Leann Shamash
Author of the blog Words Have Wings


Salt- Image by Leann Shamash
The book of Vayikra is not shy. It enters into our skin, into our bedrooms, into our homes and into our relationships. As a religious school director for years, these Vayikra parshiyot were often the portions for children’s springtime B’nai Mitzvah and families were often horrified at having to write about topics such as skin afflictions, nocturnal emissions and blood. I feel differently. Sefer Vayikra is about mining for meaning and finding golden nuggets in the measured and terse lines in this book. We have to use our imaginations to go back in time and picture how  we worshiped in ancient times and we have to be absolutely thrilled that we are still here to look back at that ancient form of worship and appreciate how it has evolved to accommodate living in exile and modernity.
This poem takes the idea of ancient sacrifice to our dining rooms. Salt, that modest substance that we often overlook, played an important role in sacrifice in ancient times and still retains a place of importance on our Shabbat tables. We so often take our actions for granted. Even sprinkling salt on our challah can bring us directly back to the sacrifices of Parshat Vayikra.
She picks up
blue ceramic
salt shaker.
Its small gold letters remind her
of the words she is commanded to say,
but memorized so long ago.
She sits.
The guests around the table
A silver stillness
rests over the table,
which is
pregnant before the release of
that will soon
like the songs of
the Levites
above the twin loaves
whose golden braids
rest gently
on the
silver challah plate
while the table beneath
is a mizbeach draped in white.
a modern day priestess,
thinks little
of her actions
as she lifts
her hand,
the salt shaker
high above the
golden loaves.
There is no lowing calf,
no baaing sheep.
No fragrant smoke,
no orange flame
that licks at her hand
as it rises
the twin breads.
Her creative force.
Her Sabbath masterpieces.
She blesses.
As the words
fall from her mouth
and rise heavenward
sprinkles forth from the
blue shaker.
It rains down gently like
once rained down from heaven.
It rains down like quails from the sky
to satisfy an unending hunger.
The modern Priestess
pours salt down on her
yeasty sacrifice.
Its golden braids
accept the
tiny crystals.
works its way into its tiny caves and crevasses and
settles in.
The golden braids are
ripped and torn
and passed with great solemnity
to the guests,
who crave its
soft Sabbath sweetness.
Their tongues
feel the sensation
of sweetness
and saltiness
The oohs and ahs have begun.
They rise around the table like
smoke rings.
The people are happy now.
And none,
not even
the modern day priestess,
the salt covering the table,
like manna on the desert floor.
The ceremony is over.
The sacrifice is made.
So salty,
yet so sweet.
The guests at the table
begin their meal.
About the Author
After a career in Jewish education, Leann Shamash is the author of the blog Words Have Wings, which addresses the parsha of the week through poetry.
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