As we emerge from the frenzy and fun of Purim, we find ourselves back in the world of Leviticus. I have often joked that the book of Leviticus is a story of blood and guts by way of animal sacrifice. Thanks to Aimee Ando's recent dvar Torah at a KT board meeting, I now want to retitle the book "SALT FAT ACID HEAT", an ode to food writer and celebrity chef Samin Nosrat.
This week's parsha, Tzav, begins with a full description of the different kinds of offerings. By way of review, we have the burnt offering, the grain offering, the purification offering, the guilt offering, the well-being offering, the gratitude offering, the votive, and the freewill offering. Each offering with its own procedures and specifications. Each with its own unique combination of salt, fat, acid, and heat. I can almost hear Samin Nosrat's instructions that each vegetable needs to be roasted on its own. Her attention to the quality and coarseness of the salt and the oil. Echoed by the words of Torah, detailing handfuls of choice flour and oil.
Aimee wrote, "My gut reaction (no pun intended) to Leviticus is typically distant. What do these ancient instructions have to do with modern times? However, this week I found myself leaning into the words as a multi-sensory experience, nearly feeling the heat from the fire, nostrils full of the smoke of the burnt offering and 'the pleasing odor to the Lord.'"
Michael Pollan writes about this 'רֵ֧יחַ נִיחֹ֛חַ pleasing odor' in his book Cooked, "The fragrant column of smoke, symbolizing the link between heaven and earth, is only the conceivable medium of conveyance, and also communication, between humans and their gods. So to say this aroma is divine is more than an empty expression" (39).
I'm not sure if the rabbis were also foodies, but I do know that they understood that this holy barbecue was not unique to temple practice. They too preached the Torah of SALT FAT ACID HEAT.
We learn in the Talmud, "When the Temple is standing, the altar atones for a person; now it is a person's table that atones for them" (B.T. Hagigah 27a).
About this, Aimee concludes, "There is much commentary that relates to all of these manners of sacrifice as pleasing to God primarily because God set forth a series of commandments and God's people carried out God's will. My read may be off, but I wonder if it is something more. I cannot help but wonder if those who spent time in those ancient, figurative open-air kitchens - often the women - up until now, carefully attending to every detail of preparation no matter the labor or time needed, interpreted the opening of Leviticus as I did this week - as a cry from God to offer our earthly ingredients as if preparing and sending up the finest meal possible with love, intention, and integrity. God knows the transformative and healing experience of sharing food."
Wherever you find yourself this Shabbat, at your table or someone else's, may you know that the meals you share on shabbat are in and of themselves a sacred offering, drawing us closer to each other and to Holiness in our lives.
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek Synagogue through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.