus or Vayikra (Leviticus 1:1-5:26). In this portion, we learn the laws and rituals of the numerous sacrifices.  The five types of offerings are the olah (burnt), mincha (meal), chatat (sin), asham (guilt) and zevach sh’lamim (well-being/thanksgiving). According to the great Bar-B-Q sage of Franklin Barbeque Yeshiva in Austin Texas, Rabbi Aaron Franklin teaches that in Texas, the burnt offering is no longer fully consumed by the fire. Rather, the fact that in Texas barbecue, you’re taking one of the worst pieces of the animal and converting it into one of the best is a miracle itself.  Thus, the delicious brisket is a modern understanding that since the Temple is no longer standing, in place of the burnt offering, we now have the Texas brisket, or up north, we have the famous corned beef. Ever since the destruction of the 2nd Temple in 70 CE, we have been able to enjoy the delicacy of the sacrifices in a modern, meaningful way. 

Our text; however, presents an interesting modern dilemma. In Leviticus 2:11; 13, we learn that the daily offering ritual prohibits the use of honey but requires the addition of salt: No meal offering that you offer to Adonai shall be made with leaven, for no leaven or honey may be turned into smoke as an offering by fire to Adonai; . . . You shall season your every offering of meal with salt; you shall not omit from your meal offering the salt of your covenant with God; with all your offerings you must offer salt.

We are forbidden to use honey in the meal offering but obligated to use salt for all the offerings. Why is including honey a sin, while adding salt is mandatory? Both honey and salt are used for flavoring food. The difference is that honey is sweet and when poured on food, it provides the food with a sweet taste. Honey can significantly overpower and even alter the taste of food. According to Rabbi Chef Mike Hard of Chicago, Honey Butter Hot Water Cornbread is a delicious supplement with barbeque brisket for it enhances the flavor while softening the harshness of the chars of the meat. In many cases, honey is an enhancement and not a detractor. Nevertheless, we all need to watch our sugars, so we should take it easy with the sweetness.

Salt, however, enhances flavor, pulling the flavor out of food and giving it an enhanced taste. It can be added to something bland and make it flavorful – not a new taste… just augmenting what already exists. The use of salt on the offerings as opposed to honey teaches us that God wants every person to develop and nurture their own existing, unique talents, found within ourselves, like our wonderful taste buds. Unfortunately, Rabbi Dr. Jeremiah Stamler, an emeritus professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago, who has spearheaded the anti-salt forces for decades, said that he himself stopped eating most salt in 1948. ”The question of salt is settled,” Rabbi Dr. Stamler said. ”It’s a food additive we don’t need.” Ah, the good Rabbi Stamler clearly disagrees with the laws of God. Isn’t he special?!

We have learned from the great yeshivas of Kansas City, In Kansas City, where barbecue is a way of life, it is understood that smoke has mystical properties. Smoke has the power to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. It can transform the least desirable cuts of meat into the most delectable. It can even transform a neighborhood corner gas station into one of the most popular restaurants on the planet. As Jews our prime directive is to learn from the smoke and salt on the sacrificial altar. We must identify and reveal the hidden blessings of the world as we unleash the beautiful smells and taste of the delicacy of smoked meats. In a fractured world acts of loving kindness and compassion can draw out the kindness and goodness hidden just below the surface of humanity.

May this absolutely ridiculous understanding of the beginning of Vayikra bring a smile upon your face. May your Purim celebration be filled with joy and laughter – God knows we all need a little respite from the challenging world we are living in. And why not? – enjoy a little delicious barbeque!!! 

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach Purim