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Vayikra, and Adding Flavor to Prayer

Parshat Vayikra discusses the korbanot, the sacrificial offerings, that the Israelites would bring. It includes directions for how to offer these korbanot—the different classifications, the events in which each of these would be brought, which parts of the sacrifices were forbidden to eat, the sacrifices you’d bring if you couldn’t afford the standard ones.

There were different sacrifices to offer depending on your situation; some would be brought as thanks, others brought in apology; some would be eaten by the priests, others would be consumed completely by fire. Each korban would be brought with salt. According to this piece from Chabad.org, salt adds flavor. Offering your apology and your gratitude are all good and well, but if you offer a sacrifice without really meaning it, it’s not worth nearly as much. The same way salt must be included in every korban, meaning is necessary for every fully-lived life.

Meaning is hard to find. Harder to hold onto. Sometimes I think I’ve found all the meaning I need, that my beliefs are unshakeable, only to fall into a rough patch and suddenly lose grasp of all the meaning that was once so closely within reach. I guess what I have to do in those moments is add some salt. Meaning isn’t always internally-rooted; internal feelings aren’t always strong enough to keep your life meaningful. In those moments, you have to sprinkle on some salt, sprinkle on some external meaning. Learn something new; seek out a mentor who can help you reconnect with your sense of purpose; take on a new mitzvah; find a new hobby. In life, you might not always “feel it.” But you can always add some salt, add some external flavor when your inner self isn’t providing enough of it.

When we Jews still brought korbanot, we had to bring animal sacrifices. Now, prayer is the standard substitute for sacrificial offerings. It’s so much easier nowadays, in theory. You can do it from the comfort of your own home; you don’t have to buy an animal to fulfill the commandment. Convenient! Free! Still, somehow, it’s so hard for me to actually do it, actually sit down and pray. I suppose the question to ask here is How can I sprinkle salt onto this sacrifice? Which external motivation can I use to find meaning in prayer?

Something that’s helped me connect with prayer in the past is learning more about what the prayers mean, how each prayer is relevant to me in my own life. Knowing what I’m saying is what transforms my prayers from a routine of rote recitation to a personal request. Another way I’ve found meaning in prayer is by engaging in hitbodedut, the Hasidic practice of talking to G-d in your own words. G-d becomes less abstract, more of a close friend, when I speak to Him in casual words and on a more regular, less restricted basis. We don’t have korbanot nowadays, in a time period where we still don’t have the Temple, but we do have prayer. Instead of adding salt to my korbanot, I’ll add salt to my prayers and really, really mean them.

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