Salt of the Covenant

Why is it customary in some Jewish communities to salt one’s challah on Shabbat (the Sabbath) before eating it?

The salt symbolizes endurance and God’s eternal covenant with b’nei Yisrael (the children of Israel). The Jewish sages said salt sealed the covenant “because salt does not spoil,” salt preserves.

Sweeping salt flats stretched across the Dead Sea region between Israel and Jordan, like waves of white crystals. Salt, the seemingly miraculous and abundant substance that never spoiled, was used to cure meats and preserve veggies before refrigerators existed. Salt provided the people with sustenance through all times and all seasons.

The livestock, wine, olive oil, fruit, bread and grains the ancient Israelites brought to the Temple as offerings, provided food for the Temple priests. This arrangement is called the “eternal Covenant of Salt” (Numbers 18:8-19). This very same term (Salt of the Covenant) also describes the relationship between God and the descendants of King David.

Salt is used to draw out the blood from Kosher meat, for it is forbidden to consume blood, the life-force of all beings. Salt cleanses, purifies and draws out impurities.

Last but not least, salt adds flavor that pleases our tastebuds. Even the most basic food is more appetizing and palatable with salt. What is life without a little flavor sprinkled on top?

It was my grandmother’s minhag (custom) to salt the challah at home and in her shtiebel after my grandfather blessed the bread.

Not all branches of Judaism salt the challah after hamotzi (blessing of the bread), although it may be more prominent in Israel than in the Diaspora. Technically, the salt added as an ingredient in the baked challah is considered to be sufficient.

In other branches and observance levels of Judaism such as Orthodox or Hasidic, it’s an established minhag to sprinkle or lightly dip your piece of challah in salt every Shabbat after the blessing is said.

In Jewish mysticism, salt signifies severity, while bread (the staff of life), represents kindness. Together the two yin-yang energies are balanced. The Hebrew word for bread (lechem לחם) and the Hebrew word for salt (melach מלח) contain the same letters.

Should your piece of challah be sprinkled with salt, dipped in salt, or is the salt just a presence on the table? Customs vary from community to community.

In Rabbinic literature the dining table is a mikdash me’at (mini-temple), therefore the blessing over food should only be recited with salt at least present on the table like an honored guest.

You shall not omit from your meal offering the salt of your covenant with God.

Leviticus 2:13 

In Judaism salt has sacred symbolism. To care for our bodies we must not use it excessively, which is bad for our health. We use it mindfully as a reminder to preserve our own sacred covenants with all the beings that enhance our lives and sustain us throughout the fragilities and frailties of life.

© 2022

Check out The Challah Project for some delicious challah recipes!

The brown sugar challah with pomegranate glaze and the apple cinnamon challah were simply divine!


25 thoughts on “Salt of the Covenant

  1. Thank you, so much, Rabbi Abbi , for your insightful and knowledgeable dvar torah. My whole life, I wondered why the compliment was given to people, “You are the salt of the earth.” What did that even mean? After , your informative sermon, I now understand the real significance of salt. I realize that no civilization would have survived if it wasn’t for preserving their “hunt” meat with salt. We were a nomadic people and needed our food not only cleansed through salt but also preserved. There were no ice boxes back then. Salt is symbolic of life itself. It is survival. Also, it is for pleasure. Putting salt on our food enhances the taste . My dad use to put salt on his food before even tasting it. I thought that was hysterical. Thanks again Abbi for the best sermon.

  2. Great information! I had seen done at various observances with the Challah and never knew the origins. You are such a great teacher, always providing insight into our traditions and the origins. Please keep it up! We really appreciate your sharing your wisdom and knowledge!

      • I didn’t realize all the significance of salt. It is good to know the connection with all our traditions. Our food certainly would not be as tasty without salt, although most store bought food uses too much. Thanks for your very enlightening post. I always learn from your posts! I didn’t know where the expression “Salt of the earth” came from. Now I know because of you!

  3. I have just baked some bread, to which I add a good generous Pinch.. And yes before refrigeration.. I remember helping my Gran Salt Green Beans in large Sweet Jars with layers of salt to store over winter.
    I also cleanse using salt… and if you look upon the ‘Daily health post dot com’… You can also discover many ways in which Salt Himalayan pink variety can help heal as it contains many different minerals useful as healing properties
    I use in Salt baths, like Epsom Salt…
    So I can see the importance of Salt as a Sacred Symbol …
    It is only Man, who has refined Salt and added additives which is not pure salt which I feel is not good for us..
    Many thanks for sharing I enjoyed reading

    • Nothing like the aroma and taste of home-baked bread. I saw a video about preserving green beans in layers of salt like your Gran did. The video said it was an 18th century style of food preservation.

      I use lavender epsom salt for bathing and Himalayan pink salt or Hawaiian black lava salt. Most supermarket foods are saturated with an imbalanced amount of refined salt. Thanks so much for your beautiful share on your Gran’s tradition and the cleansing and healing qualities of salt! It was a delight to read. Wishing you a wonderful day. 🌷

  4. Jesus, probably had this in mind when he proclaimed “ you are the salt of the earth” at the Sermon on the Mount, Mathew 5:13. Interesting thoughts, as always, Abi, a pleasure to read.

    • Hi, I rewrote the post a bit because I wasn’t quite satisfied with the initial version. I was just thinking the same…when we say someone is the “salt of the earth” it means they are good, trustworthy, kind and humble…an expression which comes from the Sermon on the Mount. Thanks for including that in your comment. I very much appreciate and enjoy your engagement with the posts and your company on this journey.

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